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Nigerian author Akwaeke Emezi

The NOMMO Awards Long List Spotlights The Best Of African Speculative Fiction

African authors Lauren Beukes, Abie Daré, Ewaeke Emezi, Ben Okri and more have made the 2021 Nommo Awards Long List.

African literature has, once again, been thrust centre stage with the exciting release of the Nommo Awards Nomination Long List, which prizes the African Speculative Fiction genre. The long list is a thrilling step ahead of the upcoming Nommo Awards this year. Nigerian writers lead with nominations across the four categories — "Best Novel", "Best Novella", "Best Short Story" and "Best Graphic Novel". All eyes will be on the highly coveted "Best Novel" category, comprised of 15 of the best African Speculative fiction works published between January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2020.


South African novelist Lauren Beukes made the "Best Novel" long list for UnGirls. While New York Times best seller Abi Daré, has been selected for her brave and wondrous debut novel The Girl With The Louding Voice, written in Nigerian pidgin English. Prolific Kenyan writer and critical thinkerNgũgĩ wa Thiong'o has also been long-listed for his latest body of work The Perfect Nine, written in his native Gikuyu. Remarkable writer Ben Okri's Freedom Artist is also in the running. The Death of Vivek Oji, a spiritually and psychologically-charged piece of literary art,is another firm contender from Akwaeke Emezi. Emezi was at the receiving end of the 2021 Women's Prize controversy because of their non-gender conforming identity.

The Nommo Long List has duly recognised queer voices for the visually encapsulating comic book Meanwhile..., which grabbed a comfortable spot in the "Best Graphic Novel" category. Meanwhile... features collective stories of queer experiences from across the African continent. The graphic novel was created in conjunction with Quinto Collab (various writers & artists), MaThoko's Books, an imprint of South Africa's Gay and Lesbian memory in Action (GALA) Queer Archive. Zambian-based comic house Black House Comics, on the other hand, dominated the long list with three of its featured writer-artists — a great feat for the Africa's graphic novel field.

Short stories have always been popular within African literature, and the long list has the most nominees with just over 50 authors. Zimbabwean writer Shanice Ndlovu, published her 2020 novel The Pride of Noonlay through South African publishing house Modjaji Books, and has instead been nominated for her short story "A Water Heart". The 2020 Nommo "Best Novel" shortlist featured young South African author Masande Ntshanga for Triangulum. The "Best Novel" prize subsequently went to Nigerian Sci-fi writer Suyo Davies Okungbowa'sDavid Mojo, Godhunter.

Read: Interview: Masande Ntshanga Ponders What it Means to be a Native in Past and Future Millenia

The literary award is named after the Nommo mythological amphibious creature which has its origins in Mali and offers a cosmological perspective on mastery. The shortlist will be announced at the end of May, and voting will commence shortly afterwards.

Here is the full list of all the nominees in all four Nommo long lists.

2021 NOVEL LONG LIST

  • The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
  • The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
  • Freedom Artist by Ben Okri
  • King of the Hollow Dark by Cat Hellisen
  • Claiming T-Mo by Eugen Bacon
  • The Down Days by Ilze Hugo
  • The First Woman by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
  • Afterland by Lauren Beukes
  • The Perfect Nine by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
  • Water Must Fall by Nick Wood
  • Club Ded by Nikhil Singh
  • Soul Searching by Stephen Embleton
  • The Rosewater Redemption by Tade Thompson
  • Rebel Sisters by Tochi Onyebuchi
  • A Trial of Sparks and Kindling by Yolande Horak

2021 NOVELLA LONG LIST

  • Ferryman by Caldon Mull
  • Convergence in Chorus Architecture by Dare Segun Falowo
  • A Fledgling Abiba by Dilman Dila
  • Ife-Ikyoku: The Tale of Imadeyunuagbon by Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald
  • Ivory's Story by Eugen Bacon
  • Ungirls by Lauren Beukes
  • The Satellite Charmer by Mame Bougouma Diene
  • The Kigango Oracle by Moraa Gitaa
  • The Silence of the Wilting Skin by Tlotlo Tsamaase
  • Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

