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Archive for the ‘Nigeria’ Category

New by Helon Habila: Oil on Water

Oil on WaterNew from one of Nigeria’s most compelling voices

Oil on Water takes us to the desks of Nigeria’s newsrooms, where two journalists are recruited to find the kidnapped wife of a British oil engineer. Zaq, an infamous media hack, knows what’s in store, but Rufus, a keen young journalist eager to get himself noticed, has no idea what he’s let himself in for.

Journeying into the oil-rich regions where militants rule and the currency dealt in is the lives of hostages, Rufus soon finds himself acting as intermediary between editor, husband, captive and soldier. As he follows the trail of the missing woman, the love for the ‘story’ becomes about much more than just uncovering her whereabouts, and instead becomes a mission to seek out and expose the truth. In a cruel twist of fate, Rufus finds himself taking on Zaq’s role much more literally than he ever anticipated, and in the midst of a seemingly endless, harrowing war, he learns that truth can often be a bitter pill to swallow . . .

About the author

With his first book, Waiting for an Angel, Helon Habila announced himself as a brilliant new talent from Nigeria. Written mostly by candlelight in a Lagos tenement stricken by power cuts, in a language – English – which Habila learned in part through frequent visits to the British Council library, his debut was an astonishing fictional portrait of Lagos and its inhabitants. For an early section of the book, he won the Caine Prize, often spoken of as the ‘African Booker’.

His follow-up, Measuring Time, which was published in early 2007, traces the history of modern Nigeria through the story of two twin brothers, one of whom stays at home in his village and the other of whom leaves to fight in the army. As time goes on, Mamo, who has stayed in their home village, decides that he will write the true history of his people, the one that the white historians of Africa never tell.

Now Habila has written an unwittingly timely novel set against the backdrop of the gas flares and oil spills which litter the Niger Delta. As gripping as any thriller and as thought-provoking as any documentary, Oil on Water shines a powerful and necessary light on the corruption and destruction wreaking havoc in his country.

Book details

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The Winners of the Penguin Prizes for African Writing

Penguin Prize for African Writing

On Saturday, 4 September 2010, Penguin Books announced the non-fiction and fiction winners of the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing. This award seeks to highlight the diverse writing talent on the African continent and make new African fiction and non-fiction available to a wider readership. The authors win R50 000 each and publication by Penguin South Africa.

“We were overwhelmed by the number of entries for these two awards and, after hearing fromthe judges and readers who read the submissions, encouraged by the writing talentcoming out of our continent. Congratulations to the two worthy winners.”

–Alison Lowry, CEO, Penguin Books South Africa

The Winner – Non-Fiction

  • Pius Adesanmi for You’re Not a Country, Africa!

In this groundbreaking collection of essays Pius Adesanmi tries to unravel what it is that Africa means to him as an African, and by extension to all those who inhabit this continent of extremes. This is a question that exercised some of the continent’s finest minds in the twentieth century, but which pan-Africanism, Negritude,nationalism, decolonisation and all the other projects through which Africans sought to restore their humanity ultimately failed to answer. Crisscrossing the continent, Adesanmi engages with the enigma that is Africa in an attempt to make meaning of this question for all twenty-first century Africans.

Pius Adesanmi was born in Nigeria but now lives in Ottowa, Canada.

The Winner – Fiction

  • Ellen Banda-Aaku for Patchwork

Destined from birth to inhabit two very different worlds – that of her father, the wealthy Joseph Sakavungo,and that of her mother, his mistress – this emotive tale takes us to the heart of a young girl’s attempts to come to terms with her own identity and fashion a future for herself from the patchwork of the life she was born into. Beautifully constructed, warm and wise, this is a novel that will transport the reader to a world in which we can all become more of the sum of our parts.

Ellen Banda-Aaku was born in Zambia and now resides in London, England.

Pius Adesanmi

Congratulations to both authors! We look forward to bringing you their works.

Our official statement:

    Adorned with lanterns, Il Giardino degli Ulivi restaurant made for relaxed mingling on a perfect spring evening. The enchanting Stanley Avenue by night was the setting for The Penguin Prize for African Writing ceremony on Saturday 4th September.

