Zaynab Alkali


Zaynab Alkali is a Nigerian novelist, poet, short story writer and is regarded as the first woman novelist from Northern Nigeria.

Born in Tura-Wazila in Borno State, she graduated from Bayero University Kano with in 1973 and  obtained a doctorate degree in African Literature in English in 1979.

She became the principal of Sakera Girls’ boarding school and went on to be a lecturer in English at two universities in Nigeria. She rose to be a dean in the Faculty of arts at Nasarawa State University in Keffi where she taught creative writing.

Although, Zaynab writes to empower women economically, politically and psychologically, that was not her focus when she started. She was a very bad speaker and had a phobia for public appearance.

“I actually started writing because I discovered that when I was in school and the teacher asked questions, I had the answers, especially in literature, but I was too petrified to put up my hand. So I would right the answers down. Soon, one of the teachers, who happened to be a European, noticed that whenever I had an assignment in literature, I would score an A or B+. Yet, my hand was never up in class,” she told Punch in an interview.

By the time she was 20 years old, married and still a student, she started writing but the stories weren’t for publication. She was just writing to express herself.

Even though she didn’t plan to publish her work, she gave an expatriate, who called for  submission of short stories her manuscript and begged him not to show anyone, but, the expatriate went on to read one of the stories read on the British Broadcasting Corporation.


For Zaynab, writing is therapeutic. “Unlike some people who have said that they do not write because of any trauma in their lives, I think that writing has been the only thing that has helped me to pull through a lot of things, including depression. I  suffered severe depression in the past. But whenever it happened, I would sit down,” she said.


At first, she wrote only for her own pleasure and benefit. But, when she started getting positive reviews and comments in the newspapers, she had to change her mind.