NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut novel, We Need New Names, identified her as one of the great storytellers of displacement and arrival. With her second novel Glory, she establishes herself as an essential voice in the fiction of the contemporary African diaspora. Channeling the potent rhythms of orature, Bulawayo weaves stories that are at once disarmingly playful and devastatingly real.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and The Guardian’s First Book Award, We Need New Names is the story of 10-year-old Darling and her friends—Chipo, Bastard, Godknows, Stina, and Sbho—who navigate their Zimbabwean shantytown with the exuberance of children everywhere. Yet when Darling escapes to her aunt’s home in suburban Detroit, she finds that—far from the relative comforts of her childhood community—America’s abundance is hard to reach, and she must reckon alone with the sacrifices and mixed rewards of assimilation.
Despite its weighty subject matter, We Need New Names “glows with humanity and humor” (The Independent), thanks to Bulawayo’s remarkable knack for creating delightful, resilient characters who enchant us as much with their antics as with their poignancy. In particular, Bulawayo gives us a protagonist whose raw, vivid voice may be the novel’s most memorable aspect. “Nearly as incisive about the American immigrant experience as it is about the failings of Mugabe’s regime” (NPR), the novel successfully evokes the insecurity, the messiness, and the complexity of leaving one homeland for another. A New York Times Notable Book, it was recognized with the PEN/Hemingway Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and many other honors. We Need New Names has been translated into thirteen languages, making it is the most translated book in modern Zimbabwean history. Bulawayo’s short story “Hitting Budapest,” which became the first chapter of We Need New Names, won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing, sometimes called the African Booker.
“A deeply felt and fiercely written debut novel…. The voice Ms. Bulawayo has fashioned for [Darling] is utterly distinctive—by turns unsparing and lyrical, unsentimental and poetic, spiky and meditative.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
As The New York Times noted in its review of Bulawayo’s second book, “if We Need New Names was a call, then Glory is its answer. A blockbuster of a novel shortlisted for the Booker Prize and named one of the best books of 2022 by the New Yorker, NPR, and Time, Glory chronicles the fall of an oppressive regime and the chaotic, kinetic potential for real liberation that rises in its wake. “A satire with sharper teeth, angrier, and also very, very funny” (The New York Times Book Review), Glory centers around the unexpected fall of Old Horse, a long-serving leader of a fictional country, and the drama that follows for a rumbustious nation of animals on the path to true liberation. Inspired by the unexpected fall by coup, in November 2017, of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president of nearly four decades, Bulawayo’s bold, vividly imagined novel shows a country imploding, narrated by a chorus of animal voices who unveil the ruthlessness and cold strategy required to uphold the illusion of absolute power, and the imagination and bulletproof optimism to overthrow it completely. Although Zimbabwe is the immediate inspiration for this thrilling story, Glory resonates in a time of global clamor, with resistance movements across the world challenging different forms of oppression, and giving voice to the bulletproof optimism to overthrow it completely.
The most translated author in modern Zimbabwean history, she is and assistant professor at Cornell, the first Black African Woman to be selected for the Booker List twice, and is one of only two African writers, the other being Chigozie Obioma, to be listed for both her debut and follow-up novel. Bulawayo grew up in Zimbabwe and earned her MFA from Cornell University, where she was a recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship. She has also held fellowships at Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Stellenbosch, and the University of Johannesburg. She has spoken at the University of Michigan, Wellesley College, UCLA, and other places.here.