At Isele Magazine, we primarily publish fiction, nonfiction, poetry, visual arts, interview, and other genre-bending pieces that push boundaries and introduce us to other ways of being. Now, we have expanded our categories to include reading lists, our first being a compilation of much anticipated works by African writers in 2023.
To achieve this feat, we reached out to some of the writers whose works we greatly admire and whose contributions to our communal archives have helped shape our literary landscape. Our hope is that their recommendations will expand your library. Do put in a word with your local libraries and bookstores, asking them to request these books.
A quick note: you will notice a few overlap in the list; it is because some of the writers recommended the same books. Also, our editor in chief, Ukamaka Olisakwe, included her own list at the end.
And so, from Chika Unigwe to Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’, Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, Kola Tubosun, Chinelo Okparanta, Molara Wood, Emmanuel Iduma, and a host of other brilliant writers we absolutely love, please see their recommendations in alphabetical order.
Adorah Nworah’s Recommendations:
Ore Agbaje-Williams, The Three of Us
Fun fact—prior to her departure from Borough Press, Ore was the UK editor for House Woman! I’m delighted she is publishing her own novel as the world needs to bear witness to her brilliance and wit. The Three of Us revolves around the growing tensions between a husband, a wife, and the wife’s bestfriend. It features multiples POVs and takes place within a single day, both of which I enjoy in a novel. I preordered it with a quickness. You should too.
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s, A Spell of Good Things
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s is back! I tore through Ayobami’s epic debut novel, Stay with Me, and I’ve since taken to scouring the internet for news of her next novel. Like Stay with Me, A Spell of Good Things is set in Nigeria and explores complicated familial relationships. I look forward to highlighting my favorite lines and savoring each one over the course of the year. But let’s be real—I would preorder anything by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s. She can take all my coins!
Krystle Zara Appiah, Rootless
Krystle Zara Appiah must have created magic with Rootless because Rootless is the dazzling debutante of my social media feeds. Early readers are singing its praise to the high heavens, and I am dancing to their tune (two left feet and all). A novel that centers Ghanaian characters and interrogates marriage and motherhood? I’ll get one, please!
Aiwanose Odafen’s Recommendations:
Chikodili Emelumadu, Dazzling
Described as ‘A feast of shimmering, beautiful prose’ by Chika Unigwe, Dazzling promises a magical tale inspired by Igbo mythology and literary traditions as well as a coming-of-age of protagonists dealing with family trauma and predestined paths. Having won the inaugural Curtis Brown First Novel Prize, Chikodili appears to be a bright new talent in the African literary space and I’m looking forward to reading her debut.
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s, A Spell of Good Things
To say Ayobami’s debut novel, Stay With Me took the African literary space by storm would probably be a mild understatement. The New York Times has already lavished high praise on her forthcoming novel, defining it as a “dazzling story… in the lineage of great works by Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.” There isn’t much to not be excited about.
Ukamaka Olisakwe, Don’t Answer When They Call Your Name
It is always an exciting thing to see writers explore multiple genres. Upon its release in June 2020, Ukamaka’s debut Ogadinma ignited conversations within the African literary space on women’s role in society, trauma and abuse. Her forthcoming novel Don’t Answer When They Call Your Name promises a story set in a multiverse inspired by Igbo mythology; a blend of The Hunger Games and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road. I look forward to picking up a copy.
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s Recommendations:
I’m excited for other people to read Emmanuel Iduma‘s epic and tender memoir I am Still With You, and Chika Unigwe‘s haunting new novel The Middle Daughter. Of books I haven’t read yet, I’m really interested in Krystle Zara Appiah’s Rootless and To Write the Africa World, which was edited by Achille Mbembe and Felwine Sarr.
Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire’s Recommendations:
Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Black and Female, a nonfiction debut collection of her personal essays reminds me of the reasons I have always liked life-writing. I came to Dangarembga’s work through Nervous Conditions, her acclaimed novel about colonial and postcolonial Zimbabwe and was later introduced to her lesser-known work in film. While already published in some markets, Black and Female will be published at the start of 2023 in the United States, where I live at the moment. I am excited to read about the behind the scenes details of Dangaremba’s process of creating powerful works of art. As the feminist mantra goes, the personal is always political, and so the personal life of a writer-activist as Dangarembga is of deep interest to those like me, whose lives have been influenced by her works of art.