    The use of Penguin’s orange and black theme colours ensured the venue interior was lively, warm and modern African in essence. Writers’ whose books form part of the Penguin African Writers Series were not forgotten, and, in a touch of genius, these books were turned into artistic displays further illustrating the theme of Africa and literature. A four-piece band provided the light background music that, ironically, created the air of being on a piazza in a European city.

    Alison Lowry, CEO of Penguin Books South Africa opened the proceedings after allowing guests to mingle and soak up some atmosphere, and introduced the keynote speaker, Kole Omotoso.

    Omotoso, popularly known as the “Yebo Gogo man” from Vodacom advertisements is a Nigerian writer and intellectual. He has been a professor in English at the University of the Western Cape and is a professor of Drama at the University of Stellenbosch. As the author of Just before Dawn, a controversial historical novel of Nigeria which led him to leave his home country for South Africa, having Omotoso speak at this event was both relevant and well-timed. Known for his insightful socio-political appraisals of Africa, Omotoso made a hard-hitting speech about freedom of speech and expression, and the lengths to which governments will go to repress it. He argued that the biggest mistake that post-colonial African citizens make is to believe that their liberation governments will be any different from their previous oppressors. “Somehow we thought that Africans in power would be different…Yet our government is not our government. Our silence is their greatest power – the power that keeps governments in power forever. We must not give them that power”.

    Omotoso’s address added a certain gravitas to the event, reminding guests of the significant impact writing has had, and should continue to have on the continent.

    On that note, Alison Lowry announced the winners of the Penguin Prize for African Writing. Pius Adesanmi from Nigeria walked away with the non-fiction prize and Zambian author Ellen Aaku with the fiction prize. Both were suitably thrilled with the knowledge that they had just secured publishing contracts with Penguin and a cash prize of R50 000 each.

    The rest of the evening proved equally festive as Il Giardino degli Ulivi served up a feast of platters, ensuring that no-one was in a rush to leave.

    The Penguin Prize for African Writing recognises fresh, new voices from the African continent and this event very successfully reflected that. Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors, the winners and to Penguin for organising a stellar occasion.

Ellen Aaku

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Mukoma wa Ngugi on the Future of African Literature

Mukoma wa Ngugi

Nairobi HeatHurling Words at ConsciousnessAs the son of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Mukoma wa Ngugi comes from a family with a strong literary focus. Here he talks to Mwenda wa Micheni about the future of African writing and, inherently, the future of African publishing. wa Ngugi believes that “sooner or later we will have to contend with T.S. Elliot’s maxim that a writer’s first responsibility is to his or her own language.” More on what that entails for African fiction below.

The last time you were in Nairobi, you hinted at lack of serious literary agents and publishers in Africa. How has this affected the quality of African writing and portrayal of Africa in the literary world?

Well, a good number of us are working with Western literary agents who are familiar mostly with Western publishers. This in turn means that they are likely to represent books that will be assured a Western audience.  This means that there are good books that have Africans as their primary audience that are not being published.  But in the absence of viable publishing in most African countries, even African literary agents would have a problem.

I think this is why we have to support independent initiatives such as Cassava Republic Press that has taken its mantra of “feeding the African imagination” very seriously.

Book details

Image courtesy CaseWesternReserveUniversity

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Shortlists for the Inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing

Penguin Prize for African Writing

Penguin Books South Africa is delighted to announce the shortlists for the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing.

Having received approximately 250 submissions in the fiction category and 50 in the non-fiction category from countries all over Africa, Penguin Books South Africa is pleased to announce the names of the shortlisted authors for the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing. This award seeks to highlight the diverse writing talent on the African continent and make new African fiction and non-fiction available to a wider readership.

