The first time I picked up a book by a Nigerian author, I was in college, sifting through my understanding of what it meant to be black. The book was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and it’s safe to say it changed my life.
The main character, Ifemelu, is forced to contend with her own blackness for the first time when she moves to America — a process that is foreign to someone whose race is thrust upon them the moment they enter the world. Before Adichie, I was well-versed in the imaginings of blackness through the American lens — both black and white. I understood the deafening cloud of oppression and the persistent struggle that weaves its way through every narrative. I understood that blackness, even when unmentioned, always lurked quietly in the background — easily called up when a new character crossed the page.
Americanah is different. Ifemelu is black but not in the way the American characters in the book are; not in the way that I am. Her blackness is more solid somehow, unburdened by quarter-white 23andMe test results and a torrid history that is danced around delicately. She looks at black American culture from a precarious distance and conceptualizes race in a way that is captivating because while she’s aware of it, she isn’t consumed by it. She learns what it means to be black over the course of the novel — because race isn’t something she is forced to consider before she arrives in America.
It’s the perspective I didn’t know I needed as a young, queer black girl looking to understand myself.
It made me reexamine my understandings of race and its mere existence as a category. It’s the perspective I didn’t know I needed as a young, queer black girl looking to understand myself. From there I fell in love with Adichie and Nigerian authors as a whole (seriously, it’s all I talk about on the ‘gram). And while no two authors are the same, they all share the ability to create bodies of work where blackness isn’t prescriptive but descriptive. Their worlds are often filled with black characters who are just living, which taught me that I could just live, too.
Although I have my own personal infatuation with Nigerian authors, they’re part of a new generation of young Nigerian artists captivating readers worldwide. In early 2017, The New York Times reported the renaissance taking place on the continent and the ways their works challenge and address age-old taboos and traditions that went previously unaddressed. The result is vibrant and energetic prose — work that delights, haunts, and travels everywhere from the streets of Lagos to small, American towns.
Ahead, I’ve rounded up the contemporary Nigerian authors you need to read now — and which books to start with.