Literature on Colonialism

Literature for Grades K-5

Literature for Grades 6-8

Literature for Grades 9-College


Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

“Dangaremba’s acclaimed first novel tells of the coming-of-age of Tambu, and through her, also offers a profound portrait of African society. In awarding Nervous Conditions the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa in 1989, the judges described the book as a beautiful and sensitive exploration of the plight and struggle of an African people…. A distinguishing feature of this work is its courageous honesty and devastating understatement.”

Song of Lawino by Okot p’Bitek

A review by  Mkosa “Mwandishi” (Seattle, WA) :

“I first read this book as a twelve year old being introduced into poetry by my Australian English teacher. Needless to say, I found most of the poetry books prior to this one, to be a torturous exercise for a twelve year old. Okot p’Bitek spoke to the reality that was so real and I could identify some of the characters in my personal life. The choice of words and how they are put together is what I took away from the book. I found the main character, Lawino, to be very funny. I am a Kenyan and on any market day I would go to the market and be surrounded by a lot of Lawinos who are very open and unique in the way they interact within their environment. Very self assured and full of confidence. And self confidence with the written word is the best gift I ever received from this book.”


The Mzungu Boy by Meja Mwangi

A book intended for young adults, The Mzungu Boy is a winner of the Children’s Africana Book Award and has been translated into over 9 languages.

“In this novel, Kenyan author Meja Mwangi captures a time of innocence, wild beauty, and the growing violence that eventually changed the entire structure of colonial Africa.”

Burn My Heart by Beverley Naidoo

A book intended for young adults, Burn My Heart is also a winner of the Children’s Africana Book Award.

“Grade 6–9—Naidoo sets this novel in Kenya in the early 1950s, at the beginning of the State of Emergency, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Kenyans. Mathew Grayson, son of a prosperous white farmer, and Mugo, son of the Kikuyu man in charge of the horses on the farm, are friends, with all the complexities and inequalities inevitable in such a relationship. As the secret and illegal Kikuyu opposition grows, the differences in the lives of the two boys become sharper and clearer.”

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

“Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries.”

Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter by J. Nozipo Maraire

Chapters of this novel can be used to teach colonialism and the Zimbabwe struggle for independence.

“Written as a letter from a Zimbabwean mother to her daughter, a student at Harvard, J. Nozipo Maraire evokes the moving story of a mother reaching out to her daughter to share the lessons life has taught her and bring the two closer than ever before. Interweaving history and memories, disappointments and dreams, Zenzele tells the tales of Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence and the men and women who shaped it: Zenzele’s father, an outspoken activist lawyer; her aunt, a schoolteacher by day and secret guerrilla fighter by night; and her cousin, a maid and a spy.”

African Short Stories:Twenty Short Stories from Across the Continent by Chinua Achebe and Duncan Innes

These stories are excellent for teaching about Africa, however certain stories can be used exclusively for colonialism.

“A highly recommended book for teachers to use as an introduction (a) to the short story and (b) to Africa.” –The Times Educational Supplement, Edward Blishen

“Africa My Africa” by David Diop

“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 Telephone Conversation” by Wole Soyinka

“The Conversation” by Nobel Literature Laureate, Wole Soyinka, about racial prejudice in the contemporary world.

“Through African Eyes” [Volume  1 ed] by Leon Clark

A collection of folktales on colonialism.

  • “The Parable of the Eagle” & “Gentleman of the Jungle” by Jomo Kenyatta are specfically engaging.

“Flying Tortoise” by Tololwa Mollel

A picture book about a tortoise who thinks he can fly when he sticks feathers to his shell–suggesting the absurdity of trying to be other than who you are. Could be used to discuss colonial beliefs and values for all grades.

All reviews and summaries taken from Amazon and NY Times.


A few additional recommendations of African authors who’ve written fiction about colonialism

The 1st 2 novels & the graphic history won the Children’s Africana Book Awards. The books after that are simply among the best books from African writers. 

* “Far from Home” Na’ima B Robert. Story of a Zimbabwean family during the struggle for index. –and of the daughter of a white settler. An easy read for HS jr/sr but may still be a good book for them. Your choice.


* “Abina & the Important Men” a graphic history, edited by Trevor Getz (the testimony of Abina in a colonial Gold Coast court in the 1870’s against the man who had enslaved her. Comes w/ contextual essay, teaching guide–terrific!)


*A read that may be too long but is wonderfully evocative: “God’s Bits of Wood,” Ousmane Sembene. The Senegalese writer depicts fictionally the true events of the RR strike by colonial workers across the interior of West Africa, demanding equal pay for equal work.