2023 in Review: The trailblazing women propelling African literature onto the global stage

women in literature 2023
In our 2023 review today, we spotlight the exceptional women shaping African literature, celebrating their remarkable achievements and significant impact on the literary community this year.

As we say goodbye to 2023, it’s time to reflect on the significant achievements of Nigerian women in writing. The voices of great female authors ushered in a wave of innovation, resilience, and empowerment in Nigeria’s literary scene.

From ground-breaking novels to thought-provoking articles and creating literary spaces, these women enhanced the literary world and paved the way for a more varied and inclusive narrative.

Lola Shoneyin

Aside from promoting African stories and championing women’s voices, Lola Shoneyin is a world-renowned novelist and playwright who continues to inspire and captivate audiences with her powerful storytelling and unwavering commitment to promoting African literature.

In 2023, she was named one of the Financial Times’ most influential women in 2023, in addition to the inspirational Ake Arts and Book Festival she hosts each year and the noteworthy Ouida bookshop and publishing firm she runs in 2023.

Chimamanda Adichie

For the first time in her career, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ventured into children’s literature, creating a masterpiece titled “Mama’s Sleeping Scarf.” This book offered a new chapter in Adichie’s career, offering her a different way to connect with readers and potentially inspiring a new generation of young minds.

From penning wonders for the future to receiving a chieftaincy title in her village as ‘Odeluwa Abba’, which means “the one who writes for the world,” and garnering a brand deal with Dior, Chimamanda’s long-standing presence in the literary spaces shows no sign of burning out.

Bolu Babalola

In a groundbreaking first, Babalola’s debut novel, “Honey & Spice,” secured the prestigious Book of the Year award at the TikTok Awards, cementing its popularity and highlighting the power of social media engagement. “Honey & Spice” continued to garner critical acclaim for its sparkling wit, diverse characters, and heartwarming storylines, with readers and reviewers falling in love with Babalola’s writing style.

Babalola graced the cover of The Floor Mag, showcasing her playful personality and engaging in a thoughtful interview about her writing process and inspirations. As the reigning queen of Nigerian romance fiction, Bolu Babalola remains a solid presence in the romance genre, making hearts swoon across the globe.

Chika Unigwe

“The Middle Daughter” continues to spark conversations in the minds of its readers, and the same can be said about Chika Unigwe’s works. In 2023, Chika Unigwe’s “The Middle Daughter” received critical acclaim as it delves into themes of family, sacrifice, and the complexities of female desire, showcasing her adept handling of mythology and contemporary issues.

Unigwe’s work continued to find audiences worldwide, translated into various languages and reaching diverse communities. She participated in international literary festivals and conferences, fostering cross-cultural exchange and understanding while founding the Awele Creative Trust Award which promotes the African voice.

Chika Unigwe’s journey in 2023 exemplifies the power of storytelling to connect people, challenge perspectives, and celebrate the richness of the human experience. In 2024, excellence is the least of our expectations for Chika Unigwe.

Titilope Sonuga

Titilope Sonuga On Instagram

Sonuga is a multifaceted artist, but her poetry and performances, unveil more of her than meets the eye. In August 2023, she started a show “Open”, where she reimagined her spoken word Album “Swim” in Edmonton, Canada. In December 2023, she hosted another Open show in Lagos, Nigeria, which sold out to provide Lagos music and poetry enthusiasts with a mind-blowing literary experience.

Throughout 2023, Titilope ensured her name was written on the walls of African literature, inspiring minds and providing a poetic experience for those who listened. In 2024, we hope to see a world tour of the open show and all-round excellence for Titilope.

Ukamaka Olisakwe

From founding Isele Magazine and amplifying African stories to creating a book based on Igbo mythology, Ukamaka Olisakwe is certainly one of Nigeria’s most significant literati. “Don’t Answer When They Call Your Name,” released in May 2023, received critical acclaim for its thrilling adventure and notable relatability to Igbo folklore.

