Contrary to the past two years, where nonfiction and reviews topped the most-read list, our readers engaged more with fiction this year —from conversations about whether a father should be buried in the land of his birth or in another man’s country, to a story about different couples’ approach to love, and how a Nigerian couple navigates mental illness. Because, in a way, our collective psyche is laid bare based on what we read and the goal of this list is to show how our audience engages with articles published within a given year, in keeping with tradition, we have disregarded articles that were published in previous years but are amongst the most-read this year. Consequently, stories such as Harry Acha’s What is the Anglophone Problem, Dzekashu MacViban’s The Joys of Somali Poetry, Dami Ajayi’s Modern Juju Music, and Nchanji Melvin’s Sex as Soft Currency are not featured on this list.
- “A Reversal” by Imbolo Mbue
A short piece on the theme of Belonging, read by the author at the 29th Annual PEN Faulkner Celebration in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 2017.
I remained silent too, imagining him sitting alone on his bed, lights turned off, talking to the air, hoping that somehow his words would fly over bodies of water and hills and plains and valleys and arrive at Mama’s grave. None of us had been to the grave since we buried her ten years ago. None of us had visited Cameroon since then.
-I promise you, Papa, I’ll take you back home and bury you right next to Mama. If you’re saying this to me because you don’t want me to go through all this for you—
-I’m saying it because it’s what I want. I want you to bury me right here in Brooklyn.
- “A Certain Kind of Longing” by Roy Udeh-Ubaka
In his first short story to be published, Roy weaves the intricacies of relationship issues, as experienced by the narrator, and by the latter’s aunt, into a beautiful juxtaposition that portrays two people’s differing approaches to love.
I always wondered what she saw in him, what part of this short, slender man she found attractive. I asked one day, and she mumbled something about lemons and lemonades, and the unavailability of choices.
But that was not the day he hit Aunty. That was not the day he slapped her head against the wall at 2 a.m. because she did not open the door on time, and shouted and hit her till the neighbors began to cluster at the door to beg him to stop. Or the day they woke the entire building with Aunty’s cries from her room as he punched her harder to muffle them. That was the day before.
That was, however, the day he brought flowers that smelled of chlorine and begged her to forgive him, to look beyond his weaknesses and see him for what he was: kind-hearted. She took him in her arms as he cried on her thighs and began to cry along with him. That was the day Aunty said that Ejiro was not all bad, that there was a tender side to him, and that we all had our bad sides.
That was the day I slowly began to dislike Aunty.
3. “1985” by TJ Benson
TJ Benson explores mental illness in a haunting and beautiful story which explores the relationship between a man and his wife and how they both navigate through it.
The woman climbs out of the bed and ages before his eyes as she carries her naked body past sunlit curtains. Ages into someone he seems to have known for a long time. ‘Armed robber,’ she says, pulling on her bathrobe. ‘You fought him away. The doctor said you might not remember some things,’ she continues, knotting the sash. ‘But I am here with you so you will be fine.’ She turns to him with a smile, a flash of an idea lighting up her face, ‘You want to touch the baby?’
He forgets about the burning hole in his leg and looks at her, waiting for the joke to pass but she cups her belly and walks to him beaming.
‘But that is not from me! I just met you last night! I’m only twenty-two, I can’t be getting someone in her forties pregnant!’ he has jumped out of his bed and is pacing the room. ‘You are Arese, are you not? Is that not what you told me last night?’
‘Yes, I am Arese.’
‘Ehen! So all I’m to do is pay you your money and be going.’
‘I am Arese, your wife. We have been married for thirty years.’
- “Daughters Who Become Lovers” by Jennifer Emelife
Last year, social media was awash with the news of an older Nigerian writer sexually harassing younger female writers. Jennifer Emelife, in her nonfiction piece, “Daughters Who Become Lovers”, writes on how the line of mentorship and ‘assumed fatherhood’ was crossed into the unexpected. This piece is published in partnership with Writivism and AfriDiaspora.
His arms fold behind him supporting a pillow under his head. I sit beside him, toes curled up under the duvet, knees pulled into an oversized polo shirt; an attempt to hide my body. I can feel my heart running inside my chest. I try to straighten my shirt, creased from our struggles, hours ago. My eyes refuse sleep as they will on every other night I spend with him.
He sneezes again. I stand on the bed to reach for the remote control stuck high up on the wall. The air-conditioner whimpers and dies. He pulls the duvet over his body and stretches to touch my feet, his hairs caressing my skin.
‘Thank you,’ he whispers, closing his eyes.
- “And There Shall Be no More Death” by Munachim Amah
A young boy walks into the house to find his mother clutching a Bible, singing with tears in her eyes. This poignant story is deeply moving and focuses on the loss of a mother by her son who’s trying to comprehend death.
My aunts say Mommy looked really peaceful in her last moments. They say she was talking to some persons nobody in the hospital room could see. They say she did not struggle. I am tired of hearing all of that. What I want to know is what I was doing that night she slipped away. Was it the night I was memorizing lines from W. H. Davies’ poem, “Leisure”, from my Primary 4 Macmillan English? Was it the night I was bouncing off words against the walls of the house? Or was it the night it rained heavily, twelve coconuts falling off the coconut tree by the black entrance gate?
- “In Defence of Provincialism” by Socrates Mbamalu
Socrates Mbamalu takes on Chigozie Obioma’s The Guardian article against provincial writing. He questions the arguments Chigozie puts forth and gives a deep analysis in defence of provincial writing.
When it comes to provincial writing, the African is the culprit, he’s being told, time and time again, to speak English and not to grunt. If a Western editor can’t stand five indigenous words in a page, it’s not because he thinks ‘a vivid sense’ is not being created, but rather because, he himself has a political role to play. Why then should the provincial writer play any different role?
- “Books and Palm Wine at AkeFest 2017” by TJ Benson
Following Ake wherever Ake goes, TJ Benson chronicles snippets of the 2017 edition of one of the biggest literary festivals in Africa.
The Lagos to Limbe Crossroads panel discussion (with Bakwa Magazine, Saraba Magazine, Goethe-Institut, and 8 writers) was also interesting and had high attendance. Howard Meh-Buh from Cameroon read with his voice high, tinged with charisma, and Nigeria’s Socrates Mbamalu read with his voice calm, and melancholic, and both silenced the crowd. They were my favorites. There was a bit of hilarity when Adam Adeosun shuffled to Howard and back to get his story and when, in answer to a question from the audience on how he managed to preserve the security of the people he talked about in his non-fiction, Raoul Djimeli replied: “Ah me I don’t have that problem; you see, in my family, I am the only one who writes and reads English. So I can write anything and my father would never know.”
- “Almighty Nigerian Jollof” by Nkiacha Atemnkeng
Nkiacha Atemnkeng weighs in on the Jollof Wars and makes a case for jollof rice from Cameroon, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, and the Gambia.
I have now come to the conclusion that Nigerian Jollof is overrated and overhyped – a phenomenon which stems primarily from ‘Nigerian pride’. Jollof rice indeed has its origins in Senegal and the Gambia, among the people who call it ‘Benachin’. All the other West African countries only poached Wolof Jollof.