The shortlisted authors for the Penguin Prize for African Writing are:


Ellen Aaku (Zambia)
Moraa Gitaa (Kenya)
Chika Ezeanya (Nigeria)
Shubnum Khan (South Africa)
Isabella Morris (South Africa)
Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ (Kenya)


Pius Adesanmi (Nigeria)
Andrew Barlow (South Africa)
Ruth Carneson (South Africa)
Ahmed Mortiar (South Africa)
Tanure Ojaide (Nigeria)
Anli Serfontein (South Africa)
Tebogo Tlharipe (South Africa)

These manuscripts have been sent to the judges and the winners will be announced on Saturday 4 September 2010 at the Mail and Guardian Literary Festival. The prize in each category will be R50 000 and a publishing contract with Penguin Books South Africa, with worldwide distribution via Penguin Group companies.

About the judges


Kole Omotoso

Kole Omotoso was born in Nigeria in 1943. After studying in Nigeria, he obtained a doctorate on contemporary Arabic prose and dramatic writing at the University of Edinburgh. From 2001, he has been a professor in the Drama Department at Stellenbosch University, and is currently the director of the Africa Diaspora Research Group based in Johannesburg. In 2009, he was a judge for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Africa Region and was the keynote speaker on the festival’s opening night. He is the author of the classic historical narrative The Combat, first published in 1972 and republished in the Penguin Modern Classics series, as well as one short story collection, two plays, three books of literary criticism and several academic articles, novels and historical narratives.

Harry Garuba

Harry Garuba is the head of department and associate professor in the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town. His teaching interests include: African Literature, Postcolonial Theory and Criticism, African Modernities, and Intellectuals/Intellectual Traditions of African Nationalist Writing. In addition to being an academic, he is an author and poet, and with an active interest in African and postcolonial literatures, has been a member of the editorial advisory board of the Heinemann African Writers Series.

Elinor Sisulu

Elinor Sisulu was born in Zimbabwe. She studied in her home country as well as in Senegal and the Netherlands. As an academic researcher for the Ministry of Labour in Zimbabwe in the early eighties, she published studies of women’s work and development assistance in Zimbabwe. This included a major study for NORAD that was later published by SAPES in a book entitled Women in Zimbabwe. From 1987 to 1990 she worked for the International Labour Organisation on assistance programmes for the ANC, PAC and SWAPO. In 1991, Elinor moved to Johannesburg and until 1998, worked as a freelance writer and editor, and as assistant Editor for SPEAK, a black feminist publication.

Her children’s book, The Day Gogo Went to Vote, a story about a child accompanying her grandmother to vote in the 1994 elections, won numerous awards, including the African Studies Association of America Best Children’s Book Award, and has been translated into 6 major South African languages. Her biography of Walter and Albertina Sisulu, Walter and Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime, was published in 2002 and was runner up in the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award, and was awarded the NOMA Award for most outstanding book published in Africa in 2003. Elinor Sisulu is currently advising on projects on democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe.


Redi Direko

Redi Direko was born in Soweto, Johannesburg. She studied for her first degree in Journalism and Communications, and English Literature at post-graduate level in Johannesburg. She has been a broadcast journalist for 11 years, having worked in both television and radio. She began her career as a reporter for Network Radio News and then Kaya FM, a Gauteng radio station. She went on to present a variety of programmes for the SABC and its Africa channel, where she interviewed people such as Thabo Mbeki, Tony Blair, Colin Powell, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. She was the senior news anchor at eTV’s 24th satellite news channel, and has been a columnist for Fairlady magazine. She is currently the presenter of the Redi Direko Show on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk and writes a weekly socio-political column for the Sowetan newspaper, while studying for her Master’s in Literature.

Nic Dawes

Nic Dawes has worked for the Mail & Guardian from 2004. Dawes joined the newspaper as associate editor from ThisDay newspaper. As an investigative and political reporter with editing duties, he was part of the team that broke the story linking police chief Jackie Selebi to the underworld networks surrounding Brett Kebble, and also contributed extensive news and analysis on politics and economic policy. He is now the editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian weekly, and Mail & Guardian Online.