I am greatly anticipating Hugo ka Canham’s Riotous Deathscapes, a book that introduces the “Mpondo theory” to the world. Mpondo theory is Canham’s name for a way of thinking, seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, and smelling of the amaMpondo people of rural Mpondoland that is rooted in their indigeneity as borns of this land, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, and also as Black people, despite their having not been dispersed off the continent. I am further interested in the method Canham follows in the book, and having already gulped the introduction from the Duke University Press website, I can’t wait to read the rest of the chapters, to explore the world of the amaMpondo people through their native and Black bodies and minds. The prose is poetic and beautiful, and the auto-ethnography Canham does is enchanting. Who says that academic work needs to be dry, full of unreadable jargon? I love what Canham is doing with Riotous Deathscapes. Make academic scholarship enjoyable and readable again.
Akin Adesokan’s Everything Is Sampled: Digital and Print Mediations in African Arts and Letters is another title I am excited about, given the author’s unique insights into the world of film, literature, and the arts. I am a fan of Akin’s. I am always learning from his wide and intimate knowledge of the world of literature, journalism, publishing, print culture, film, and criticism. With this new book, he will provide what I believe is a generational-defining perspective on the digital impact on the production of African culture today. As you know, my larger background is in curation, publishing, and what I have called “literary activism,” the creation of platforms for the production and distribution of African literature. And so I am keen to read Akin’s insights in the ways the digital has shaped how we, as curators, do our work. Akin’s work, for me, has never been merely academic, but rather the type that has a direct implication on the practical.
Chika Unigwe’s Recommendations:
Dazzling by Chikodili Emelumadu, for making me laugh out loud in places even when it’s being dark, for its shimmering, beautiful prose.
All That it Ever Meant by Blessing Musariri. This is marketed as a YA book but really this is a novel for anyone who enjoys good storytelling.
NightBloom by Peace Adzo Medie, for tackling so many weighty themes with a deftness of touch.
Chinelo Okparanta’s Recommendations:
So many wonderful books are coming out this year! I love fireflies. So for simply conjuring up the image of fireflies in its title, I am very much interested in When We Were Fireflies by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.
For what I’m sure will be an interesting commentary on the US private prison industry— and on capitalism and racism, I can’t wait to read Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.
For what I know will be beautiful, elegant prose, as her writing always is, A Spell of Good Things by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀.
But there are many other books that I’m also excited to read: Don’t Answer When They Call Your Name by Ukamaka Olisakwe, Relations (An Anthology) edited by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, and Black and Female (Essays) by Tsitsi Dangarembga, for instance.
Emmanuel Iduma’s Recommendations:
A Spell of Good Things, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s second novel, is a marvel of audacious storytelling, and I recommend it full of admiration for her ambition and humanity.
From its blurb, I can tell Ike Anya’s Small by Small is a special book, and I hope it would spark a fire of interest in memoirs by Nigerian health professionals.
Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún’s Recommendations:
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s A Spell of Good Things, which comes out this year. The writer is a major talent, and I enjoyed reading her debut Stay With Me, published a few years ago.
Chika Unigwe’s The Middle Daughter is said to be a modern re-writing of the myth of Hades and Persephone within a Nigerian family. The reviews have been phenomenal, and Unigwe is no stranger to writing powerful and emotive stories, from On Black Sisters’ Street to Night Dancer.
Molara Wood’s Recommendations:
Don’t Answer When They Call Your Name by Ukamaka Olisakwe is up there among the books I am most looking forward to getting my hands on this year. The publication announcement alone was something of a social media event, achieving the book equivalent of ‘breaking the internet’. I have had something of a privileged sneak preview of Don’t Answer When They Call Your Name, and it is my humble submission that readers will find it a wondrous read. A YA narrative about the incredible adventure of a kick-ass and heroic young girl, the worldbuilding is literally out of this world. I believe this book is destined for the screen, and I can’t wait for it all!
A Spell of Good Things by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀.
This second novel is definitely one to look forward to, from a celebrated author who has built a significant readership over the last few years. One of the things I cherish most about Adébáyọ̀’s fiction is her committed focus on small town Nigeria – this time the Ijesa-Yoruba axis of Ilesa in Nigeria’s Osun State – which is remarkable, in a literary landscape often overly fixated with Lagos.
The Yoruba People: Profile of the Foremost Black Nation by S. Adebanji Akintoye.
