2021 Afia Atakora, Conjure Women (Random House)
Afia Atakora took for herself an extremely challenging task—recreating, peopling and building a vanished historical world that is underrepresented in published and archival sources. She unequivocally succeeded. Her characters, situations, and scenes are richly imagined and compelling, and her prose at the same time poetic and precise.
Conjure Women is deeply informed by history. Moving forward and backward in time, the novel weaves in a long stretch of our nation’s vexed and complicated past—of enslavement, the Civil War, emancipation, and freedom; of gruesome racism and troubled friendships across lines of race. Atakora makes excellent uses of the sources that are available—including the Works Progress Administration’s Slave Narratives—to tell the stories of many intertwined lives in ways that are intricate and suspenseful, absorbing and illuminating.
Especially impressive is the fact that this is a first novel. No doubt it will be followed by many others. We look forward to seeing how this gifted author’s career unfolds.
Atakora, who was born in the UK and raised in New Jersey, earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University. Her fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Photo credit: Edwin Tse