Telling our own stories

Telling our stories

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One of our favourite authors Nnedi Okorafor recently clarified some misconceptions about her book covers on her blog Nnedi’s Wahala Zone.  She takes the readers through the thought processes behind selecting appropriate book covers for her works.  Book covers are very interesting in that they serve many purposes:  marketing the book, accurate depiction of the book, staying true to the author’s intents.  All three of these purposes don’t always match and sometimes an author does have to fight to make sure that the publisher’s basic need to sell books doesn’t clash with the storytelling within the book.

zahar windseeker 759296 Bookcover Woes
Now N500!


In case anyone was wondering what the Farafina version of Zahrah the Windseeker looks like, there it is to the left.  What are your thoughts of it in the context of Nnedi’s post below?  Did Farafina Books stay true to the author’s intent?  Or can it be improved upon?

We did consider doing a separate cover but decided to stick with this one.

Get it Straight!

Today I unveiled the cover of my forthcoming novel Akata Witch, a fantasy narrative set in present-day Nigeria. Already there is moaning about the character’s skin tone being too light. In the midst of all this talk of whitewashing characters, I just want to roll my eyes. I thrive on complexity and get really irritable (and belligerent) when people try to box me in.

I want to nip this in the bud right now.

I think I deserve some respect and FAITH when it comes to book covers. Even this early in my writing career, I’ve fought valiantly in several battles.

That said, THERE IS A REASON the woman on the cover of Who Fears Death is light-skinned- Onyesonwu is of mixed race. And THERE IS A REASON the girl on the cover of Akata Witch is light-skinned- she is albino.  This reminds me of early reactions to the subject of female circumcision in Who Fears Death. It’s amazing how people assume before reading the books.  I tell stories. And I enjoy messing with sh…things. :-). I don’t stay put.  Let me give some history:

Zahrah the Windseeker was bought by editor Andrea Pinkney (Thank her for the existence of this first cover. She pushed hard to make it happen). This is the full illustration:

zahrah full image Bookcover Woes
by Illustrator Amanda Hall


Here is the paperback cover. When they showed it to me, I was deeply annoyed with the wisps of straightened hair in this image. My character had dada hair, for goodness sake (basically dreadlocks. I’m not too fond of the word “dreadlocks” because such hair is in no way “dreadful”. However, I occasionally use it for the sake of clarity).

But the image was what it was (Apparently, there are very very few stock images of black women with natural hair. It’s problematic as heck). I had them tint the hair green, so it looks more like plants or cloth. I also had them darken her skin tone. Note, this was my first novel. It was not easy to ask for all this, but I did:

zahrah pbhigh res Bookcover Woes

Zahrah lived in another world that was like a technologically advanced Nigeria. She looked West African. My editor and I were determined that she’d look this way on the cover. Here is another interpretation of Zahrah:

zahrah pic Bookcover Woes
by Illustrator John Jennings


Two years later came The Shadow Speaker. The main character, Ejii, was half Igbo and half -Woddabe. She was West African-looking with cat-like shadow speaker eyes and a shaved head.  This is the first version:  Continue reading…

2 Responses

  1. This is a good post and may be one that can be followed up to see how things go

    A neighbor emailed this link the other day and I’m desperately waiting your next page. Proceed on the awesome work.

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