2021 SHORT STORY LONG LIST

  • "The Not-So-Secret Lives of Nigerian Politicians" by Adelehin Ijasan
  • "That Which Smells Bad" by Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga
  • "The Game" by Alvin Kathembe
  • "What the Dead Man Said" by Chinelo Onwualu
  • "A Love Song for Herkinal as composed by Ashkernas amid the ruins of New Haven" by Chinelo Onwualu
  • "The Chronical of Anaoma" by Chinwe Marycynthia Okafor
  • "Space Bakide Ride" by Colin Cloud Dance
  • "Ngozi Ugegbe Nwa" by Dare Segun Falowo
  • "Fort Kwame" by Derek Lubangakene
  • "The Cult of Reminiscence" by Derek Lubangakene
  • "Red_Bati" by Dilman Dila
  • "Yat Madit" by Dilman Dila
  • "A Visit in Whitechapel" by Eugen Bacon
  • "The One Who Sees" by Eugen Bacon
  • "The Road to Woop Woop" by Eugen Bacon
  • "Still She Visits" by Eugen Bacon
  • "Rat and Finch are Friends" by Innocent Chizaram Ilo
  • "The Red Earth" by John Barigye
  • "Lekki Lekki" by Mame Bougouma Diene
  • "Do Androids Dream of Capitalism and Slavery" by Mandisi Nkomo
  • "Rainmaker" by Mazi Nwonwu
  • "A Curse at Midnight" by Moustapha Mbacké Diop
  • "Things Boys Do" by 'Pemi Aguda
  • "Manifest" by 'Pemi Aguda
  • "Clanfall: Death of Kings" by Odida Nyabundi
  • "The Mannequin Challenge" by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki
  • "Blueland" by Olamide Olanrewaju
  • "Ibrahim and the Green Fishing Net"by Omar William Sow
  • "To Look Forward" by Osahon Ize-Iyamu
  • "Where the Rain Mothers Are" by Rafeeat Aliyu
  • "The Daemon King of England" by Rafeeat Aliyu
  • "Fruit of the Calabash" by Rafeeat Aliyu
  • "Blood is Another Word for Hunger" by Rivers Solomon
  • "Fairy Tales for Robots" by Sofia Samatar
  • "Where You Go" by Somto O. Ihezue
  • "Orlanda" by Tade Thompson
  • "The Cure" by Tariro Ndoro
  • "Egoli" by T L Huchu
  • "Corialis" by T L Huchu
  • "The Bend of Water" by Tiah Marie Beautement
  • "Thoughtbox" by Tlotlo Tsamaase
  • "River of Night" by Tlotlo Tsamaase
  • "Behind Our Irises" by Tlotlo Tsamaase
  • "Drummer Boy in a World" by Tobi Ogundiran
  • "Guardian of the Gods" by Tobi Ogundiran
  • "The Goatkeeper's Harvest" by Tobi Ogundiran
  • "A Water Heart" by Shanice Ndlovu
  • "And This is How to Say" by Shingai Njeri Kagunda
  • "Tends to Zero" by Wole Talabi
  • "Red Cloth White Giraffe" by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu
  • "The Wonder of Spirits" by Yvonne Nezianya

2021 GRAPHIC NOVEL LONG LIST

  • Alex by Anna Mbale (writer) and Mwiche Songolo (artist) – Black Hut Comics
  • Black Sheep by Mwiche Songolo (writer & artist) – Black Hut Comics
  • Meanwhile… by Quinto Collab (various writers & artists), MaThoko's Books, an imprint of GALA Queer Archive
  • Moongirls by Nana Akosua Hanson (writer) AnimaxFYB Studios (art) – Ghana Drama Queens Collective
  • New Men by Murewa Ayodele (writer) and Dotun Akande (artist) – Collectible Comics.
  • Titan by Mazuba Chimbeza (writer & artist) – Black Hut Comics
Literature
Photo: Ruvimbo Muchenje

Despite Persecution, Tsitsi Dangarembga Writes On

The award-winning novelist is awaiting judgment, slated for the end of September, on charges of inciting public violence.

Zimbabwean filmmaker, activist and author Tsitsi Dangarembga remains defiant, continuing to write, despite ongoing persecution from the government. She was arrested in 2020 along with another activist, Julie Barnes, while holding placards calling for reform and the release of investigative journalist Hopewell Chin'ono, in the leafy suburb of Borrowdale, Harare.

