Ever read a book about aliens invading Lagos or a post-apocalyptic Africa or a Himba girl travelling to an intergalactic university or falling into meditation as she trees complex mathematical equations in her mind. You will find all this and more in Nnedi Okorafor’s books.
Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian American author who has written several award-winning books. Recently I stumbled upon her books and I was blown away. I say stumbled because the first time I heard about her was when news got out that HBO was going to make a TV series of her novel “Who Fears Death” with George R. R. Martin as one of the producers so I decided to check her out and I’m glad I did. Her stories are an amazing fusion of fantasy, science fiction and African culture. But what inspired me the most wasnt her stories although they are awesome. No, it was her back story. How a setback in life made her start writing.
Nnedi Okorafor was born in America to Igbo parents on April 8, 1974. She had a fairly normal life until she was diagnosed with Scoliosis at the age of 13 which got worse as she grew older. Scoliosis is the sideways curvature of the spine. She was a star athlete tennis player in high school and had her sights on being a professional athlete. But her dreams of doing such came to an end when a surgery to resolve her scoliosis ended with her being paralyzed from the waist down. She was twenty years old. She lost the ability to walk, to someone as active as her it must have been devastating. During this time, she started writing as a way to deal with it. According to her it enabled her to go to places she could not physically go to. She began physical therapy and eventually learned how to walk again. She couldn’t fully resume her athletic activity even after regaining use of her legs so her dreams of being a professional athlete was not achievable anymore.
Imagine waking up paralysed waist down then struggling through physical therapy, regaining use of your legs only to find out you weren’t as quick as before or they can’t move as you want them and having to give up your dream. But I believe that for every door that closes another one opens but we often spend so long looking at the closed-door that we miss the newly opened door. She was able to turn that all around and today she is an award-winning author with a PhD in English from University of Illinois, Chicago and is an associate professor of creative writing and literature Art at University of Buffalo.
Her style of writing is vivid and unapologetic, the way she weaves African mythology and culture with fantasy and science fiction is breathtaking. She is able to transport you to the world in her books with her words. She has totally revolutionized the science fiction and fantasy genre to make it African. Her books have shown me that it is possible to mix African culture with genres like science fiction that have long been dominated by other races. I hope they keep inspiring future generations to write freely without boundaries.
She has written several books including:
- WHO FEARS DEATH: A story about a girl born of rape with skin, hair and eyes the color of sand and is labelled a Ewu. Ewu are children of Nuru and Okeke which are mostly born as a result of rape and tend to be violent. She is named Onyesonwu which means “who fears death”. The story takes place in post-apocalyptic Africa, in a place where genocide is rampant and the Nuru tribe oppresses the Okeke tribe. Who fears death tells the story of Onyesonwu journey to understand her powers, her coming of age, her struggle for acceptance and her quest to end it all.
- BINTI: A novella series. The first novel tells the story of Binti, a girl who runs away from home to join an Intergalactic University. On her way the transport ship she boarded is hijacked by aliens and from there her adventures begin as she ends up being thrown in between a war between different species. It was published in 2015 and won the 2015 Nebula Award for best novella and the 2016 Hugo Award for best novella. The second novella in the series was released in 2017 with the title Binti: Home which tells the story of Binti return to earth, to the home she ran away from. A third and final installment is to be released next year and is titled Binti:The Night Masquerade.
- ZAHRAH THE WINDSEEKER: tells the story of a girl born with dada (dreadlocks). In the Ooni kingdom children born with dada are rumored to have powers which makes her feared among her mates. She is friends with Dari who doesn’t fear her like the others and their friendship is the catalyst that sets her off on a journey into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. She lives in a world where computers are grown from seeds and buildings are grown too. Anything is possible. Perfect for people who like to escape reality into the unknown. The book is the winner of the 2008 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa.
- LAGOON: In this book aliens land in Lagos, Nigeria and the three people are the first to contact the aliens, Adaora, a marine biologist with marital problems, Anthony a hip hop artist and Agu a soldier on the run. The book is about Nigerians reaction to finding out that aliens have landed on their soil. I haven’t read this yet but I’m really interested. I mean how often do you read books or watch films about aliens coming to Lagos, most times they go to America or England and then you begin to wonder if the aliens are snobs…lol.
Her other works include the shadow speaker (winner of Carl Brandon parallax award), Long juju Man (children’s book, winner of Macmillan Writers Prize 2007), Akata Witch, Akata Warrior, Kabu Kabu (a collection of stories), The Book of Phoenix (prequel to who fears death). She is currently working with marvel on a comic set in Lagos for marvel’s venom verse anthology and the main character is a girl called NGOZI. She is also one of 40 writers selected to contribute to Star Wars 40th anniversary anthology. She is definitely going places. Some might call her the Nigerian George R. R. martins or Octavia Butler. I’m not a fan of comparing people so to me she is the one and only Nnedi Okorafor. Don’t start reading her books with any expectations in mind because I have found out that her books don’t conform to the rules at all. But this is all my opinion, why dont you get one of her books and see for yourself. You can get her books at Book Depository HERE (free delivery worldwide).
Have you read any of her books? If you have what are your thoughts about it? Let me know in the comments.