I felt such exhilaration on learning that this book was on the way; and awe, that Professor Akintoye found time to write it, with everything else that’s been going on. He has already given us landmark books such as A History of the Yoruba People; this new one, I understand, is his life’s work, his magnum opus, and I simply cannot wait. It’s easy to be distracted by the current Nigerian political climate, but a great book of history will live forever. ‘The Yoruba People’ will remind those who need reminding, that Akintoye is a foremost historian, a great chronicler of the journey of the Yoruba people.
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond’s Recommendations:
I’m really looking forward to Gothataone Moeng’s short story collection Call and Response. I loved her story “Sheltering Hearts” in the anthology African Roar for its wisdom and humor, and have been eager to read more of her work since.
I’m also excited about Bisi Adjapon’s Daughter in Exile. When I read the description—a young Senegalese woman leaves her hometown for love, and an undocumented immigrant existence in the U.S.—I was ready to buy my copy then and there.
Finally, I’m thrilled about Vanessa Walters’ novel The Nigerwife. Her writing is soulful, vulnerable, heartbreaking and truthful. I think it’s going to be a great read!
Suyi Davies Okungbowa’s Recommendations:
The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi.
This book balances big philosophical questions about faith and environmental change with bristling action and crackling combat scenes, a recipe that will get me anytime.
Don’t Answer When They Call Your Name by Ukamaka Olisakwe.
I’ve always been an advocate of young adult stories centering teenage continental Africans and their concerns. This book bravely fills that gap.
Womb City by Tlotlo Tsamaase.
I’ve been a fan of Tsamaase for a while now, and everything xe has written so far has been a hit. I expect no less for xer debut novel.
Tendai Huchu’s Recommendations:
Shigidi by Wole Talabi: Talabi has established a stellar reputation as an award winning short story writer with a decidedly hard sci-fi bent, but he has blindsided his loyal readers by posting an exquisite fantasy novel for his debut. Shigidi is the story of the titular minor orisha, a nightmare deity, who transcends his intended purpose and gets roped into the most incredible heist. Fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods will be wowed by the stunning magical world Talabi has created, packed with gods, demons, magicians, giants, and myths drawn from different cultures all masterfully woven into this novel. What a beautifully written, fast-paced and entertaining story.
Dazzling by Chikodili Emelumadu.
Secret leopard societies, malevolent spirits, and a taste of the Nigerian boarding school experience make this a unique reading experience. The book defies classification. Dazzling is, at its core, the story of two girls from very different backgrounds whose lives clash in the most unusual way. Emelumadu’s unique voice, quirky and bold, grips you from the first page and doesn’t ever let go. You will laugh and weep, sometimes all at the same time, when you read this moving masterpiece.
Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike’s Recommendation:
Leave My Bones In Saskatoon by Michael Afenfia
Every year, many Africans leave behind strong ties forged since birth to explore new connections in Canada. Some realize their dreams of stability and prosperity; others fail and yield to despair. Saskatoon-based Nigerian writer Michael Afenfia is familiar with the challenges many immigrants deal with in North America, having emigrated from Nigeria to Canada in 2019. His latest and sixth novel, Leave My Bones in Saskatoon, is about Africans pursuing the Canadian dream.
Sons of the East by Ifeoma Chinwuba
Chinwuba’s Sons of the East intricately lays bare the dark underbelly of polygamy in an Igbo family in south eastern Nigeria. Beyond the brazen show of material opulence through international businesses, importations, master-apprentice relationships, grandeur titles, lurks the beast of jealousy, chauvinism, covetousness, sibling rivalry and sheer hatred. Zona, the “dismal first son” is frantic about being the only king installed in the Okonkwo kingdom, yet a delectable widow is on his path. This is a delightful read. Ifeoma Chinwuba remains a chef-d’oeuvre in this engaging narrative.
House Woman by Adorah Nworah.
Adorah Nworah has written a deeply immersive and wrenching study of the life of a young woman in an arranged marriage and the thorny paths she must navigate in her quest for freedom. This debut shines with a brilliance that will run through you clean as an arrow. I’ve yet to read a story so gutting, yet tender and thoughtful in its handling of such an important subject.
there’s more by Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike
Umezurike’s work travels around the world, gathering stories about people who search for new beginnings despite the dangers that lurk in the deserts and in the seas, dangers that nip dreams at the bud, but which our seekers must brave for their sanity, for a moment away from the despair they leave behind.