The President Emmerson Mnangagwa-led regime arrested several prominent activists and opposition party figures to allegedly thwart planned mass demonstrations over poor governance and state-security brutality during the COVID 19 era, in mid-2020. Chin'ono, one of the country’s most prominent journalists, was arrested for exposing a corruption scandal during the pandemic.

Dangarembga, who became the first Black woman winner of the 2021 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for her creative work and social engagement, has had numerous work opportunities affected by the ongoing trial against her. Although she has been able to go to the UK to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival and promote her latest publication – Faber and Faber recently released a book of her essays, titled Black and Female, there – she has missed other chances to travel.

As in most developing nations, the arts sector in Zimbabwe does not pay much and most creatives look out for various opportunities for survival in a country hit by economic malaise, shortages of basic commodities and currency crisis. When Dangarembga was released on bail in 2020, surrendering her passport to the police to ensure she would not flee the country was part of her bail condition.

“In the beginning, I was very optimistic that the case would be dealt with speedily,” she says, adding that in December 2020 when she received her passport back to attend her fellowship at the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study in Cape Town, in neighboring South Africa, she did not think the case would have much impact on her work.

The magistrate who ruled in the matter even told her that the charges were not grave. “I received my passport back and no longer reported weekly from December 2020, which was a relief,” says Dangarembga. But she realized her predicament at the hands of the regime in her homeland was far from over when the state took a long time to prepare for trial and kept changing dates.

“It was difficult to adjust my schedule to the court dates. With the creative economy in Zimbabwe being as depressed and specific as it is, I cannot afford to miss any opportunity to earn a living,” she says. “I missed an important teaching job in Johannesburg that I still think about with regret to this day. I love mentoring young African people to tell their stories, whether it be on screen or on paper.”

It is now more than two years since Dangarembga was placed on remand, waiting and going through trials for a case that has yet to be finalized. If convicted, she faces several years in prison. The judgment was due to be delivered on the 26th of August but it was postponed to September 29 because Dangarembga's co-accused did not attend court that day as she was outside the country.

Still, she continues to work on the projects that fuel her fire and further her message. Dangarembga is currently writing a young adult speculative dystopian fiction called Sai-Sai and the Great Ancestor of Fire. “This is the work that has suffered the most from the events of the last two years,” she says. Dangarembga says her concentration on fiction has been affected because the place she writes from is occupied with turmoil about the trial. “However, I was able to work on some screenplays,” she says.

“When the trial began in earnest I did not manage much work at all,” she says. “All my work is generated from my own internal environment as a writer, so the last five months or so have been very difficult for me.”

The 63-year-old writer, born in Mutoko, a town 143 kilometers northeast of Harare, moved to the UK at the age of two. She returned in 1980, before Zimbabwe gained independence from British colonialists. Her first novel, Nervous Conditions, won a Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989. She is also credited for writing the story that was turned into Zimbabwe’s highest grossing film in 1993, Neria, and three years later, she became the first Black Zimbabwean woman to direct a feature film, Everyone’s Child. Just days before she was arrested in 2020, Dangarembga’s novel This Mournable Body, which is part of a series, was nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize.

Regarding Dangarembga’s case, Beatrice Mtetwa, a human rights lawyer, says there can be no doubt that it is persecution under the guise of prosecution. “The constitution provides for the freedom to demonstrate and to petition peacefully and there can be no doubt that a two-women protest could not have been anything but peaceful,” she says. “Dangarembga’s prosecution is, sadly, one of the many cases of abuse using the criminal justice system.”

Kenyan-based award-winning writer, editor and publisher Zukiswa Wanner says the state does not have a viable case. “It is tragic that Zimbabwean authorities are so full of fear that something as simple as a woman marching alone with a placard is seen as inciting public violence instead of it being seen as a request for them to do better by citizens,” Wanner, who's co-facilitated training workshops with Dangarembga around the continent, tells OkayAfrica.

Wanner, who was born in Zambia but raised in Zimbabwe, believes it’s the top government officials who've destroyed the country that should be in prison, not critics like Dangarembga. Upholding human rights, along with drawing attention to women and gender issues, has long been central to the work that has earned Dangarembga praise.

