Top Nine Best Somali Authors To Add To Your Must-Read List

Somali writers offer a unique, exciting perspective on life, human rights, politics, and more. Here, we’ll explore the top nine Somali authors to add to your must-read list.

Somalia has been a hotbed of civil war and human rights issues over the past half-century. Located in the Horn of Africa, Somalia is bordered by Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia. While living in the area has been difficult, many authors have used their experiences to tell stories that captivate audiences worldwide.

Topics covered by Somalian authors range widely. Some tell the stories of their ancestors and clans, and others tell the heartbreaking tales of human rights issues that deeply affect young Somali children in Somalia and surrounding countries. Despite continued difficulties, the Somali community has come together to share its story with the world.

Popular Somali Authors 

Best Somali Authors

Here, we’ll explore the top Somali authors, including those who helped Somali literature come to exist and those living abroad, while continuing to tell the stories that matter most to those still living in Somalia.

1. Aden Ibrahim Aw Hirsi

Formerly the Minister of Planning & International Cooperation of Jubaland State, Aden Ibrahim Aw Hirsi, is a politician and writer from Somalia. Born a part of the Marehan Reer Diini Sub clan, Hirsi attended primary and secondary school in the Bardera district, where much of his family resided. Hirsi’s time with his family as a child was influential in his desire to work to support the people of Somalia later in life.

After completing his master’s degree in social sciences, Hirsi went on to work as a translator, translating Arabic and English. He worked for CARE International and founded his non-profit organization, SADO. Hirsi was elected as the governor of the Gedo region of Somalia in 2006.

Thus far in his career, Hirsi has fought for human rights and has become recognized as one of the most influential Somali writers of his time. Hirsi’s books include Somali for Icebreaking (2003), Queen Arraweloh’s Mean Throne: Translation (2001), Things We Have in Common: Short Stories (2003), and The Somali Court Interpreter (2005).

The Somali Court Interpreter: A Must-Have Book for Every Somali Court Interpreter in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia.
  • O'Hirsi, Adam (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 300 Pages - 09/15/2005 (Publication Date) - AuthorHouse (Publisher)

2. Nuruddin Farah

Best Somali authors: Nuruddin Farah
Simon Fraser University Public Affairs and Media Relations, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1945 in Somaliland, Nuruddin Farah was influenced mainly by his mother, a Somali poet. From his first novel, Crooked Rib, written in 1970, to his more recent work, Nuruddin Farah is recognized as one of Somali literature’s most significant influences. Farah is also a playwright and essayist.

Farah’s first book was released in his native language, while his later works were released in English. Two trilogies make up the base of Farah’s body of work: Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship (1980-1983) and Blood in the Sun (1986-1989). The Somali author has been honored repeatedly, winning awards including the Corman Arts Fellowship in 1990 and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1998.

Today, Farah resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Sweet and Sour Milk (Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship)
  • Nuruddin Farah
  • family
  • fiction
  • Farah, Nuruddin (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

3. Nadifa Mohamed

Best Somali authors: Nadifa Mohamed
Sabreen Hussain., CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nadifa Mohamed was born in Hargeisa, Somaliland, and resides in Great Britain. The author and her family moved to the U.K when she was five years old. The family planned to return to Somalia, but its civil war broke out shortly after they moved, so the Mohamed family permanently decided to stay in London. Eventually, Mohamed graduated from the University of Oxford.

The Somali author writes novels, short stories, poetry, essays, and memoirs. She was named one of Granta magazine’s 2013 Best of Young British Novelists and was shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize for her book The Fortune Men. She is best known for her novels, including 2010’s Black Mamba Boy and 2013’s The Orchard of Lost Souls.

The Fortune Men: A novel
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Mohamed, Nadifa (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 332 Pages - 12/14/2021 (Publication Date) - Knopf (Publisher)

4. Waris Dirie

Best Somali authors: Waris Dirie
Desert Flower Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Author, model, and human rights activist Waris Dirie is known for her contributions to literature and the fight against female genital mutilation with her organization Desert Flower Foundation. The Somalian author has written several bestselling books, including Desert Flower (1998), Desert Dawn (2002), Desert Children (2005), and Saving Safa (2013).

Dirie has been widely recognized for her contributions to literature and human rights. The author received the Corine Award in 2002, the Martin Buber Gold Medal in 2008, the Gold Medal of the President of the Republic of Italy in 2010, the Women for Women Award in 2017, and the Sunhak Peace Prize in 2019.

Saving Safa: Rescuing a Little Girl from FGM
  • Dirie, Waris (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 05/31/2016 (Publication Date) - Virago (Publisher)

5. Abdourahman Waberi

Best Somali authors: Abdourahman Waberi
Paolo Montanaro, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Academic, short story writer and novelist Abdourahman Waberi was born in the French Somali Coast (the area is currently known as the Republic of Djibouti). He got his start as an English teacher in France. As he began to gain notoriety as a writer, he was chosen as one of Lire magazine’s 50 Writers of the Future.

