Yrsa Daley-Ward is the people’s poet. After a career in modeling, she turned to writing. She is well-known on Instagram where she writes those lovely little things called Instapoetry. The Terrible is her third book, a memoir told in an elegant ensemble of prose, poetry, and everything in between. Her stories about childhood are intimate and honest. Nothing is left out. All her vulnerabilities as the one black child in an all-white school, as a pre-pubescent girl living with her mother’s erratic boyfriend, as a child growing up with religious grandparents, as girl with an awkward body, who becomes the young women spiraling down the rabbit hole of drugs and alcohol. We are all programmed to recall our childhood through filters of complicated emotions. This book does an amazing job of creating art and poetry from this fact of life.
Critique of Black Reason by Achille Mbembe: Critique of Black Reason is a genealogical project in the Nietzschean sense of term. It allows us to take a peek at the moments in the European archive when Africa is being constructed as black, and blackness is being assigned to the space of madness and delirium. Mbembe writes: “By granting skin and color the status of fiction based on biology, the Euro-American world in particular has made blackness and race two sides of a single coin, two sides of a codified madness.” The book traces a direct link between the invention of blackness as racial other and the rise of capitalism. Mbembe has written a really special book that, in many ways, recalls the success of On the Postcolony.
Blind Spot by Teju Cole: Blind Spot is a beautiful book, but for the oddest reason imaginable: it inventories a nonsensical cluster of things. The 150 pictures in the collection depict a raft of unremarkable things: curtain folds, an abandoned bath tub, a pair of scissors, the back of a leather couch, tire marks on mud, a decaying boat, a mail box, folding chairs, cement, a bus stop, a car, wall paper, hand bags, a dog, a bush, a mannequin, and so on. When we focus on these scattered bits of very ordinary things, we realize that the moments captured in Cole’s photographs are incomplete moments, splinters of life’s fragmented realities. The images stand in their haunting incompleteness without asking to be improved upon, explained, or made whole. They reveal very little. They are pedestrian. No spectacle to look at. But, in saying so little they convince us that they are hiding a secret truth, for, as Nigerian fantasist D.O. Fagunwa suggests, in a 1960 essay, images become interesting the moment they stop explaining themselves.
Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James: The first line of the novel gives away the ending. “The child is dead. There is nothing left to know.” The more than 500 pages that follow explore the intrigues surrounding the boy’s identity and the motivations of those who want him either dead, found, or alive. Black Leopard Red Wolf is a meticulously crafted world of cities, libraries, trade routes, desert travel, sea ports, enchanted forests, dark, twisted characters and political intrigues—an African medieval world essentially. Drawing from Amos Tutuola, Ben Okri, African epics, the Timbuktu archives, and medievalist fantasy like Game of Thrones, James re-imagines the African past in a radically new way.
Broken Places and Outer Spaces by Nnedi Okorafor: Like most good stories, Okorafor’s story of transformation from pre-med student to Africanfuturist writer is the result of the unexpected. In the book, she credits her decision to pursue writing to an event she simply refers to as “the breaking.” After her first year in college, a spinal fusion surgery left her paralyzed from the waist down. The memoir starts out as a very intimate account of utter vulnerability and ends up an epic discovery of a creative universe. But as Soyinka reminds us in his essay “The Fourth Stage,” epic stories about world-making begin from tragic experiences. Or as the title of the memoir suggests, the discovery of outer spaces begins from the experience of broken places. The book is special because it gives a rare insight into Okorafor’s creative philosophy. It is an artist opening up about the difficult journey into creative becoming.