While it’s not as easy for authors to become famous at a young age as it is for musicians, it’s still not unheard of for barely legal authors to find fame, success, and even fortune. Here are 4 authors who managed to achieve fame — though not always positive — by age 14 to 30.
The roots of English-language literature in West Africa may be traced to the formation of various cultures in reaction to external contacts during successive overlapping historical periods. The literary traditions of the region have been shaped by these interlocking cultural histories, just as the cultural identities of the region are products of its many-layered history. These cultural strata have had such a strong influence, and writers borrow so freely across cultures that it is not always possible to determine the essential African element from the invasive or the syncretic product. Each of the major literatures is the product, not of any one tradition — not even of one as dominant as English colonial culture — but of live traditions that are always available to creative writers even when they are inactive: as Wole Soyinka puts it, “the past exists now”.
The dominance of English as a linguistic medium has tended to obscure this fact. Only the colonial connections of the culture are implied in categories like “Common wealth literature” — where the literature is seen as an extension of the English tradition, or “postcolonial literature” as a product of European cultural imperialism to which it is a counter discourse. Femi Osofisan sees in the latter category a revival of the “grand myth of [precolonial African] Absence”. The exclusion of indigenous traditions is inherent in such language-based classifications of Europhone African literatures. The continuing influence of the different traditions is an essential part of the literary history.
This list of 4 most promising young West African writers making a change, impacting lives with their writing, earning national and global achievements in the year under review (November 2021- February 2022) was compiled after two months of critical reviews, series of interviews and nominations both online and offline.
1. SIERRA LEONE
Ngozi Cole is a storyteller who believes in the power of individual narrative for transformative collective change. She covers issues surrounding gender and health in Sierra Leone and was recently commissioned by Leading Change, an Initiative of the Queen’s Young Leaders Program, to report stories from Sierra Leone in 2017.
Ngozi has contributed to Voice of Women Initiative, AWID, For Harriet, and Open Society’s Open Space, and also writes regularly for The Patriotic Vanguard. She also blogs at sepiadahlia.com and seekingsalem.com about feminism and current affairs.
She is a writer, editor and communications professional. As a freelance writer, she cover gender, human rights and feminism. Her work has been featured in international media platforms, including the Inter Press Service and Women’s Media Center. With five years of experience in communications for development, her work focuses on creating strategic communications and partnerships, using digital media tools and channels.
She is a FRIDA Young Feminist Fund Media Fellow, a FRIDA Advisor for sub-saharan Africa and a Moremi Africa Leadership Fellow. Ngozi is also the founder and editor of Poda-Poda Stories, a digital platform sharing Sierra Leonean literature.
Abi (Abimbola) Daré is a Nigerian author who now lives in Essex, England. In 2018 she won the Bath Novel Award, and was a finalist in the Literary Consultancy Pen Factor 2018. Her debut novel The Girl With the Louding Voice was published in 2020.
Daré grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, attending the Vivian Fowler Memorial College for Girls, and moved to the UK for her higher education. Her mother Teju Somorin was the first female professor of taxation in Nigeria.
She has said she began writing fiction on a blog and was the editor of her church magazine. Daré works overseeing app development for a publishing firm.
Daré’s debut novel The Girl With The Louding Voice is a story about a teenage Nigerian girl called Adunni who becomes a maid and struggles with many things growing up, including her limited education, poverty and her ability to speak up for herself.
The book became a New York Times Bestseller and is a Read with Jenna choice and a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime pick. Published by Sceptre, an imprint of Hodder, was shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize for first time novelists. Daré was included in the Guardian’s list of 10 Best Debut Novelists of 2020.
3. THE GAMBIA
Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe
Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe was born on 7 January 1990 in Bakau Newtown, The Gambia, West Africa. Sowe is an award-winning Gambian novelist, playwright, poet, and scholar, regarded as the youngest dominant figure in modern Gambian and African literature. His first play and magnum opus, The Throne of The Ghost published in 2016 in the USA by the African Books Collective, occupies a pivotal place in African literature and remains the most widely studied, taught, and read African drama across the world.
He attended Kabafita Lower and Upper Basic School in Brikama, proceeded to Masroor Senior Secondary School, and trained at The Gambia National Library. He went abroad for his educational sojourn and taught English as a Foreign Language at CSP Adra, CSP Al-Mahdi, and CSP Dar-Es-Salam in Niamey, Niger.
