Africa39 group photo

What happened to the “most promising writers” of Africa39? – Part 1

On April 8, 2014, the Africa39 list was announced as part of celebrations for UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. What have they been up to since they were announced?

Africa39 was a collaborative project initiated by the Hay Festival in partnership with Rainbow Book Club celebrating Port Harcourt: UNESCO World Book Capital 2014. The project had Binyavanga Wainaina doing the research that presented over 100 texts that were cut down to thirty-nine by a panel that included Elechi Amadi, Tess Onwueme, and Margaret Busby.

The writers selected were seen as the ones under the age of 40 who had the potential and the talent to define the trends that will mark the future development of literature in Africa. What happened to everyone who featured on the list half a decade ago? While some would want to bet on lucky numbers with Betway on who did what, we decided to go searching on the Internet on their progress. Its 39 writers so we break down the post into two.


The festival.

  • The Port Harcourt Book Festival has since discontinued. No information on why this happened is readily available.

The writers.

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi (Nigeria) – Adichie hasn’t given us any new novel since her 2013 smash hit Americanah. The author who has been called the “Beyonce of African literature” has produced two nonfiction works in We Should All Be Feminists (2014) and Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (2017). She has also spent time on the festival circuit giving keynote addresses that have pushed the envelope for feminism and African writing. Arguably the most influential African writer today, Adichie has a popular workshop where she mentors the next generation of writers.
  • Richard Ali A Mutu (DR Congo) – Since the list was announced, Mutu has written Fix It (2017).
  • Monica Arac de Nyeko (Uganda) – de Nyeko is a Ugandan writer of short fiction, poetry, and essays. In 2007 she became the first Ugandan to win the Caine Prize for African Writing, with her brilliant story Jambula Tree. The writer whose work featured in the New Daughters of Africa  has had her award-winning short story Jambula Tree inspire the Wanuri Kahiu directed movie Rafiki.
  • Rotimi Babatunde (Nigeria) – Babatunde came to continental prominence in 2012 when he won the Caine Prize for African Writing for Bombay Republic. His short story The Collected Tricks of Houdini was longlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award 2015, the richest prize in the world for a single short story. The academic has focused his efforts on writing for stage such as adapting The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives which was originally a novel by Lola Shoneyin.
  • Eileen Barbosa (Cape Verde) – The writer has been featured in Cabo Verde 100 poemas escolhidos 2017 as well as Cabo Verde Prosa Literaria Pos Independencia 2017.
  • A Igoni Barrett (Nigeria) – the writer of short stories and novels was listed when he had already Written Love Is Power, Or Something Like That. Since then he has written the highly acclaimed Blackass (2015). He continues influencing the future as the judge of the Graywolf Africa Prize.
  • Jackee Budesta Batanda (Uganda) – Batanda hasn’t written any books yet preferring to feature in anthologies like New Daughters of Africa. She influences the future with her Success Spark Brand Limited, a communications and educational company that trains the next generation of writers.
  • Nana Brew-Hammond (Ghana) – When she was included in this Africa39 list she had written the highly acclaimed novel Powder Necklace. While she hasn’t written any other novels since, she continues writing for publications like AOL, Parenting Magazine, the Village Voice, Metro, and Trace Magazine. She also conducts training for the next generation of writers.
  • Shadreck Chikoti (Malawi) – The Lilongwe based resident is the novelist behind Azotus, the Kingdom (2016). Since the list was announced, he has led the way first with his publishing firm Pan African Publishers which brought to us Imagine Africa 500 an anthology of speculative fiction. He is also on the team that is organising Malawi’s first major literary festival in a long while the Feminart Literary Festival.
  • Edwige-Renée Dro (Ivory Coast) – Dro is not a novelist. What the former publisher does exceedingly well is translating, editing and facilitating of the next generation of writers like most recently for the AfroYoung Adult Project. She is also one of the prime movers of the Abidjan Lit movement that promotes reading in the capital of Ivory Coast.
  • Tope Folarin (Nigeria/US) – The US-based writer came to our attention when he won the Caine Prize for Africa Writing in 2013. He went quiet for a while popping up with another Caine Prize shortlist in 2016. His debut novel A Particular Kind of Black Man published by Simon & Schuster is set for a release this summer.
  • Clifton Gachagua (Kenya) – Gachagua who is primarily a poet won the Sillerman Prize with his debut poetry collection Madman at Kilifi which was published the same year. Not much has been heard from him since the collection dropped.
  • Stanley Gazemba (Kenya) – The Kenyan writer was included in the list with his book The Stone Hills of the Maragoli having won the Jomo Kenyatta Prize in 2003. He had also written Callused Hands (2013), which we loved. His earlier book The Stone Hills of the Maragoli was issued in the USA as Forbidden Fruit, his new book is Nairobi Echoes, and we can expect a new offering called Dog Eat Samosa this year. He has also had work in anthologies like Peter Kimani’s forthcoming Nairobi Noir.
  • Mehul Gohil (Kenya) – his work has been featured in Jalada.
  • Hawa Jande Golakai (Liberia) – The Liberian writer came to the list with a murder mystery novel The Lazarus Effect. The medical researcher in immunology would follow this one up with The Score (2015) and has dabbled in nonfiction with her essay Fugee featuring in the Ellah Wakatama Allfrey edited Safe House.
  • Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Nigeria) – the Abuja based writer and journalist has had a very exciting few years since he was listed on the Africa39. He wrote a book Seasons of Crimson Blossom which won the NLNG Nigerian Prize for Literature 2016. His first short story collection will be reissued by new publishing imprint Cassava Shorts later in the year.
  • Stanley Onjezani Kenani (Malawi/Switzerland) – The Malawian writer has been contributing work to publications like Enkare. He has also been influencing the future as a judge with the 100 words Africa competition.
  • Dinaw Mengestu (Ethiopia/US) – The Ethiopian has written books like The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007), How to Read the Air (2010), and All Our Names (Knopf, 2014). He was a judge for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2018.
  • Nadifa Mohamed (Somalia/UK) – the Somalilander has written two novels in Black Mamba Boy (2009) and The Orchard of Lost Souls (2013). Her writing has also been published in such outlets as The Guardian and Literary Hub. In June 2018, she was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in its “40 Under 40” initiative.
  • Nthikeng Mohlele (South Africa) – The South African was put on this list when he already had three books to his name in The Scent of Bliss (2008), Small Things (2013), and Rusty Bell (2014). Since that time he has proven to be probably the most prolific in novel writing bringing to us Pleasure (2016), Michael K (2018), and Illumination (2019).
  • Linda Musita (Kenya) – The lawyer has been published by Enkare Review and Jalada since the announcement.
  • Sifiso Mzobe (South Africa) – Mzobe blew up when his novel Young Blood, which won many awards, was published in 2010. Since then he has focused on translating the beloved Shadow Chasers series by Bontle Senne into the Abazingeli Bezithunzi series in isiZulu.

You can read part two of this series here.






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