“I think the state targets dissenting voices. Some of those dissenting voices are women’s voices,” Dangarembga says. “I think the effect of taking action against women is particularly shocking because women’s dissident voices are usually not violent. Peaceful protest is a constitutional right in Zimbabwe.” And Dangarembga intends to exercise that right as much as she can.

Literature
Photo: Reginald Eldridge, Jr.

Tomi Obaro Fulfills Her Destiny

In her vibrant debut novel, ‘Dele Weds Destiny,’ the Nigerian American author invites readers to take part in a celebration of the ebbs and flows of friendship.

Tomi Obaro had written a whole other novel before Dele Weds Destiny as it is now came to be. Seeing a photo of Obaro’s mother and her friends sparked an idea in the Brooklyn-based writer to change her initial draft. “I always say it’s loosely inspired by the friendship that my mom has with her two best friends,” Obaro tells OkayAfrica, via Zoom from her Brooklyn home. “They met in college in Nigeria and have never lived in the same country since then -- at least only two of them have, and that's only recently. That was an interesting concept for a novel idea, and so I started writing it once I had made my peace with the fact that the previous book wasn't really working.”

In Dele Weds Destiny, Obaro introduces us to Funmi, Zainab and Enitan, a trio of friends who met at university in Zaria, northern Nigeria, in the 1980s, and drifted apart but are brought together for the first time in thirty years by a wedding – Funmi’s daughter Destiny is getting married in Lagos. Told through alternating viewpoints of each woman, the story goes back and forth in time, as Obaro explores culture, class, relationships and religion, and gives the reader a touch of historical context at the same time.

An editor at BuzzFeed by day, Obaro spoke to OkayAfrica about what it took to write her first book and how her Nigerian roots fed into the novel.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The book is titled Dele Weds Destiny, yet neither Dele nor Destiny is the focus of the story. Three friends are, one of whom is Destiny’s mother. Why did you decide on this as the title?

It was sort of like a private joke with myself. I knew that I wanted to write in some way about Nigerian weddings, but I didn't really want the focus to be ultimately on the romance. I've always loved novels that sort of trace the evolution of friendships. I had written a novel previously, that also had a wedding in it, but was not what maybe would have been expected and, ultimately, it wasn't really working. But I kept the name of two characters and then the title of the book from that. I think it's somewhat clear in the novel, or maybe it's not that, I have my own sort of conflicted feelings about certainly the type of wedding that's described in the book, and that I've been to on a few occasions where they can be really lavish and ostentatious events. It often feels like the focus is missing or it just becomes like this capitalist enterprise, essentially. So I was just interested in the idea of presenting it and making it seem like a summer novel, and then, actually, exploring friendship more in depth.

You paint such vivid portraits of Nigeria, particularly in the chapters set in the university years when the women meet. You were born in the UK but spent much time in Nigeria -- what informed your writing about the country? What’s your relationship like with your Nigerian heritage?

I'd say it's a complicated one. I didn't grow up living there, we lived in the Gambia, and it's very close. So we would often go back for summer vacations. A lot of my memories of Nigeria were, like, waiting in airports, or sitting in traffic. But we were able to spend time in different parts of the country, like, we went to the north and the south. A lot of a lot of the writing, especially early on, was placed in a kind of nostalgia, memories, especially a lot of the food and the scenes that I said in the ‘80s, the university, it required doing a little bit of research. I didn't want to do too much because I didn't want it to feel like I was writing like a term paper or like a nonfiction account. But I did read a couple of books just to get a sense of what the political climate was like. There's an event that happens on campus that is based on a true event that happened.

And sometimes I would ask my parents very cryptic questions, like, my dad speaks Hausa so it'd be like, ‘how would you say this?’ There was a degree to which it felt a little bit scary to decide to sort of bend right from the point of view of women who grew up in Nigeria and women who are older than I am. But I think that was also sort of part of the appeal; it was exciting and scary, and then sort of like giving myself some authority. I also had a few friends who read it to fact check a few things and make sure that the tonal marks are in the right place and things of that nature.

The cover art for the novel Dele Weds Destiny

In Dele Weds Destiny, Obaro introduces us to Funmi, Zainab and Enitan, a trio of friends who met at university in Zaria, northern Nigeria, in the 1980s.