Drinking from Graveyard Wells by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu
Ndlovu’s collection draws from “her own early experiences as a Zimbabwean living under the Mugabe dictatorship.” Her publisher notes that the stories in this collection are “grounded in truth and empathy,” as she gives the reader an “alternative interpretations of a past and a present that speculates upon the everyday lives of a people disregarded. Her words explore the erasure of African women while highlighting their beauty and limitless magic.” We can’t wait to read it!
Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson
We thoroughly enjoyed reading Nelson’s debut, Open Water. Now he has returned with another much-anticipated book, Small Worlds, which his publisher says is “set over the course of three summers…from London to Ghana and back again,” and describes as “an exhilarating and expansive novel about the worlds we build for ourselves, the worlds we live, dance and love within.”
Strange and Difficult Times: Notes on a Global Pandemic by Nanjala Nyabola
Nyabola’s timely collection, as described by her publisher, reflects on “the biases, assumptions and moral failures in Western responses (both individual and collective, psychological and practical) to the ‘crises’ of the early twenty-first century.” This timely work takes keen look at how “African countries, governments, peoples and individuals have been treated and written about during past pandemics, including HIV/AIDS in the 80s and 90s, Ebola in the 2010s, and Spanish flu a century ago.” This alone puts it at the top of our list.
Ghost Season by Fatin Abbas
Released just three days ago, Ghost Season explores the “sweeping history of the breakup of Sudan into the lives of these captivating characters.” Abbas’ work investigates the “porous and perilous nature of borders―whether they be national, ethnic, or religious―and the profound consequences for those who cross them.” This debut has ushered Abbas in as a powerful new voice in our literary sphere.
Riambel by Priya Hein
The Indigo Press describes Hein’s award-winning work as n invitation to “protest, to rail against longstanding structures of class and ethnicity. She shows us a world of natural enchantment contrasted with violence and the abuse of power. This seemingly simple tale of servitude, seduction and abandonment blisters with a fierce sense of injustice.” We highly recommend this book.
Rose and the Burma Sky by Rosanna Amaka
Amaka’s new novel has been described as brilliant story that “weaves together the realities of war, the pain of first love and how following your heart might not always be the best course of action.” Set in 1939, during the Second World War, this story is told from the perspective of young boy and with it “a spare and impassioned intensity, charging it with universal resonance and power.” We can’t wait to read it.
What Napoleon Could Not Do by DK Nnuro
Nnuro’s debut follows three siblings, from their lives in Ghana, to their journey to the United States, where their “desires and ambitions highlight the promise and the disappointment that life in [the] new country offers.” His publisher describe this novel as “a compelling, insightful read.” We can’t wait to read it too.
Maame by Jessica George
Xochitl Gonzalez says Maame “feels like falling in love for the first time: warm, awkward, joyous, a little bit heartbreaking and, most of all, unforgettable.” This brilliant new work, which follows the life of the young Maddie in London, explores themes that stretches from “familial duty and racism, to female pleasure, the complexity of love, and the life-saving power of friendship.”
A Broken People’s Playlist by Chimeka Garricks
We are so happy that the word will now get to read Garricks’ incredible collection, which Bisi Adjapon has described as “an addictive collection of authentic prose.” The collection, structured like soundtracks, “comprised of twelve music-inspired tales about love, the human condition, micro-moments, and the search for meaning and sometimes, redemption.” We highly recommend this book!
The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa by Stephen Buoro
This incredible new work, which takes a keen look at Andrew Aziza, a smart fifteen-year-old in Kontagora, Nigeria, has ushered Buoro into the literary sphere as a stunning new talent whose journey we will joyfully follow. His publishers adds that “this tragicomic novel provides a stunning lens into contemporary African life, the complicity of the West, and the impossible challenges of growing up in a turbulent world.”
The Mystery at Dunvegan Castle by Tendai Huchu
From the writer who gave us The Library of the Dead, comes this most-anticipated work which his publishers at Tor have promised is rich with “duels, magic, and plenty of ghosts.” It follows the fifteen-year-old ghosttalker, Ropa, after he “arrives at the worldwide Society of Skeptical Enquirers’ biennial conference just in time to be tied into a mystery—a locked room mystery, if an entire creepy haunted castle on lockdown counts.”
River Spirit by Leila Aboulela
Described by Abdulrazak Gurnah, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, as a “novel of extraordinary sympathy and insight… a wonderful achievement,” this new work by Aboulela is the coming of age story of an embattled young woman during the Mahdist War in 19th century Sudan.