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Afrocritik’s 20 Remarkable African Essays of 2021

Afrocritik’s 20 Remarkable African Essays of 2021

African Essays of 2021

By Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera

There is a widely-held consensus that 2021 is a great year for African literature because of the relative widespread success of African writers in the global publishing scene. In an essay published earlier this year about the dying art of literary criticism, it was pointed out that critical thinking should be seen as a necessary arbiter of growth. Hopefully in the coming years, it would not be as challenging to pinpoint dozens of amazing essays from across the continent. Interestingly, most of what African writers have published this year are poetry and fiction.

Young writers of this generation boast an enviable canon in the writing of those two leading genres of literature, with drama relegated to the backstage. Much like drama, creative nonfiction and critical essays are also on the decline. Over the years, writers like Otosirieze Obi-Young from his Brittle Paper days, as well as the Kenyan short story writer and Caine Prize nominee, Troy Onyango, have advocated for people to write more essays.

At some point, too, it did seem there were a boom of personal essays, many of them exploring topics like trauma, sexuality, but largely uncritical in nature.

In 2021, it could be argued there was a serious decline in essays from the continent. Any serious researcher and follower of creative writing cannot help but feel the need for more essayists to critically examine the much-touted growth of literature in the continent and its consequences, to point out the growing trends and the often-neglected issues.

Below, in no particular order, is Afrocritik’s top 20 critical essays published in Africa in this year under review.

The Worldly Ways of Teju Cole” 
Author: Otosirieze Obi-Young
Publisher: Open Country Magazine
Publication date: 4th July

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A comprehensive profile of Teju Cole’s writing which details the writer’s biography and history of his writing.  Here, Teju Cole discusses his growing up in Nigeria and moving to America as an adolescent, getting his first degree before dropping out of medical school to focus on his writing and photography career. Teju Cole discusses his writing career, earmarking the search for artistic freedom as the driving force behind his art.

Happily, Cautious After (A Lockdown Memoir)” 
Author: Temitope Owolabi
Publisher: Isele Magazine
Publication date: 22nd March

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A memoir which details the author’s life immediately after COVID-19. Owolabi’s writing is rich in details and picturesque in the way it narrates her experiences. She critically examines the behaviour of the British society in the wake of the pandemic and expresses hope in the lessons from these events that we may learn in the future.

On the Wonders of Epiphanic Writing
Author: Teju Cole
Publisher: Lithub
Publication date: 26th October

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Here, Teju Cole expands on the meaning of epiphanic writing, some of the most important epiphanic writers in history, how he has come to write in this way and how important it is to him that he writes like that. He draws examples from important figures in history like Teresa of Avila, and Julian of Norwich. He also explores how his writing has evolved from the vantage of epiphanic writing.

When Dambudzo Marechera Met Aaron Chiundura Moyo: A Brief History of Zimbabwe’s Language Wars” 
Author: Onai Mushava
Publisher: Brittle Paper
Publication date: 4th November 


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A historical piece on some important arguments by icons of Zimbabwean literature, Aaron Chiundura Moyo, and Dambudzo Marechera. An important piece, especially as it is a critical examination of an important aspect of African literature.

& Other Stories
Author: Eloghosa Osunde
Publisher: The Paris Review
Publication date: 22nd July

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In this essay, the author takes apart the surreality of time and senses. She examines society, the labels in it, as well as the words that define it. Osunde reimagines the way we look at society. It is the third essay in her column on The Paris Review.

A Man of Scarce Means” 
Author: Emmanuel Iduma
Publisher: n+1
Publication date: Fall 2021
Issue: Snake Oil

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“Scarce” in this essay is a metaphor for the writer’s limitedness in the Igbo language, his native tongue. Iduma writes of his relationship with the language and how he once tried to translate a novel from Igbo to English Language. According to Iduma, he attempted the translation, not because he was able to understand Igbo language well enough to translate between both languages, but because he wanted to see how far he could go. He writes, “I was testing, not for accuracy, but possibility.”

Your Power Ends Where Mine Begins
Author: OluTimehin Kukoyi
Publisher: The Republic
Publication date: 18th August

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OluTimehin Kukoyi responds to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s call out of Kukoyi and Akwaeke Emezi in Adichie’s “It is Obscene” essay. Kukoyi’s essay is beautifully worded. And although it is imperfect in the way it argues its point, it is, relatively, one of the most intellectual attempts to make a case for the transgender community in Nigeria.

Hearing the Silence” 
Author: Panashe Chigumadzi
Publisher: Johannesburg Review of Books
Publication date: 15th April

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Feminist essayist, Panashe Chigumadzi discusses the plight of women and the various methods through which women are prevented from voicing their pains. Panashe Chigumadzi continues in the path which has put her on as one of the leading feminist thinkers in Africa.