All through 2023, her work continued to find audiences worldwide, translated into languages like German and French, highlighting the universal appeal of her storytelling. Ukamaka displays a deep commitment to the power of African storytelling and remains at the forefront of African literature along with celebrated figures.

By creating spaces for authors to exist and succeed, Ukamaka Olisakwe is a voice that will certainly be heard in 2024.

Tamara Dogubo

Tamara Dogubo on Instagram

A spoken word poet, coach, and founder of The Lighted Academy, Tamara Dogubo, can be described as a commander of chords and hearts. Through her poems and performances, she maintains a striking aura that captivates and enthralls her audience every single time. Her work at The Lighted Academy centres around raising young voices and teaching them to speak for themselves, their faith, and their society.

Tamara possesses the ability to craft the African story and the African experience beautifully through her words and performances. In 2023, she remained committed to helping the next generation find their voice; in 2024, we expect nothing short of excellence.

Hafsat Abdullahi

Hafsat Abdullahi on Instagram

Following her viral, thought-provoking rendition of her poem “To the Girl in English Class, ” Hafsat Abdullahi became one of Nigeria’s most celebrated spoken word poets. She carefully disintegrates topics with her voice that others often treat at arm’s length. Her words also strike heavy thoughts and conversations among people. This has heralded her claim to becoming one of the most prominent poets of the decade.

From her spoken word presentation for Malta Guinness to her collaboration with Hope For African Children, no topic seems to be out of bounds for the artist. After becoming a member of the recording academy and winning the PHPF award for the best spoken-word poet of the year in 2023, Hafsat’s work in 2024 can be expected to be nothing short of spectacular in the coming year.

Ayobami Adebayo

In February 2023, Ayobami Adebayo’s critically acclaimed novel, “A Spell Of Good Things”, was published. The book landed a prestigious spot on the longlist for the 2023 Booker Prize, a testament to its quality and literary merit.

In this book, Ayobami delved into the complexities of Nigerian society. She explored themes of wealth disparity, political corruption, and personal resilience. While basking in the excellence of her novel, Ayobami established her place in African literature as she emphasised the African story through her exquisite penmanship.

Anwuli Ojogwu

Anwuli Ojogwu Via Linkedin

Anwuli Ojogwu, one of Nigeria’s most prominent editors and an extremely influential literary figure, easily stands out as the gift that keeps giving. From editing the works of notable writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Uzodinma Iweala to being the co-founder of Narrative Landscape Press, she remains a prominent figure in literature. The impact of her work as the co-founder of the Society for Book and Magazine Editors in Nigeria (SBMEN) is undeniable.

With Enajite Efemuaye, Anwuli Ojogwu offers vital educational resources to Nigeria’s literary community through SBMEN. By providing training sessions and guidance for editors in training, SBMEN nurtures the future generation of literature. Following the release of her book, “A Mind to Silence,” in 2022, we hope to witness more of her literary excellence in 2024.

The significance of African literature

African literature stands alongside various art forms to convey the essence of the African experience. It is the driving force for cultural preservation and indicates a need to promote social change. From creating the art to enhancing it, these women continue to create a long-lasting haven for African art (literature) and its artists to thrive.

These women stand as society’s conveyors of humanity between pages. They also foster growth in various aspects, especially within the African communities.  As the saying goes, “Art imitates life.” Literature, in all its forms, ranging from prose to poetry and plays, commands a presence in the lives of people who, in turn, flip through its pages. The socio-cultural impact of African literature is vast and multifaceted, inspiring various facets of life on the continent and beyond. The art form preserves and transmits culture, challenges colonial narratives, promotes social change, celebrates diversity, and fosters global recognition.

As African literature grows and takes centre stage in international countries, we must nurture the budding talents in Nigeria. As these women inspire minds, to pen down the world’s trials and tribulations, we must also show our support for their hard work as we say no to piracy and underground modification of their creations. 2024 shows promise for the literary world, and we can’t wait to see what it offers!



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