Nigeria’s female voices are taking over the world. In 2019, three Nigerian writers – Akwaeke Emezi, Oyinkan Braithwaite and Diana Evans – were nominated last year to the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. The award is considered one of the most prestigious in terms of English-language literature.
Akwaeke Emezi was nominated for his fictionalized autobiography “Freshwater”. Oyinkan Braithwaite was nominated as the author of “My sister, the serial killer” and Diana Evans for the book “Ordinary People”. Although the three writers made the finalist list, the American Tayari Jones received the top award for the book “An American Marriage”.
“It is not that these stories have emerged now, it is that there are now those authors who tell them”
The award has existed since 1996 and emerged as a way of honoring writers who impact the world of literature with texts published in English. However, Nigerians women are still poorly recognized in other awards, which mostly award male authors.
“Nigeria has a very strong literary tradition. As an example, we have the Nobel Prize winner for literature Wole Soyinka. He belongs to a generation of authors who are very important to modern African literature after colonization and the process of independence,” recalls Professor Elena Brugioni, who teaches African Literature and Post-colonial Studies at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp).
Brugioni also mentions Chinua Achebe, author of “The world falls apart”. “Considered the first modern novel, an issue that is still much debated, it is he who inaugurates the bases of modern Nigerian and African literature. He was an author who established a partnership between African publishers and international publishers “, she explains. According to her, the current scenario is a consequence of this and other many factors that contribute to the current success of the new writers.
“Today, the issue of gender, the position of women in certain social contexts is widely discussed, not only in Africa but in various geographies around the world. It is not that these stories have emerged now, it is that there are now those authors who tell them”, she says.
“We are very conditioned by the publishing market that still prefers male African writers of Eurocentric origin as representative. But that is changing with the market’s interest in these narratives, ” says Professor Aza Njeri. She coordinates the Center for African Political Philosophy at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
“I believe that one of those responsible for new visibility of Nigerian literature today is Chimamanda Ngozi, who in addition to political issues, brings in her literature a very powerful discussion about feminism,” says Rodrigo Ordine Graça, professor of African literature at the University of the Integration of Afro-Brazilian Lusophony (Unilab).
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was awarded by the Women’s Prize For Fiction in 2007 for the book “Half of a yellow sun”. Subsequently, she received the “Best of the Best”, an award is given to the writer who most stood out among all the winners during the decade. “She received a very large reception inside and outside Nigeria and brings up very important issues such as that of the Biafra War, religious and woman discrimination in the Nigerian and American context. And the discussion about the racialized subject in the context of the United States, as is the case with his Americanah ”, comments Elena Brugioni.
An invitation to read Africa
Professor Elena Brugioni believes that these national and international awards help to publicize the work of these authors, making publishers in several countries to invest in their work.
“I would leave an invitation to the publishing world to learn more about the vast of African literature, making it accessible to the Portuguese-speaking public, especially in Brazil, in this special moment that we are living in.”
Brugioni cites as an example of the publishing house Kapulana, which publishes books from several African countries in Brazil. Since 2015, when he started publishing fiction books, their catalog has works from Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.
“We have to read more, publish more, study Africa more and make it closer to us because the continent presence in Brazil is very important and this dialogue seems to be fundamental”.