KATHLEEN BOMANI / ILLUSTRATION BY YOUSRA ATTIA via ELLE
The National Book Award finalist and author of Dear Senthuran and Bitter takes our literary survey.
Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
Expect to hear even more from Akwaeke Emezi this year, starting with Bitter (Knopf Books for Young Readers, out next week), a companion novel to their debut YA novel, PET, a National Book Award finalist. Their first poetry collection, Content Warning: Everything is out in April, and their first romance novel You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty will be released in May. Screen rights to the latter were bought by Amazon Studios with Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society attached; Emezi will be an executive producer.
Born and raised in Nigeria, the NYT-bestselling writer and video artist moved to the U.S. at 16 and now lives in New Orleans—their house has an Instagram account (@shinythegodhouse) as does their Devon Rex cat, Gus PonPon (@gus.ponpon).
The Igbo-Tamil Emezi is a Gemini, was a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree; graced Time’s cover as a Next Generation Leader for their memoir, Dear Senthuran; considered becoming a nun; once wrote six blogs simultaneously; went to veterinary school and has a degree in nonprofit management and public policy from NYU; can’t write in cafes because of the noise; named their garden Emmeline; appeared in Jay-Z’s 4:44 video; and got an Artist Formerly Known as Prince symbol the day after he died.
Likes: Rotimi Fani-Kayode art, soca music, Bolden skincare, black groundnuts, gold ceilings, fruit stands (mangoes to eat with sweet soy sauce and guavas are favorites), clothes that feel like pajamas, cacti. Dislikes: coffee, writing essays.
The book that:
...shaped my worldview:
Of Water and the Spirit by the late and great Malidoma Patrice Somé introduced me to the concept of decolonizing reality itself and taught me how to center indigenous African realities, which was foundational to my own body of work.
…currently sits on my nightstand:
I just started In Sensorium: Notes For My People by the brilliant Bangladeshi writer and perfumer Tanaïs, and so far, it’s an incredible and evocative text that I can’t wait to drown in.
…I’d like turned into a Netflix show:
The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty would be absolutely phenomenal on screen! It’s a brilliant series about djinn and royalty that the author once described as “a fantasy homage to the medieval Islamic world.”
...I last bought:
Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi, because she is a literary legend and the worlds she writes are always so special.
…I recommend over and over again:
Under The Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta is a classic piece of literary fiction reminding us that queer people are a real and vital part of all our histories.
…has a sex scene that will make you blush:
Anything by Katee Robert, but particularly her Dark Olympus and A Touch of Taboo series. Whew!
...fills me with hope:
I’m pretty jaded about the world, so when I read the Brown Sisters series by Talia Hibbert, those books warmed my heart because I got to see Black femmes who were in chronic pain, who were neurodivergent, and who didn’t fit white supremacist beauty standards being loved and loved fiercely.
…made me weep uncontrollably:
All About Love by bell hooks is a deeply necessary and utterly devastating book that can reshape your life in the best way if you let it. I think I had a meltdown by the second chapter.
…should be on every college syllabus:
Oreo by Fran Ross is a satirical novel written by a Black queer woman and published in 1974. I consider it an indisputable genius-level text that should absolutely be taught widely.
...I read in one sitting, it was that good:
The Tensorate series by Neon Yang, and yes, I read the entire series in one sitting on a plane. It really is that good.
…I swear I'll finish one day:
I have chronic pain caused by muscle spasms from C-PTSD, so multiple people recommended The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, but I can never finish it because it contains accounts of trauma that are honestly too disturbing for me to take in.
Bonus question: If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world, it would be:
I think this one is a classic, but Belle’s library in Beauty and The Beast. Technically, it might be the Beast’s library, but as a kid, that was the absolute dream.