Walking on Cowrie Shells by Nana Nkweti


In her powerful, genre-bending debut story collection, Nana Nkweti’s virtuosity is on full display as she mixes deft realism with clever inversions of genre. In the Caine Prize finalist story “It Takes a Village, Some Say,” Nkweti skewers racial prejudice and the practice of international adoption, delivering a sly tale about a teenage girl who leverages her adoptive parents to fast-track her fortunes. In “The Devil Is a Liar,” a pregnant pastor’s wife struggles with the collision of western Christianity and her mother’s traditional Cameroonian belief system as she worries about her unborn child.

In other stories, Nkweti vaults past realism, upending genre expectations in a satirical romp about a jaded PR professional trying to spin a zombie outbreak in West Africa, and in a mermaid tale about a Mami Wata who forgoes her power by remaining faithful to a fisherman she loves. In between these two ends of the spectrum there’s everything from an aspiring graphic novelist at a comic con to a murder investigation driven by statistics to a story organized by the changing hairstyles of the main character.

Pulling from mystery, horror, realism, myth, and graphic novels, Nkweti showcases the complexity and vibrance of characters whose lives span Cameroonian and American cultures. A dazzling, inventive debut, Walking on Cowrie Shells announces the arrival of a superlative new voice.

Nana Nkweti is a Cameroonian-American writer, AKO Caine Prize finalist, and graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her award-winning work has garnered fellowships from MacDowell, Vermont Studio Center, Ucross, Byrdcliffe, Kimbilio, Hub City Writers, the Stadler Center for Poetry, the Wurlitzer Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Clarion West Writers Workshop. As a Professor of English, she teaches creative writing courses that explore her eclectic literary interests: ranging from graphic novels to medical humanities on to exploring works by female authors in genres such as horror, afrofuturism, and mystery.

When pried away from her keyboard sorcery, Nana loves cultural jaunts to theaters/art houses/dance performances, hunting rare finds in thrift shop bins, home decorating – her family teasingly calls her Martha (as in Stewart) and all things sci-fi (if it’s got an intergalactic space ship or a spandexed superhero in it – she’s there).

Further reading

Read: Night Becomes Us (extract), The Paris Review

Review: These Stories Dance Deftly Between America And Cameroon, NPR

Prompt: Spray your favourite scent. Then free write for as long as you can keep going.

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