It all started with “Zahrah, the Windseeker.” That was the first book I read by Dr. Nnedi Okorafor. I was swept into her magical world of adventure, greenery and new technology. Though an uncommon combination to find in literature setting elements, it is one Okorafor steeps in her tea kettle of stories with ease. The resulting steam that quietly wafts through the crevasses of the mind are transformative.
In addition to appointing myself as the “President of the Nnedi fan club,” I’m also thankful I can call her friend. When I first met her shortly after the publication of “Zahrah” in 2008 through a friend, I must ashamedly admit, I did not have any appreciation for fiction in general. Still spiritually travelling through a mix of rage and resentment for “What They Never Told You in History Class,” I was determined to focus solely on historic works that highlighted the achievements of our African ancestors. Reading time was hard to come-by, so why, I reasoned, would I waste it in a fantasy? Little did I know, that fiction in general, and Okorafor’s creations in particular, expanded the mind to stretch into future possibilities. Futures unimagined were left to chance; but as Okorafor’s work taught me, futures could be shaped and influenced by us, just with our unique perspective and focus. Okorafor is a powerhouse, and force to be reckoned with, and thankfully, she has written in abundance to inspire our tomorrows. This book list includes all of the work she has exclusively written or has contributed to that are in print. Some titles are available in soft and hard covers. Audio Books are also available through our affiliate link here. Based on her writing pace, this will be updated frequently.
Amongst the many reasons I admire her, I have three that are most prominent as a bookseller. Of course there are many others as a fan and as a friend, but I’ll focus on the professional ones for the purposes of this post. The first is her active involvement in the selecting of cover images that ethnically reflect the content and characters she writes about. At a time when it wasn’t popular or trending, she strongly advocated for her covers to reflect powerful Black female figures that are contained inside her books. It may not be easy to appreciate if you think of how prevalent and almost common place it is today. This was not always the case, however. There was a time when, believe it or not, Black authors had to reason and advocate for what would seem to be the most obvious foregone conclusion; for book cover images to match the ethnicity of the characters. Truth can be stranger than fiction I’ve come to find.
In 2012 when L. A. Banks came to my bookstore, Afriware Books, Co , she shared with us the history about the difficulty that Black authors have had with book cover selection. Banks was a prolific New York Times bestselling author and she too had to debate the characters that graced her covers. She described how at one time Octavia Butler, one of the Black trailblazers in science fiction, had to take her picture off of her covers so “people wouldn’t know she was a Black woman writing this futuristic outrageous, off the chain work.” She spoke about how Black authors in the romance genre in the 1990’s were told by publishing houses to change the color of their character if he was a doctor to make him a “white hero.”
All of Okorafor's book covers are stunningly strong female characters. Her young adult book called, “Ikenga” is the only book written with a main character who is male. It is important to also note that her other works have at least one positive Black male character. Her “Ikenga” cover does depict a Black male character, however, the one selected by her publishers wasn’t as powerful as her first choice, in my opinion. Her facebook post appeared about the publisher’s reasoning behind the final cover image selection shortly after it was published. It is unfortunate that there’s a wide gap between what the public wants and what decision makers in positions of power allow. I use the word “allow” because it is clear from the comments in her post that the public agreed with Okorafor. They should have placed more trust in the opinion of the best selling author who had successfully chosen covers for The Book of Phoenix, Who Fears Death, and her Akata series that preceded it.
Each of Okorafor’s “Binti” series covers (three soft cover and hard cover editions) all prominently highlight Black women. I must pause a moment here to briefly acknowledge that she is one of few authors who has a hardcover version of her book published after her softcover edition. This is almost unheard of unless of course, your sales and future prospects are as bright as Okorafors. But I digress…
Understanding that a picture is worth a thousand words, Okorafor doesn’t have to write a dissertation about the importance of her book cover selection because the image speaks for itself. Though a commonly repeated trope of book selection is “not to judge a book by its cover,” the sheer dearth of Black images on book covers at the time, made and continues to make its presence a statement on its own. Okorafor shared more about the process of determining which genre her writing style was closest to in an interview with UCTV in 2019 ( https://youtu.be/nanoQWr9o7o ). She discussed that when she was browsing through the shelves in a library, she happened upon a book with a Black woman on the cover and that was the reason she bought it. She didn’t know who the author was nor what the book was about. The book turned out to be “Wild Seed” by Octavia Butler ( https://youtu.be/nanoQWr9o7o ), and she said she felt Butler’s content affirmed her own writing. Nnedi says she had Professors who initially tried to steer her away from science fiction saying it “wasn’t real literature.”
The second reason I admire her prolific works is because of her devotion to interacting with her fans. She has an extremely active facebook and twitter account. Even her cat has an account (and soon a graphic novel). She often shares little tidbits that keep her followers stoked and eager to get her next book. I admit that this reason feeds both my fan side and my professional side since she graciously agrees to go so far as to doodle and autograph a prized selection of books with Afriware Books. We are so fortunate for her willingness to give us this privilege when her exceptionally busy schedule allows. And, her books sell like hotcakes around the world. From the Netherlands to a U.S. house on Quaker Road, we’ve shipped them everywhere. When she penned her “Shuri” comic book series at the height of the popularity of “Black Panther” we were on top of the world when she agreed to even sign, number and doodle the posters of the cover of that book!
The timeliness of this act alone jump started the sale of physical books - at least hers. Stunningly so. A whirlwind was assembled with the stroke of her pen, her creative mind, and an engaged fan base. People were drawn into the novelty and uniqueness her signature would add to separate it from any online version. E-books were selling at an all time high and some booksellers were asking ourselves how we would survive the new trend of the one-click download of an ebook on your computer or the hip looking E-book reader available in every color and style imaginable. The book industry was severely impacted by the shift. There were questions about whether physical books would be needed again. After all, the price point was a fraction of that of a physical book. Amazon was also entering the prime (pun unintended) of its life appearing to have even outwitted the publishing industry itself with a kind of slash prices and burn traces of the original publishers zeal.
The last reason I admire and appreciate her work is her devotion to sharing stories about Africa. I recall a TV commercial that was about the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop. In the moving center of each of Okorafor’s books is a character that stands out from the rest. That character usually delivers a wise message that is clear, strong, authentic and ancient. It is sure and unmistakable. Before you encounter it, you didn't know how penetrating and full bodied the message would feel in your spirit. It lingers in the mind and often is disruptive of established beliefs. As she stealthily draws the reader into a great story, she leverages the comfort we find there to deposit seeds that grow in unexpected ways and places in the mind. She’s like a surgeon in determining how and when she does this, but before you realize she’s working on you, her plot has moved on to something else.
And you won’t be the same after.
In masterful style and grace, Nnedi “channels” an inner griot that hails from an unseen ancient lineage. It draws upon her lived experience and those of her/our ancestors. It isn’t cookie cutter nor following a template designed to get likes or favorable reviews. It is evident that the compass of her soul guides her pen and she honors it whether it is a forbidden road or just one less travelled. On top of her autochthonous conferred wordsmith degree and accompanying emotions she stirs up, she softly sprinkles humor; it serves to make the rougher patches of road less intimidating.
I urge you to come and read it for yourself.
Top 3 Recommendations
You can blindfold yourself, select one of her books and always be happy with your selection.
As always, I appreciate that you have read through this blog post. I hope that you’ve become curious to read more books by Nnedi Okorafor. We ask that you consider purchasing your books from our Black owned bookstore, Afriware Books, Co. If there is a title you’d like to purchase that is not mentioned here, or could not be found on the website, feel free to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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