Jonathan Jansen

Jonathan Jansen is honorary professor of education at the University of the Witwatersrand and Scholar-in-Residence at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Johannesburg. He has worked as a high school science teacher and served as the dean of education at the University of Pretoria from 2001-2007. He obtained his MS in science education at Cornell University and his PhD from Stanford University as a Fulbright Scholar, and is widely regarded as one of the top researchers in the field of education.

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Tymon Smith Profiles Say You’re One of Them‘s Uwem Akpan for the Sunday Times

Uwem Akpan and fanSay You're One of ThemThe Sunday Times’ Tymon Smith spend some time with Oprah Book Club author Uwem Akpan during Akpan’s recent SA visit, and returns this profile:

In South Africa recently to attend The Time of the Writer literary festival in Durban, Akpan said: “Children are vulnerable and resilient. I read reports of the disasters I have written about and they are always told from the perspective of adults and I wonder how children are living through these conflicts. What does it mean for a child to be trafficked? How do you prepare a child to do this? I wanted to tell the stories from the perspective of children. I wanted the reader to sit with these children for a while and live through the chaos and confusion in the minds of the children and maybe we’d be able to say, ‘For the sake of our children, let’s change something in the way we think about these issues.’”
Born in Ikot Akpan Eda in Southern Nigeria to schoolteacher parents, Akpan entered a seminary when he was 19 and was ordained as a priest in 2003. He began writing fiction in 2000 after his non-fiction essays were rejected by Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper. After “a few months of mourning and depression”, Akpan realised that the newspaper also published short stories on Saturdays and he decided to try his hand at fiction. He found he had a talent for it.

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New York Times Q&A: Deborah Solomon Talks to Chinua Achebe

Things Fall ApartThe Education of a British-Protected ChildChinua Achebe’s latest book is The Education of a British-Protected Child. Here, New York Times correspondent Deborah Solomon finds herself gently sparring with the giant of letters, on topics ranging from his seminal novel Things Fall Apart to the current political situation in Nigeria:

Since its publication in 1958, “Things Fall Apart,” the story of a Nigerian yam farmer who is unable to accept the changes wrought by British colonialism, has become the best-selling novel ever written by an African.

Well, I hear such exaggerated comments. I just leave them alone.

It’s a staple of American high-school English classes, and it has supposedly sold more than eight million copies.

That would be possible. I’m not grumbling; I have done well. But don’t imagine I’m a millionaire.

Book details

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Home Away Preview: Lagos, Nigeria: "The Generator Man" by Moky Makura

Home AwayZebra Press brings you a preview of the exciting new collection of SA writing on hours and cities edited by Louis Greenberg, Home Away – to be launched in April. Watch out for the first pages of each of the 24 stories, which will be run in hourly sequence every day.

It’s 7 AM and Moky Makura takes us to Lagos, Nigeria:

Home Away: 7 AM (Moky Makura)

Book details

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A Divinely Delightful Evening with Oprah Book Club Author Uwem Akpan

Uwem Akpan

Say You're One of ThemUwem Akpan and fanRinging laughter is what most guests will remember from the launch of Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them. Visiting South Africa for the Time of the Writer Festival, Akpan was able to make time for his Joburg fans at the Nelson Mandela Square Exclusive Books this week. Akpan, a Catholic priest, delighted launch guests with his self-deprecating attitude and genuine warmth.

Say You’re One of Them is, of course, the collection of short stories that caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey, who made it one of her Book Club selections. Akpan says the resulting attention has allowed him to travel around the world – mostly through writers’ festivals invites. He speaks of writing as a “gift” – something that he needed to appreciate by acting on. When writing his book, he was often at the mercy of Nigeria’s on again, off again electricity supply, but he persevered. He wrote mainly at night on local computers while attending to his seminary studies and parishioners during the day. Asked for advice by an aspiring author in the audience, he said, “If you want to write, write!”. He said that a writer must be “ready to sit alone in that room, tell their friends not to visit and stay in that space”. Saying he “stumbled” upon his gift, he spent many years developing it including going to a writers’ school.

