The world of travel writing is one of the less noisy in the literary world – especially at a time like these – but once in a while, we are met with a deluge of good news that reminds us that, lack of noise aside, just as much is happening at the moment among travel writers as it is among writers of other genres.  

Just as the year 2021 was winding down, we received two pieces of exhilarating news from the Nigerian travel writing scene: Noo Saro-Wiwa signed a book deal with Canongate, and Emmanuel Iduma released a jazz album in collaboration with the Portuguese singer and composer, Sara Serpa.

According to the Book Seller, Canongate acquired Saro-Wiwa’s upcoming book titled Black Ghosts. It is said to be a ‘unique’ travelogue about people from various African countries who are living in China. Saro-Wiwa’s representing agency, Elise Dillsworth, facilitated the deal that saw the editor-at-large, Ellah Wakatama, acquire world all language rights of the book.  

Black Ghosts is a documentation of Saro-Wiwa’s encounter with a fascinating cast of characters on her travels in China. Some of these characters include ‘a Ghanaian cardiac surgeon, a drug dealer, a visa overstayer and men who are married to Chinese women who speak English with Nigerian accents.’ The London-based Nigerian travel writer and journalist also paid a visit to ‘the infamous Chungking Mansions, a modern Tower of Babel that is home to 130 nationalities.’

Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, but raised and currently based in England, Noo Saro-Wiwa is a freelance journalist and author of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria (Granta), one of the most daring travel books written on Nigeria. The book was widely acclaimed and earned numerous awards including Sunday Times Travel Book of the Year, as well as being nominated as one of the 10 Best Contemporary Books on Africa by the Guardian, appearing in the shortlist of the Authors’ Club Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award in 2013 and winning the Albatros Travel Literature Prize in 2016. Saro-Wiwa has written widely for several newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, Financial Times, Times Literary Supplement and New York Times.

As the history and relationship between Africans and China grow increasingly complex, it is indeed important that these accounts, observations, and experiences are documented. Black Ghosts, for which the author won the 2015 Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship, is scheduled for release in spring of 2023.

Similarly, the Nigerian author and art critic Emmanuel Iduma announced the release of a jazz album titled Intimate Strangers by Bibliophilia Records. Composed by Portuguese vocalist and jazz artiste, Sara Serpa, the album is inspired by Iduma’s travel book, A Stranger’s Pose (Cassava Republic), and includes songs titled ‘Lokoja: Okene’, ‘Bamako’, ‘Le Boute du Monde’, and ‘Kidira’. Throughout the album, texts are sampled from Iduma’s travel book, often voiced by the author himself. 

‘From the outset, Sara Serpa had the vision of transforming the material in A Stranger’s Pose into a performance that mapped the deeper emotional logic of my travel stories, distilling the book to its essential groove and vital ballad,’ wrote Iduma on his Instagram page.   

Intimate Strangers is not only a unique interpretation of Iduma’s book, it is also a clear indication of the borderless nature of the creative endeavour as well as the satisfying possibilities available at the end of each adventure. The album has already been listed as one of the New York Times’ 10 best jazz albums of 2021. 

Emmanuel Iduma is the author of A Stranger’s Pose and The Sound of Things to Come (‎The Mantle). He is a co-editor of Saraba Magazine and has been awarded the inaugural Irving Sandler Award for New Voices in Art Criticism. His book A Stranger’s Pose was longlisted for the Ondaatje Prize in 2019. Iduma currently teaches in the MFA Art Writing Program at the School of Visual Arts, New York, and his forthcoming book, I Am Still With You, a memoir about the Nigerian civil war, has been acquired by Algoquin in the US and William Collins, an imprint of HarperCollins, in the UK, and is scheduled for publication later this year.

Intimate Strangers is available on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming platforms.