While schooling in The Gambia, he worked at Masroor Senior Secondary School as a school librarian and drama coordinator. Sowe also worked at the National Centre for Arts and Culture as administrative assistant to the Director-General of The National Museum of The Gambia.
Modou has traveled widely to 15 different countries and has worked at African Development University (ADU) as a university librarian and teaching assistant. He has attended notable conferences, seminars, and workshops and served as a rapporteur for the African Academy of Languages under the African Union (AU). Modou also served as a rapporteur at the Africa Regional Meeting for the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages and the Young Africans Thinkers Convention held at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He was the lead consultant and master of ceremonies at the UN75 Poetry and Painting Competition organized by UN The Gambia in partnership with the NCAC and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
ML Sowe is the founder of the Young Writers’ Association of The Gambia (YWAG), former Secretary-General of the Writers’ Association of The Gambia (WAG), and the current Executive Director of the World Writers’ Association (WoWA). Author of Don’t Judge The Book By The Cover, AfriKa Not AfriCa, The Throne of The Ghost, and The Memories of Reflection.
Modou started writing at the age of 14, and won the prize for Best Young Gambian Writer of The Year 2019, and is the WAG Laureate for Children’s Literature 2019. Modou Lamin Sowe was featured in TWAWEZA, an anthology of 24 African Non-Fiction Stories published by the African Writers Development Trust (AWDT) during the PenPen Africa Writers Residency held in Abuja, Nigeria. He recently won an award for excellence for his contributions to African literature presented to him by the International Association of African Authors and Scholars (IAAAS), Atlanta, USA.
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr (born 20 June 1990) is a Senegalese writer. Raised in Diourbel, Senegal and later studying in France, Sarr is the author of three novels as well as a number of award-winning short stories. He won the 2021 Prix Goncourt for his novel La plus secrète mémoire des hommes (lit. ‘The Most Secret Memory of Men’), becoming the first Sub-Saharan African to do so.
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr was born in 1990 in Dakar, Senegal. The son of a physician, he grew up in a large Serer family in Diourbel. He completed his secondary studies at the Prytanée militaire of Saint-Louis. He moved to France to study in CPGE (classe préparatoire aux grandes écoles) at the lycée Pierre-d’Ailly [fr] in Compiègne. He later studied at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS), where his research focused on Léopold Sédar Senghor. Sarr began writing more and pursued fiction, opting not to finish his thesis at the EHESS.
Sarr’s short story “La cale” (2014), about the slave trade, was awarded the Prix Stéphane-Hessel. His debut novel, Terre ceinte (2015), describes life in a fictional Sahelian village under the control of Islamist jihadi militias. In 2015, it received the Prix Ahmadou-Kourouma at the Salon du livre of Geneva. It was also awarded the 2015 Grand prix du roman métis by the city of Saint-Denis de La Réunion, as well as the 2015 Prix du roman métis des lycéens. In 2021, an English translation by Alexia Trigo, titled Brotherhood, was published by Europa Editions.
At the 2017 Jeux de la Francophonie, he received the bronze medal in the literature category for his short story “Ndënd”.
His second novel, Silence du chœur (2017), a portrait of the day-to-day life of African migrants in Sicily, received the prix littérature monde at the Étonnants Voyageurs [fr] festival in Saint-Malo. It also received the Prix du roman métis des lecteurs of Saint-Denis de La Réunion in 2018.
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr entering Drouant in Paris to receive the Prix Goncourt on 3 November 2021.
In November 2021, he was awarded the Prix Goncourt for his novel La plus secrète mémoire des hommes (lit. ‘The Most Secret Memory of Men’). Sarr won in the first round of voting, by six votes against three votes for Sorj Chalandon and one vote for Louis-Philippe Dalembert. He is the first person from Sub-Saharan Africa to win the Prix Goncourt. At 31 years old, he is also the youngest Goncourt laureate since Patrick Grainville won in 1976. The novel was also shortlisted for the Prix Femina and the Prix Renaudot; and longlisted for the Prix Médicis.
The list is not exhaustive, but these are the few authors making names across West Africa.