Edward Wilson Lee’s much-acclaimed SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND: In Search of a Global Poet is out in paperback in the US today from Farrar Straus & Giroux. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o described it as ‘a masterly literary detective adventure’ and ‘a compelling read.’

First published by William Collins in the UK and FSG in the US in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND was one of The Bookseller’s Top 6 Shakespeare picks of 2016, and was highlighted in previews of ‘the most significant Shakespeare books’ in The Times, The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal. It will be published in German by btb in 2018.

Investigating the literary culture of the early interaction between European countries and East Africa, Edward Wilson-Lee uncovers an extraordinary sequence of stories in which explorers, railway labourers, decadent émigrés, freedom fighters, and pioneering African leaders made Shakespeare their own in this alien land.

SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND is the first book by Edward Wilson-Lee, a Fellow in English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. In a narrative that is part travelogue, part memoir, a satire, an ode to Shakespeare and a potted history of East Africa, Wilson-Lee aims to find the holy grail of literary studies – an answer to how and why Shakespeare is acclaimed as a global poet and why his writings should be so universally adored. 

SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND takes Wilson-Lee back to the lands of his childhood (he grew up in Kenya) to dig through mouldering archives to recover the unknown story of the part played by Shakespeare’s works in the region’s history. His story is a literary adventure that throws high culture and the wild together in celebration of Shakespeare’s legacy as a poet of the world.

With its incredible series of stories and momentous travels from Zanzibar, through Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan, this literary adventure throws high culture and the wild together in celebration of Shakespeare's legacy as a poet of the world.

Edward Wilson- Lee’s new book THE CATALOGUE OF SHIPWRECKED BOOKS, will be published by Collins in May 2018. It tells the riveting story of Christopher Columbus’ illegitimate son, Hernando Colon, and his quest to build the first universal library of print. He personally scoured the bookshops of Europe in an attempt to acquire a copy of every book, and bringing them back to his library in Seville – where he drove himself mad attempting to devise how best to navigate and organise the world of print.

Edward Wilson-Lee is a Fellow in English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he teaches medieval and Renaissance literature and Shakespeare. After growing up in Kenya and Switzerland, he went to university in London, New York, Oxford and Cambridge, living briefly in Mexico and New Orleans in between.


‘Edward 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. A compelling read.’ – Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o,

'There will be many books published to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Few will be bolder than Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet, in which Edward Wilson-Lee gets out of the seminar room and treks through Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan to discover how Shakespeare has been constantly reinvented in Africa.' – Matthew Reisz, Times Higher Education

'Wilson-Lee’s account of his East African Shakespeare-hunt is vivid and full of insights. What we learn about colonial power relationships and historical currents is as convincing as any general explanations of Shakespeare’s universalism, but that, perhaps, is partly the point: it’s the very fact that Shakespeare is so read and performed, with these multiple interactions each revealing something, that demonstrates his boundless potential.' - Daniel Hahn, The Independent

‘SHAKESPEARE IN SWAHILILAND is an attempt to understand whether the great playwright’s work speaks across cultural boundaries to a shared humanity. … It has successfully told a lesser-known story of Africa, and it is a story worth knowing.’ – The Economist

‘This book evinces a remarkable familiarity with Africa, filtered through the lens of that most-English poet and playwright… Wilson-Lee shows the Bard to be a man for all continents.’ – Critic’s Choice, The New Criterion

 ‘Compelling and affecting" – Tim Black, Spiked!

'✭✭✭✭' - Michael Kerr, Telegraph Travel

‘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

‘A glorious melange of travel, biography, history and satire’ – The Times, South Africa

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