7 Short Story Collections Set in Nigeria

Literature


I have always loved the versatility of the short story, how it can so easily take on the forms of other things. There are playlist short stories, recipe short stories, diary and epistolary-style short stories. There are flash fiction stories, short short stories, and long short stories that invite you to argue for them as novellas. There are linked short stories that allow you the swift closure of the form while keeping you tethered to characters or place.

My short story collection, A Kind of Madness, is deeply rooted in place—I like to think that these stories would not quite exist as they are if they were set anywhere besides Nigeria. In trying to figure out what was possible for me as a writer, and one for whom the short story has held the most fascination, I often found myself looking to short story writers who write from or about Nigeria, with all its grimness and beauty. 

In that spirit, I present seven short story collections—published before 2024—for you to dive into. Some of these collections are old enough for me to feel nostalgic about, while others are more recent releases. But each of them will invite you to see Nigeria in a new light. 

A Broken People’s Playlist by Chimeka Garricks

Published in 2020, the interlinked stories in this collection are mostly set in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Each story in this collection is named after a song, with artists ranging from Adam Levine to U2 to Nina Simone. In “Lost Stars,” a woman mourns the loss of her soul mate, just as they overcome obstacles to begin a life together. “Music” tells the story of an aspiring DJ who confronts the reality of his father’s transgressions and infidelities through the power of music and his skills on a turntable. In “I Put a Spell on You,” an unfaithful man worries that his wife has “jazzed” him after his penis refuses to work with other women. A Broken People’s Playlist made me nostalgic for my University of Port Harcourt days, for boli and fish, and for the musical lingo of Port Harcourt pidgin English. Evocative and energetic, the rhythm of these stories is hard to forget.

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan

One thing that struck me about this collection, published in 2008, is that all of its stories feature child protagonists. The five stories in this collection are set in cities across Africa—I might be cheating a little here, but Akpan is Nigerian, and two out of the five stories are set in Nigeria—and they show how interconnected human lives are, across countries and cultures. In “An Ex-mas Feast,” Jigana contemplates life without his older sister as she, aged 12, decides to leave for Nairobi to go into full-time sex work. In “What Language is That?” two girls find a way, through a private language, to sustain their friendship even as their different religions push them apart. In “Luxurious Hearses,” Jubril, a teenager, commences a perilous journey from northern to southern Nigeria, disguised as a Christian to be safe during the religious conflict he is fleeing. The stories in this collection are heartbreaking and unflinching in their intensity, and Uwem Akpan writes children with a tenderness and regard that I find aspirational.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Adichie

It must come as no surprise to find Adichie on this list. The Thing Around Your Neck, published in 2009, was an early favorite of mine and remains a delight to read. In “Cell One,” a young girl watches her spoiled brother go through a transformation after a police raid at a bar gets him locked up in an Enugu jail. “The Arrangers of Marriage” tells the story of Chinaza, a Nigerian woman who arrives the US to find that the husband, and the country, that had been arranged for her was not quite as advertised. In “The American Embassy,” a woman waits in line at the US Embassy in Lagos for a chance at a new life in America after her husband’s anti-government newspaper article puts their family in danger and results in the death of her son. Powerful and profound, the stories in The Thing Around Your Neck prove that Adichie is an expert storyteller.

Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okparanta

Okparanta always delivers, whether she’s writing novels—Under the Udala Trees (2015), Harry Sylvester Bird (2022)—or short stories. Another collection that is mostly set in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Happiness, Like Water, published in 2013, tells the lives of Nigerian women with empathy, humor, and wisdom. In “On Ohaeto Street,” a woman evaluates her life and marriage after her husband puts both their lives at risk during a robbery. After murdering her pregnant friend, the lonely and loveless protagonist in “Story, Story!” seeks out pregnant women to befriend and murder in the hopes of possessing their children for herself. In “Runs Girl” a young woman desperate for money to pay for her mother’s treatment, becomes a runs girl (sex worker) for one night. In “Fairness,” a young girl, having absorbed throughout her life the message that light skin is more desirable, embarks on an experiment to lighten dark skin with bleach. Gripping and unforgettable, Happiness, Like Water will earn its place on your reading (or re-reading) list.

God’s Children Are Little Broken Things by Arinze Ifekandu

The stories in this collection, published in 2022, paint the lives of queer men in Nigeria, a country that calls their existence a crime, with such grace, beauty, and tenderness. In “The Dreamer’s Litany,” a petty trader, husband, and father, contemplates the attentions of a wealthy, powerful chief. In “Where the Heart Sleeps,” a woman mourns the sudden passing of her father and deals with accepting the man for whom her father’s marriage to her mother ended. In “Mother’s Love,” Chikelu is going through a breakup with Uchenna when his mother comes to visit. Tensions erupt as Chikelu’s mother finally grasps the nature of his relationship with Uchenna. A storytelling triumph, this collection pulses with power, love, and resistance.

Love Is Power, or Something Like That by A. Igoni Barrett

Brimming with raw energy, Barrett’s Love Is Power, or Something Like That, published in 2013, feels like an untamed, beautiful beast. In “Dream Chaser,” it is the early days of the internet in Nigeria and Samu’ila, a young, ambitious teenager, makes connections all around the world as he commences his online scamming career. In “The Worst Thing That Happened,” Ma Bille is old, widowed, and lonely in Port Harcourt, despite having given birth to five children, now grown. In her loneliness and need, she is moved to connect with the woman across the street, with whom she had been silent enemies for decades. In “Love Is Power, or Something Like That,” a policeman learns that he cannot leave his anger and disillusionment with the system he brutally partakes in at the door when he comes home to his wife and sons. In “My Smelling Mouth Problem,” a Lagos man’s halitosis forces him into silence as he navigates the frustrations of public transportation in the city. In this thrilling collection, Barrett demonstrates his sharp humor and keen eye for the most minute and deliciously memorable details. 

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, published in 2017, is one of my favorite short story collections. Arimah’s prose is tight and elegant; there are no flabby bits, no saggy parts. In “War Stories,” a pre-teen girl takes part in the viciousness of schoolgirls and experiences the shifts in power that come with it. In “Wild,” Ada is sent to Nigeria by her mother to spend the summer break before college with her aunty and cousin. Ada learns that her cousin is not quite the “good girl” her mother makes her out to be, and that there are things about her family that she does not know. In a world where women make their own babies out of tangible material, the aspiring mother in “Who Will Greet You at Home” learns to let go of her desires for softness. In “Windfalls,” which might be my favorite story in the collection, Amara and her mother move from city to city in America, staging falls in grocery stores to collect settlement money. While the falls are often fake, the real injuries, mental, physical, and psychological, add up and leave permanent damage. A mix of both realist and speculative fiction, the stories in this collection will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

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