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Namwali Serpell Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

The Old Drift (2019) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Namwali Serpell is a prolific writer of contemporary, historical fiction, and science fiction stories hailing from Zambia. She lives in America and teaches English. Serpell made her debut in the literary world with her 2015 short story called The Sack, which won her the Caine Prize in African fiction. In the 2014 Hay Festival, Serpell was included in the list called Africa39 that featured 39 top writers from Sub-Saharan Africa under the age of 40 with the talent and potential for defining trends in the African literature. Author Serpell was born in 1980 in Lusaka, Zambia as Carla Namwali Serpell. Her family still resides in her hometown in Zambia. Serpell’s father is of the British-Zambian origin and works as a psychology professor at the Zambia University, while her mother works as an economist. When Serpell was nine years old, she shifted to Baltimore, United States. She completed her early education in America by studying literature at Yale and Harvard.

From 2008 onwards, Serpell has been residing in California. She is employed at the California University in Berkeley as an associate English professor. Author Serpell makes an annual visit to her family in Lusaka. In 2010, Serpell wrote a story called Muzungu that was shortlisted for Caine Prize. This is an annual award given to African short fiction translated into English. The following year, Serpell received the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers prize, an award given to beginner female writers. While receiving the Caine Prize in 2015 for The Sack, Serpell said that fiction writing is not a competition like other sports and declared that she would be sharing the prize money of $15,000 with the remaining shortlisted writers, Elnathan John, Segun Afolabi, Masande Ntshanga, and F.T. Kola. Author Serpell is the first writer from Zambia to have won this prestigious award. According to the author, the story of The Sack is based on a terrifying dream that she had when she was 17 years old. Remembering the dream, she says that she was not sure if she was on the outside or inside.

There are also some political implications to it as per Serpell. When she was studying British and American fiction, another student was studying contemporary African fiction. That student had a theory that if at any time a sack is seen in the African literature, it is an indirect reference to the slave trade in transatlantic. However, Serpell was actually writing her story against that belief. She says that winning the prestigious Caine Prize has given the much-required boost to her career. It motivated her to work on her first full-length novel, The Old Drift, which she is expected to release in March 2019. She has traveled to a number of places for carrying out research work for her first book, including India, Zambia, Italy, and England. She was in India when she got the news that her story has been nominated for Caine. This nomination and the subsequent win proved to be a turning point in Serpell’s life and career. She felt as if everything was coming in line for her and that her fate was finally smiling upon her.

Serpell feels that as a writer, titles don’t really matter to her. She shows a particular interest in Zambia because she hails from there. Another thing that interests her very much Zambia is the fact that it has a combination of some random things which are very close to her heart. Whenever she visits her country on tour, she indulges herself into exploring the interesting combinations of class, culture, and people. She always finds a new thing to adore and like about Zambia on every tour. Serpell shows a particular interest in the religion of Nyau, which is practiced in an animistic manner by the people of the Chewa community. She feels that it combines the artifacts of Kung-Fu cinema, local folklore of Zambia, and Christianity. Serpell also feels that literary prizes play an important role in giving support to the writers. The awards flatter a writer and boost his/her confidence to focus more on their writing. But, for her on a personal level, the process of developing a novel is much more important than the outcome. Serpell likes to advise the aspiring writers that they should write their stories as if they are writing a letter to their smartest friend. This way, they can have a good knowledge of their audience and work accordingly for a better chance of success.

A very popular story written by author Namwali Serpell in the early stage of her writing career is entitled ‘Muzungu’. It was published in 2010 and features the central characters in the roles of Isabella, Sibilla, the Colonel, and several others. Author Serpell has done the story’s setting in Zambia. The story opens by depicting Isabella as a 9-year-old girl. After reaching this age, she becomes able to differentiate between black and white. Until then, she used to think of white as only a color. Isabella knew that her parents belonged to the white race, however, this was just a matter of conjecture for her mother. There was always a mystery behind the face of Sibilla, the mother of Isabella, because of a layer of dark hair. And as Sibilla aged, her hair changed from dark to gray to white and then finally to white. Because of such a translucent change, Isabell was never able to make out the features of her mother.

Sibilla’s legs were even more distinct. There were thick fur tufts running down her thick skin. Sibilla also had a very strange laugh. Isabella used to see her father as having a mixture of gray and pink color on the face. And this became more distinct when he used to drink. Isabella’s parents had settled in Zambia as expats. They used to drink a lot and organize house parties every week. The parties used to be attended by many esteemed guests and there were different varieties of drinks for their entertainment. As Isabella didn’t have any siblings, she used to feel listless and frantic in the company of the guests’ children. But, she would try to indulge with them and show her collection of imported dolls to them in her bedroom. This book by author Serpell was praised and appreciated for its excellent set of characters and Serpell’s engaging style of writing.

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