Photo: Penguin Random House

Did your parents know you were writing it?

They didn't really know until I sold it. But yeah, I've been surprised, I mean I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but they've been more supportive than I expected them to be. Which has been nice to experience.

How did the process of working on the book change or enhance that part of your identity that is Nigerian?

In the in the process of writing it, I definitely feel like I learned a lot. It was informative. My parents had talked to me about the religious tensions that happened there in college, and I was reading more about those things. Thinking about just even the music of the time period, I was definitely coming from a place of learning a few more things. But I do feel like my relationship to Nigeria is inherently complicated. It's a country that is currently undergoing a lot of turmoil, and it can sometimes feel weird, and the anxiety that one feels arriving in Nigeria, it certainly is the anxiety that I often feel just even when my parents tell me they're going to Nigeria. So it's a complicated country, fundamentally.

Where do you see your novel within Nigerian fiction?

I think fundamentally, the book is sort of in a tradition of domestic fiction, which maybe I think, historically, the West hasn't really [read] with the obvious exception of Chimamanda [Ngozi Adichie]. In the books that I was reading, like Buchi Emecheta, The Joys of Motherhood, and then a book by Senegalese author, Mariama Bâ, So Long A Letter, there is actually a tradition of West African fiction that is fixated squarely on women's inner lives and relationships and their marriages and their relationship to their children. So I don't necessarily think that I'm pushing the needle. What is exciting currently with Nigerian fiction is that there's just so much more of it and many different genres. There has historically been this idea, in Africa in general, that there can only be, like, one marquee African writer of the moment. There's so many different kinds of Nigerian fiction. Selfishly, it can be a little bit jarring; there's so many different Nigerian titles to choose from, how am I going to stand out? But from a reader's point of view, I think being able to read a romance and a thriller, and then a fantasy, that can't but be a good thing.

Do you plan to write another novel?

Probably, even though I think it feels hard to conceive of right now. I had been working on another thing even while I was writing this, so there's definitely things percolating. It's like, you do a hard thing, and then you forget the hard parts and you just remember the joy of it, which is ultimately the only thing you can kind of really hold on to because everything else is so out of your control. So, yeah, it will happen, I just don't know when.

Music
Photo courtesy: Dac Biet

Listen to Black Sherif's Debut Album 'The Villain I Never Was'

Get ready, Black Sherif is here.


Ghana's Black Sherif shares his debut albumThe Villain I Never Was, a sonically refreshing body of work that underscores his personal struggles and triumphs. The album is a 14-track offering that has a single feature from Nigeria's Burna Boy.

“It took me everything to give life to this body,” says the 20-year-old Black Sherif in a conversation about the effort he put behind the album. “The one thing in my life that I gave everything up for. There is life in this body, I hope it treats you good and speaks to you like I want it to.”

In many ways, the album is a biopic that shows an unraveling of his personal life, and gives his audience a candid overview of his journey. In an earlier interview with OkayAfrica, the 20-year-old "Kwaku the Traveller" artist said that his ascent into the music world was unexpected, and went against his religious background.

“I have loved music since I was a kid. I just didn’t know I was going to make a career out of it,” said Black Sherif. “I am a Muslim. In Islam, music is more like sin, you shouldn’t make a career out of it if you are a Muslim. The music was chasing me, but I was always dodging it.”

Black Sherif, who was born as Mohammed Ismail Sharif Kwaku Frimpong, formally started exploring music at the age of 17 with his single "Cry For Me." This record was quickly followed by "Money," a record that highlighted his journey as a young man who was navigating the streets of Accra. He later went viral with massive singles like "First Sermon," "Second Sermon," and "Kwaku the Traveller."

Black Sherif's sound fuses elements of afrobeats with influences from drill and trap music. His sonic style is characterized by poignant wordplay, a keen ability to seamlessly merge multiple languages and genres in a way that is both interesting and fun.

He has become one of the leading voices in Ghanaian drill music, and has been featured on Apple Music's Rap Life playlist as well as Spotify's Radar Artist. He was also recently nominated for “Best International Flow” at the BET Hip Hop Awards.

Listen to Black Sherif's 'The Villain I Never Was' below.

Music
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