Monday 12 December 2016

Blogger Spotlight: Bookshy by an African book lover

Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed is from Nigeria – born and raised in Lagos, to a Nigerian father from Nasarawa and a British-Caribbean mother of Kittian heritage. She left for university a little over 12 years ago. She currently lives in London where she blogs from. Zahra is a Research Fellow at a research institute, focusing on women’s rights and women’s economic empowerment. At the moment of the interview, she is taking a new role in a social development firm – still working on women’s economic empowerment. Her educational background has largely been in the field of Geography and International Development. Her undergraduate degree is in Human and Physical Geography (University of Reading). Her Masters in Urbanisation and Development (with a strong focus on gender) and her PhD in Human Geography and Urban Studies.

How long have you been blogging for? How long do you look forward to blog for?
I started blogging December 12, 2011 (I actually remember the first post I ever wrote and where I was when I wrote it) – so almost 5 years now. As for how long I see myself blogging? I honestly don’t know. I like to think for as long as I still love it and enjoy it, and so far that love hasn’t gone away. 

How often do you blog? 
Nowadays it’s pretty erratic, and happens either when I have the time or when I have a thought or idea that I really must write about and I’m too excited to not blog about it.

Do you blog for a living?
I would love to. At the moment, my day job pays for this labour of love.

Why did you choose the name “bookshy by an African book lover”?
bookshy signifies two things. The first relates to the young me who was so shy I escaped through books. The second is a play on words, and is linked to the fact that my shelf is always one book shy of being full. The ‘by an African book lover’ tagline is really to make it clear that this is a blog by a lover of books who is African and who uses the blog to focus on books (or anything literary related) by Africans that I love. 

What is the highest amount of book you’ve read in a year? 
I have been slacking in recent years, but back in the day when I had more time I could read probably 30 – 35 books a year. 

How many books do you look forward to reading this year?
Before the year ends? Based on my reading patterns this year alone, I would be extremely happy if I’m able to read 4 books in the next couple of months.

Do you strictly blog about African lit?
Basically yes! Although I have blogged about African literature written by writers, such as Guyanese-born, Karen King-Aribisala – who wrote one of my favourite collection of short stories, Our Wife and Other Stories.

I am yet to read any of Karen King-Arbisala's work. How do you make time to read? When do you read?
I tend to read during my commute to work, which is currently rather long (sometimes 2 hours each way). I also travel a lot for work so I tend to find time to read at the airport and on the plane (before being seduced on long-haul flights by new releases on the inflight entertainment). Sometimes on weekends if I’ve had a really stressful week, I might start my Saturday with a cup of tea and an early morning read – although this isn’t happening as much as I wish.

How do you decide the books you read? Where do you buy or borrow them?
It’s really hard to explain, but it depends on my mood. I can start reading a historical novel and be really into it, but then a few days later want to read a fantasy novel. When it comes to book buying, I do not discriminate. I tend to buy my books from all over – independent bookstores, chains, second hand bookstores, online, at book festivals. In terms of borrowing, the library at my soon-to-be former workplace has an amazing fiction collection, which also has many of the African Writers Series – it was through that I first read Flora Nwapa’s Efuru.

Who are your 3 most read (African) authors?
Only 3? Oh that’s tough!!! Alain Mabanckou, Nnedi Okorafor, Chika Unigwe.

Your favourite (African) writer? 
Do I have to pick only one? Again tough, but if it had to be one, it would be none other than Alain Mabanckou. I would learn French to be able to read  all of his works. 

Are you participating in any reading challenges? 
Oh I figured out six months into blogging that reading challenges and I don’t get along. 

Five African literature blog you recommend and follow?
Also pretty tough, so I’m going to cheat a little here 😊, as in addition to Mary Okeke Reviews, I would suggest the following five - in no particular order: 
  1. Africa in Words 
  2. Decolonising Literature
  3. James Murua Literature Blog
  4. Kinnareads (will forever be my number 1!) 
  5. I also really love Kugali, which focuses on Sci-Fi and Fantasy narratives, as well as comics, gaming and animation.
And, not a blog, but on Instagram two awesome bookstagrammers – @zaynabtyty and @half_book_and_co. On twitter the AfLitVuvuzelites, and particularly @G_A_Musila who once in a while curates divine lists on African literature.

10 African literature, you have read, really enjoyed and highly recommend.
Again in no particular order:

1. Everything by Alain Mabanckou (I am classing it as one 😊)
2. Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
3. Our Wife and Other Stories by Karen King-Aribisala
10. The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

… and because it’s so hard for me to narrow things down, another great short story collection (Love is Power, or Something Like That by A Igoni Barrett); an awesome anthology (African Monsters edited by Margret Helgadottir and Jo Thomas); and two of my favourite classics (The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta and Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono).

How do we contact you?
Email: bookshy(at)gmail(dot)com

Thank you!


  1. Great. I enjoyed the interview. Nice to read about you, Zahrah.

  2. I've been trying to expand my list of African literary blogs, so this interview is most helpful.


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