During the launch he said he’d originally aspired to be a columnist, writing a package of 4 opinion pieces which he sent off to various newspapers to try his luck. Feeling down and depressed when he didn’t receive a positive response, he eventually tried fiction – asking himself, “What do I have to lose?”. He was lucky, with several publishers keen to pick up his work. As a newly developing author he shared how he balked initially at being published because he didn’t feel he was ready. Finally, a year later, his short story, “My Parents’ Bedroom”, was published.

Asked how real the stories he writes are to him he replied that first he writes, then he researches. For him, “research is not the story”. But he does spend time sending his work out for comments and feedback, particularly when it comes to checking cultural details and honouring the local dialogue or “patois”. It is clear that although not biographical, the stories and children he writes about move him greatly. “I intentionally wanted to write about things that bothered me,” he said. For the future, he would love to write a novel but that is something he will need to learn how to do.

It was clear that the crowd at this launch – which comprised people from all over the world, as it happened – were only too happy to enjoy a touch of the Oprah magic that now surrounds Father Uwem Akpan.

Facebook gallery

18 photos

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Meet Oprah Book Club Author Uwem Akpan at Exclusive Books Mandela Square

Say You're One of Them - Johannesburg Launch Invite

Say You're One of ThemExclusive Books and Penguin Books take pleasure in inviting you to come and meet Uwem Akpan.

His book of short stories, Say You’re One of Them, is Oprah Winfreys’ latest book club selection and the winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in the Africa region.

Akpan’s extraordinary stories centre on African conflicts as seen through the eyes of children and describes their resilience and endurance in heartbreaking detail. From child trafficking to inter-religious conflicts, the author reveals in beautiful prose the resilience and endurance of children faced with the harsh consequences of deprivation and terror.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Event Details

  • Date: Tuesday, 16 March 2010
  • Time: 6:00 PM for 6:30 PM
  • Venue: Exclusive Books, Mandela Square, Shop 111, Upper Level
    Mandela Square
    Sandton, Johannesburg | Map
  • RSVP:, 011 784 5416

Book Details

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Say You’re One of Them Author Uwem Akpan in South Africa this Month

Say You're One of ThemUwem Akpan'“…usually short stories leave you wanting something and you’re like, huh, what happened?… “This is a first for me because
each one of these five stories really just left me gasping. Just an incredible book.”

– Oprah Winfrey

2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize winner and Oprah Book Club author Uwem Akpan will be visiting South Africa this month, giving press interviews and attending the Time of the Writer in Durban.

If you’re in Durban from 9 – 13 March, don’t miss your chance to get to know a stunning new voice on the African writing scene.

About the book

Uwem Akpan’s stunning stories humanise the perils of poverty and violence so piercingly that few readers will feel they’ve ever encountered Africa so immediately. The eight-year-old narrator of “An Ex-Mas Feast” needs only enough money to buy books and pay fees in order to attend school. Even when his twelve-year-old sister takes to the streets to raise these meager funds, his dream can’t be granted. Food comes first. His family lives in a street shanty in Nairobi, Kenya, but their way of both loving and taking advantage of each other strikes a universal chord.

In the second of his stories, Akpan takes us far beyond what we thought we knew about the tribal conflict in Rwanda. The story is told by a young girl, who, with her little brother, witnesses the worst possible scenario between parents. They are asked to do the previously unimaginable in order to protect their children. This singular collection will also take the reader inside Nigeria, Benin, and Ethiopia, revealing in beautiful prose the harsh consequences of life for children in Africa.

Akpan’s voice is a literary miracle, rendering lives of almost unimaginable deprivation and terror into stories that are nothing short of transcendent.

About the author

Uwem Akpan was born in the village of Ikot Akpan Eda in southern Nigeria. After studying philosophy and English at Creighton and Gonzaga universities, he studied theology for three years at the Catholic University of East Africa. He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 2003 and received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan in 2006. “My Parents’ Bedroom”, a story included in this, his first collection, was one of five short stories by African writers chosen as finalists for the Caine Prize for African Writing. In 2007 Akpan began a teaching assignment at a Jesuit college in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Book details

Photo courtesy Luke Coppen @ WordPress

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