16 Classic African Literature Books You Should Read

Updated: Jun 15

16 Classic African Literature Books You Should Read

Whether they are novels, poetry, plays, or historical collections, African literature is rich because of numerous books. Those books shine in both themes and styles.

You can also purchase them by clicking on each book title :) Happy reading!

1) The Lion and the Jewel, Wole Soyinka ( Born July 13, 1934, in Nigeria )

16 Classic African Literature Books You Should Read

The Lion and the Jewel is a play written by Wole Soyinka that was first performed in 1959. The text of the play was first published in 1962. Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian author, writing mainly poetry and theatre. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, becoming the first African author to receive it.

The play, which takes place in Ilunjile, is built on the theme of the conflict between tradition and modernity in Africa, a battle embodied in the rivalry between Baroka and Lakunle to obtain the hand of the young Sidi.

The Lion and the Jewel, the first of his plays to appear in French translation, is a comedy of morals in Molière's satirical tradition, although wholly African.

The fight between the action-oriented man with traditional skills, Chief Barocka, and the young teacher Lakounlé, to possess the jewel of the young and pretty Sidi, reflects the widespread opposition between the supporters of tradition and the promoters of particular modernism.

The poetic language and dramatic sequence, in which three major mime scenes are inserted, reveal an accomplished sense of the theatre.

2) Cruel City, Eza boto or Mongo Beti ( Born 06/30/1932, in Cameroon - Died 04/08/2001)

16 Classic African Literature Books You Should Read

His real name is Alexandre Biyidi, Eza Boto or Mongo Beti is his pseudonym as a writer.
 He was born on June 30, 1932, in MBalmago, southern Cameroon, and after being expelled from a missionary school, he entered the Yaoundé high school in 1951, where he continued his studies in Paris, where he graduated with honors in literature.

As a professor at Lamballe in Great Britain, he wrote for more than ten years (1958 to 1972) and has just published two novels in a series of pamphlets, including Ville Cruelle, under the pseudonym Eza Boto in 1954.

The book Cruel City is located in that colonial past where many African people had been colonized by powerful European nations such as France, Portugal, England, etc. The book cruel city is set in a colonial context and is a story in which the author recounts the fatalities of colonial domination.

 In short, Cruel City tells the story of a young man named Banda, orphaned by his father, Banda was raised by his mother in Bamila, and he wanted to marry to satisfy his mother's almost dying wish, but he needed money for his fiancée's dowry, so he decided to sell cocoa in the city. However, in the city, the man was confronted by the terrible realities of the city characterized by cruelty, exploitation, theft, crime, etc.

3) Nations nègres et culture, Cheikh Anta Diop (Born 12/29/1923 in Senegal – Died 02/07/1986)

16 Classic African Literature Books You Should Read

He was a Senegalese historian, anthropologist, physicist, and politician who studied the human race's origins and pre-colonial African culture.

In this 239-page book published in Paris in 1954 by Présence Africaine, Cheikh Anta Diop will focus on the contribution of Black Africa to world culture and civilization. In other words, he will demonstrate in this book that the Egyptian civilization was a " black " civilization.

Indeed, to demonstrate and support his point of view, Cheikh Anta Diop will, after a brief introduction, divide Volume 1 of his book into four chapters, namely:

What were the Egyptians?

In this chapter, he conveys an approach to demonstrate the black origins of the brilliant Egyptian civilization. That is thanks to the testimonies of some Greek scholars and historians such as Herodotus, Diodorus, Milet, etc. and also thanks to biblical statements based on studies of the Jewish people who had contact with the Egyptian civilization (Cf. page 39).

Birth of the black myth

Here he alludes to the evil in question; that is, he tells us where all these problems come from concerning the origin of the Egyptian civilization. That is done by going back in time long before Herodotus' journey to Egypt.

Modern falsification of history

Then in this chapter, he shows how and why Westerners have falsified; that is, they have deliberately changed Africa's past to deny it the capacity to have significant civilizations within it. He then shows us the implications of such an act and proves by logical and scientific evidence the integrity of his remarks. He will go so far as to study the various possibilities that could turn civilization into a civilization of Asian origin (cf. page 156) or if it could come from the delta (cf. page 141) before returning to its starting point, which would make the Egyptian civilization a black African culture.

Arguments for a black origin of the Egyptian race and civilization

About this last chapter of Volume 1, which is the subject of our analysis, he shows through scientific evidence (including linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, rites such as totemism, circumcision, royalty and many others) that Egyptian civilization was indeed a black civilization.

In short, we can say that by submitting his thesis in book form, Cheikh Anta Diop wanted to demonstrate and prove to everyone that the Egyptian civilization was a black African civilization and therefore by extension state that the mother of all other cultures was a black African civilization. And if we are allowed to give our point of view on this work, which at that time seemed so revolutionary that very few African intellectuals dared to support it, we can say that we share the belief that the Egyptian civilization was indeed a black African civilization. Nevertheless, over the years, it has had to undergo several changes due to these multiple exchanges with the outside world.

With forty years' hindsight, we can see that the major themes developed in NATIONS NEGRES ET CULTURE have not only not aged, but are now welcomed and discussed as scientific truths, whereas at the time these ideas seemed so revolutionary that very few African intellectuals dared to accept. The independence of Africa, the creation of an African continental Federal State, the African and Negroid origin of humanity and civilization, the black origin of the Egyptian-Nubian civilization, the identification of major migratory movements, and the formation of African ethnic groups, etc are some of the main themes explored by Cheikh Anta Diop, the most significant African historian of that time.

On the eve of independence, Black Nations and culture became the banner of a cultural revolution that the Blacks were shaking under the scandalized gaze of a colonial power struggling to resign itself to letting go of its overseas territories. The author's influence then continued to spread, particularly to the United States, where his work was translated and had a considerable impact in the African-American intellectual community. Cheikh Anta Diop's thinking has thus given rise to a new pride, but also to a different way of dealing with African history. A polemical and ideological vision that sometimes goes beyond the strictly scientific field, but which will nourish the identity claims of Blacks in Africa as well as in Europe and America.

4) Things fall apartChinua Achebe (Born 11/16/1930 Nigeria – Died 03/21/ 2013)

16 Classic African Literature Books You Should Read