top of page

"Wilson-Lee goes in search of Shakespeare in Africa and finds him entwined in every twist and turn of the drama of colonization and decolonization of the continent from the 17th century to the present. The result is a masterly literary detective adventure." --Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, author of Dreams in a Time of War

Shakespeare in Swahililand 

William Collins (UK) Farrar, Straus & Giroux (USA). German translation from btb/Penguin Random House. Shortlisted for the William M Saroyan Prize for International Writing (Stanford).

Shakespeare in Swahililand is the story of a search across eastern and central Africa to recover the extraordinary and unknown story of the part played by Shakespeare’s works in the region’s history. Shakespeare’s plays were (among many other things) carried into the lake regions by the explorers Burton and Stanley, performed in Mombasa by travelling Indian troupes, read by the Happy Valley Set and the first African revolutionaries, set as prescribed reading in colonial- era schools, translated by the first President of Tanzania, pushed by western oil companies during the Cold War, and read by boy soldiers in the Sudanese civil wars. To follow these characters and tell their story, I returned to the area where I grew up, navigating the many bewildering parts of modern East African life to dig through mouldering archives and meet some of the few remaining witnesses to a scarce-believable world that is being quickly forgotten. This book aims to find the holy grail of literary studies – an answer to why Shakespeare should be so universally adored – in the most unlikely of places; along the way it is a travelogue, a memoir, a satire, an ode to Shakespeare, and a potted history of a region which combines breathtaking beauty and cultural riches with the heartache of injustice, poverty, and amnesia. 


Shakespeare in Swahililand is published in the UK by William Collins and in the USA by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. A German translation is forthcoming from btb/Random House Germany.

"[A] striking literary debut" - The Bookseller

"There will be many books published to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Few will be bolder than Shakespeare in Swahililand" Matthew Reisz, Times Higher

"a fascinating book - part travelogue, part cultural history ... Wilson-Lee proves a perceptive and entertaining guide to the Bard's influence in Swahililand" Andrew Lycett, Literary Review
"I thought nothing could surprise me about the impact of England’s greatest cultural figure, but this fascinating, readable book about his influence in East Africa certainly did." - The Lady
"vivid and full of insights." Daniel Hahn, The Independent on Sunday
"Edward Wilson-Lee ... has successfully told a lesser-known story of Africa, and it is a story worth knowing." The Economist
"Compelling and affecting" - Tim Black, Spiked!
'✭✭✭✭' - Michael Kerr, Telegraph Travel
Critic's Pick - The New Criterion
"a glorious melange of travel, biography, history and satire" - The Times of South Africa
"beguiling"  The Spectator
"riveting ... a perfect journey to the meeting of cultures" Neera Kapur, Old Africa Magazine
bottom of page