The Revolution is a Song!” 
Author: Karsten Noko
Publisher: The Republic
Publication date: 13th October

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This essay discusses the role of music in various African renaissance struggles. Ir discusses the legacies of the older generation of revolutionary musicians in relation to the current, drawing reference from how musicians like Bobi Wine continue to draw inspiration from singers like Fela.

The Detachment of Onlookers
Author: Nzube Ifechukwu
Publisher: Isele Magazine
Publication date: 5th July

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In this personal essay, the author narrates his personal experience with lisp, a speech defect. He narrates the story of the first time in his childhood when he discovered he had the defect, his journey from then to adulthood, battling the defect. Ifechukwu examines the self-consciousness which one suffers from dealing with such defects.

Author: Nzube Nlebedim
Publisher: The Republic 
Publication date: 17th March

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The essay discusses the growth of African literature and critically examines the various shifts in paradigm through the lens of two indigenous African novels. The author examines these important topics, both from a vantage of personal opinion (as the essay begins with an answer he had given to someone who asked him what the growth of African literature meant to him), and also from a critical standpoint where he discusses the shifts and evolution of the industry to accommodate discussions about other topics.

The Case Study of the Pelican (Insights from Hours in the Life of a Bipolar Girl)”

Author: Abigail George
Publisher: The Kalahari Review
Publication date: 2nd August

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Examining the life of a bipolar girl and what it means to suffer from bipolar disorder, this essay is a story as well as an examination of a personality defect of which a lot of people are ignorant. It provides insight to this disorder by examining a day in the life of a girl suffering from it.

Nigerians and the We Meuve Culture” 
Author: Ahmad Adedimeji Amobi
Publisher: Brittle Paper
Publication date: 19th July

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A critical essay which examines the harmful habit of Nigerians, moving on too quickly instead of confronting their problems. The essay makes an argument for why this culture is detrimental for growth. It is a critical examination of society, and the implications of current trends in societal behaviour.

A Sombre School Story
Author: Sindi Leigh Mc Bride
Publisher (Doek!)
Publication date: 12th March

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An essay which examines contemporary times as well as historical times. It also surveys how education has been affected in Africa in relation to the west and contemplates the likely chasm in inequality this is likely to result in.

Books As Ammunition
Author: Ope Adedeji
Publisher: The Republic
Publication date: 17th May

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Ope Adedeji recounts her experience of loneliness and uncertainty after leaving Nigeria to take a creative writing course. Despite traveling abroad to further her writing career, she struggled to see writing in her future. Faced with this dilemma, the only ammunition she could turn to was books, especially those of foremost Nigerian novelist, Buchi Emecheta.

Author:  John Babalola
Publisher: The Republic
Publication date: 30th July

An essay which explores how young Nigerians leave Nigeria in search of opportunities to better their life, and how leaving Nigeria is almost the only alternative to many young people. It examines this trend, and attempts to take on its implication for Nigeria’s future.

The Writer’s Voice in a Political, Social and Artistically Conscious World” 
Author: Zukiswa Wanner
Publisher: Brittle Paper
Publication date: 15th March

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This essay, adapted from Zukiswa Wanner’s speech at “The Time of the Writer’s Festival” is an interesting take on the writer’s responsibility in a politically-, socially- and artistically-conscious world, especially in a time like this when the world is plagued with a pandemic.

The Ludicrousness of Ungodly Things” 
Author: Ifesinachi Nwadike
Publisher: Kalahari Review
Publication date: 10th November

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A memoir which tells the sad story of ancestral myths and superstition, and how an ancient tree was destroyed by overzealous Christians for the superstition that it was behind the lack of progress in the community. The memoir is a story which is also a criticism of religious intolerance and the harmful habits resulting from unsubstantiated superstition. It is also ironic in the way it looks at how societies blame their misfortunes on superstitions rather than combatting the problems head-on.

Confraternities vs Fraternities: Where did the Nigerian Experiment go Wrong?
Author: Joshua Chizoma
Publisher: Afrocritik
Publication date: 13th October

Joshua Chizoma - African Essays of 2021
Joshua Chizoma

In this essay, Joshua Chizoma examines the original purpose for which confraternities and fraternities were created, the elite status many of them have in western community. He contrasts it with the Nigerian scenario, where they have become cesspools of crime and criminal activities. The essay attempts to examine what may have gone wrong with the Nigerian form of confraternities.

A Book Collector’s Journal” 
Author: Kola Tubosun
Publisher: Olongo Africa
Publication date: 9th April

Kola Tubosun - African Essays of 2021
Kola Tubosun

An essay in which Tubosun details how he began to acquire old books in London during COVID-19 lockdown, and his experience while at it. The author describes his reasons for acquiring these books: as for their sentimental values rather than for his desire to reread them. He describes in detail how first editions of books become expensive as their sentimental values increase. It is a critical examination of books as cultural artifacts.

There you have it, Afrocritik’s 20 Remarkable African Essays of 2021.

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