Waberi has spent much of his career in Paris. Currently, he teaches creative writing and French/Francophone studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Weberi is widely recognized for his many novels, as well as his poetry and short story collections, including The Land Without Shadows (2005), In The United States of Africa (2009), Passage of Tears (2011), Transit (2012), The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper (2015), and Naming the Dawn (2018).

The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper (The Africa List)
  • Hardcover Book
  • Waberi, Abdourahman A. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 96 Pages - 05/15/2015 (Publication Date) - Seagull Books (Publisher)

6. Ubah Cristina Ali Farah

Three-time novelist Cristina Ali Farah was born in Italy to a Somali father. Farah spent her childhood in Somali, attending an Italian school in Mogadishu. After the civil war began in Somalia in 1991, Farah and her family moved to Hungary and eventually to Italy. Currently, Farah lives in Belgium.

Farah’s novels include Madre PiccolaIl comandante del Fiume, and Le Stazioni Della Luna. Farah was a participant in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2017, and was a Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellow in 2019.

LE STAZIONI DELLA LUNA
  • Italian (Publication Language)

7. Farah Awl

Also known as Farah Mohamed Jama Awl, Farah Awl was born in 1937 in Las Khorey, British Somaliland. Awl was the great-grandson of the Sultan of the Warsangali clan. Awl’s career got off to a surprising start—he earned a scholarship that allowed him to study engineering in the United Kingdom. After graduation, he returned to Somalia and worked as an engineer with the National Transport Agency in Mogadishu.

Awl is known for creating descriptive stories that incorporate traditional Somalian poetry, as well as writing in a way that helps the reader fully picture the environment of the story. Awl is renowned for three works, including Aqoondarro waa U nacab jacayl (1974), Garbaduubkii gumeysiga (1978), Dhibbanaha aan dhalan (1989).

Sadly, Awl and three of his children were murdered in 1991, likely pertaining to civil unrest in the area. Awl’s membership in the royal family of the Warsangali clan may have made him a target for violence.

8. Maxamed Daahir Afrax

Somalia-born Maxamed Daahir Afrax writes in Arabic, Somali, and English. The author’s three novels include Galti-macruuf (1980), Maana-faay (1979), and Guur-ku-sheet (1975). The author has also written plays and criticism of current theater.

Afrax’s books focus heavily on social injustices that Somali people deal with in their day-to-day lives. His novels discuss moral corruption in the government.

In 1980, Afrax began to openly write about his problems with the country’s government in a popular national newspaper. The story was discontinued quickly. Afrax left Somalia soon after and has yet to return.

Maana-Faay
  • Afrax, Maxamed Daahir (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 230 Pages - 02/10/2022 (Publication Date) - Adonis & Abbey Publishers (Publisher)

9. Shire Jama Ahmed

Scholar and linguist Shire Jama Ahmed is known for his many contributions to language, including creating a modern Latin script to transcribe the Somali language.

After attending language schools in Mogadishu, Ahmed attended Al-Azhar University in Cairo. There, he studied Arabic. After successfully transcribing the Somali language, Ahmed shifted his efforts and began a literacy campaign in Somalia, focused on teaching young people in rural areas to read. Creating a Somali alphabet (as a part of Ahmed’s transcription efforts) provided a framework for elementary school teachers to help students learn to read.

Ahmed has written several publications. He used his printing press to publish his work when he could not utilize printing services in Mogadishu. Ahmed’s most famous literary works include 1965’s Gabayo, Maahmaah, iyo Sheekooyin Yaryar, and 1974’s Halgankii Nolosha.

The Final Word On The Best Nine Somali Authors

Life in Somalia has been tumultuous for many authors, yet Somali women and men continue to share their stories with strength and pride. From civil unrest to language changes over time, the Somali people are pillars of strength and show what it means to have a strong sense of community. Be sure to keep an eye out for the authors listed here to learn more about what life is like in the Horn of Africa.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed learning about these Somali authors, you might be interested in checking out the best Japanese authors

You may also like our guide on the best American authors

FAQs On The Best Nine Somali Authors

How Did The Civil War In Somalia Affect Literature?

Many authors in Somalia have written about the civil war’s effect on the Somali community. Many authors (especially those with ties to royal families in the country) were killed during the civil war. Others fled the country to live abroad due to dangerous conditions at home.

Before Ahmed Translated The Somali Language, How Were Stories Passed Down In Somalia?

Clans in Somalia thrived on storytelling for millennia. Despite a different type of language than what is used by most of the world today, people in Somalia kept a deep knowledge of their past, passed down from generation to generation. Today, Ahmed’s transcription is known for helping the rest of the world learn more about what it means to be Somali.

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