Getting Started on Literature on Africa

A short list of great books and a few comments:

  1. Watch the TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story” by Nigerian novelist Chimanda Adichie: Interspersed among the stories she tells of her own and of others’ “single stories,” Adichie observes that: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

  2. Consider using this article on teaching with the above talk TED talk: Linda Christensen writes: “I have adapted and recreated the lesson in a number of classroom situations over the years as I’ve come to appreciate the vulnerability of all teenagers who have come to bear what Brent Staples calls the “unwieldy inheritances” of stereotypes. Adichie’s and Staples’ work become models for students learning to write a personal essay, using vignettes (small stories) from their lives as evidence.”

  3. Practicalities for broadening the literature:
    – start w/ short items or a single item
    – form a book group/club to read and try out some books
    – use the Children’s Africana Book Awards (CABA) for identifying great books (


Start small with these fine books:


short story collection: African Short Stories

two novels: Nervous Conditions & Zenzele

two poems: 

  • “Africa” by David Diop, Senegalese, who wrote this poem on the eve of Senegal’s independence writing about Africa’s past and the hope for its future
  • “The Conversation” by Nobel Literature Laureate, Wole Soyinka, about racial prejudice in the contemporary world.

a play: Master Harold

epic: Sundiata  (the Niane version)

non-fiction: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (BU has made a teaching guide with resources, including a video:

Book club favorites: Zenzele or Master Harold

Great resource books on teaching specific African novels in HS: A Teacher’s Guide to African Narratives by Tallis-O’Brien & African  Novels in the Classroom by M. Jean Hay

A short piece of writing describing the inaccuracies of how Africa is portrayed in Western writing

  •  How to Write about Africa — Binyavanga Wainaina is a Kenyan writer who is tired and angered about the ways Africa  is portrayed in the West. He explains why he wrote the piece here.



novels: Mzungu Boy, Trouble in Timbuktu, The Golden Cobra

graphic biography: Nelson Mandela: the authorized biography

graphic novel & also as a picture book: Sundiata & Sunjata (2 titles, but the same epic)

Book club favorites: Mzungu Boy and Trouble in Timbuktu



Journey to Jo’burg


Ikenna Goes to Nigeria

When I Get Older: The Story behind the “Wavin’ Flag”

I Lost My Tooth in Africa

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (BU has made a teaching guide with resources, including a video:





Barbara B. Brown, Ph.D.
Director of the Outreach Program
African Studies Center
Boston University


For teaching resources on Africa:
For literature-specific teaching resources on Africa: