It used to be that authors only lived through their books & as a reader you could only rely on your imagination to imagine how they actually looked like beyond the grainy photo on the back cover of books. But in recent times there has been a boom in book festivals and some of these festivals are able to secure the presence of top authors: The following is my pick of six authors that you should try and hear in your lifetime.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is easily the most important author to emerge from Africa in the last twenty years. In football they talk of the ‘complete player’ and if Adichie were a footballer, she would fit this bill as she has it all; exquisite prose, remarkable characters & as a speaker she is in total command of her narrative. Her powers as a storyteller were already remarkable in her debut novel Purple Hibiscus, but no one could have predicted the extraordinary achievement of her second novel, Half Of A Yellow Sun. Little wonder she was awarded the ‘genius’ award, the MacArthur Foundation Prize. She may have been born in Nigeria, but Adichie is proudly claimed by the global literary family.
There is something of a phenomenal revival in the genre of Crime Fiction globally, and South Africa’s Deon Meyer belongs in the first rank of these writers. Meyer has what is almost an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world inhabited by the unsavoury characters he writes so compellingly about. Even as he describes a truly sordid member of the murderous underworld, Meyer retains a twinkle in his eye and is liable to respond with a very warm and generous laugh that booms across a room. He began life as a journalist in the Free State, but his books now rank amongst the most sought after in Crime Fiction. Widely translated, Meyer has sold the film rights to many of his books including Dead Before Dying & Thirteen Hours.
The novelist Deon Meyer
Some authors need to write just one book that captures so richly what’s been missing in a sterile but enduring entire debate. Dambisa Moyo’s great power lies in her courage to go against deeply held beliefs and debunks the cherished myth that aid has benefited Africa. It is her unshakeable belief in Africa’s ability to grow its economy that has given Moyo almost evangelical zeal as she takes on the charity sector as well as some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and rock stars who champion the aid industry. Zambian born Moyo’s Dead Aid, has dared ask the tough question, Why has so much money not made a dent in the fight against poverty?
In his writing, Kwame Dawes’ simplicity, elegance and meaning stand out as the hallmarks of his style. Deceptively simple, Dawes achieves his power as a writer by paring down his words so that the meaning of what he has to say is startlingly clear. It is his dedication to his craft that makes him extraordinarily prolific writer, with over 30 titles to his name. A founder of Cave Canem, a kind of boot camp for writers, many of whose alumni have won top literary prizes. Add to that his status as the world’s leading scholar on Bob Marley, then you understand why this son of Ghanaian and Jamaica is a literary treasure.
Nawal El Saadawi is one of the most passionate writers this continent has ever produced. It is her courage to write about those subjects that were considered taboo, dangerous even that make her one of the world’s most significant writers. She speaks with a palpable sense of commitment to the cause of freedom to which her books are so indebted. El Saadawi has a deeply analytical style of writing that reflects a deep understanding of not just society but also the way individuals negotiate their way past some of the obstacles they find. It is her training as a physician and her work as a researcher on neurosis that have made her writing unique. She was born in Egypt but her work has made her one of the most authentic voices on women’s issues across the globe.
The powerful gaze of the writer and activist, Nawal El Saadawi
If there is one African writer whose work straddles all known genres, it is Chris Abani who finds the language to capture the most exquisite beauty in even the most desolate situations. He is a big man with an incredible sensitivity that finds nuance where many would not stop long enough to capture the nuanced lives that Abani imagines and portrays in his novels, poems, songs, and screenplays. Where many find history in the political, Abani’s magic is to find it in the family, even in love and he weaves the larger social issues with the tenderness of a lyric poet. Abani’s path took him from Nigeria to Los Angeles via London but he has written his way into the heart of all three societies.
Novelist, poet and teacher, Chris Abani
The best book festivals in SA are the The Time Of The Writer which takes place in March in Durban, The Franschhoek Literary Festival takes place in one of the most beautiful villages in SA. The Cape Town Book Fair gives book lovers a chance to walk the historic Cape Town CBD . Poetry Africa has to be the most important poetry event in SA and it attracts major poets from SA & the globe and takes place in Durban.