How Francis Imbuga’s typewriter jump started my career

Standard Group CEO Orlando Lyomu (right) receives a gift from Prof Francis Imbuga's daughter, Doris Mbugua (centre), during the launch of an exhibition of renowned playwright Prof Francis Imbuga’s Literary Works at Kenya National Archives in Nairobi on Monday, November 19 2018. Looking on is former JKUAT vice chancellor Prof Mabel Imbuga. [David Njaaga,Standard]

Writer King’ori Gachoka was 22 years old when he first met celebrated author Francis Imbuga.

Things were so bad for the budding writer such that he could not afford a typewriter.

His script for a play had just been rejected by a local television station because it was handwritten, and he thought this could end his dream.

At the time, Gachoka was a student at Kenyatta University where the late Prof Imbuga, then 47 years old, was his dean, in the Arts Department.

Rejected piece

His frustrations led him to share the rejected piece with Imbuga with the aim of borrowing his typewriter.

The professor was impressed with his work and allowed him to use his valuable Olympia Traveller DeLuxe portable typewriter.

Yesterday, Gachoka, who will soon turn 47, could not hold back his tears as he parted with the typewriter, the same one that kick-started his career as well as Imbuga’s.

The typewriter will now be part of the exhibition of Imbuga’s literary works.

Good condition

“I took time to prepare myself because I knew it was not going to be an easy thing. So in July and August this year, I carried the typewriter to every meeting I attended and everywhere I went,” said Gachoka.

Gachoka, who spoke during the launch of the exhibition yesterday, reminisced the days when he was struggling. He also narrated how the professor surprised him when he returned the typewriter.

“It is yours now. I gave it to you,” said Imbuga to Gachoka’s amazement.

The typing machine, though slow, is still in good working condition.

Gachoka’s first literary work, a novel titled Divided Life, which thrust him into the  literature field, was produced using the type writer.

The novel saw him brush shoulders with big names in the industry such as Prof Egara Kabaji, who was present during the launch of the exhibition.

Standard Group Chief Executive Officer Orlando Lyomu, who was the chief guest, said the exhibition would give Kenyans an opportunity to interact with Imbuga’s thoughts.

He said the media requires more content and called on those with ideas on drama to come up.

“Do not shy away from partnering with us, this will help us continue mentoring talents in honour of the late Imbuga,” said Lyomu.

To promote national heritage, Lyomu said, Standard Group will continue partnering with the Kenya National Archives, as it celebrates its heritage as the oldest media group in the region.

Other guests present were Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology Vice Chancellor Fred Otieno and his Kenyatta University counterpart Paul Wainaina.

During the exhibition, Kenya National Archives will not charge the public. The exhibition will run until April 2019.

Young family

Dubbed “An Exhibition of Prof Francis Imbuga’s Literary Works”, the gallery is a package of his entire life, containing photos from his days as an actor. It also has photos of his young family and those taken just before he died.

Imbuga’s works have become key in the study of literature schools in Kenya, with the most famous one being Betrayal in the City.

His other books include Aminata, Man of Kafira, The Burning of Rags and The Successor.

Imbuga’s works have consistently brought out issues that affect the society such as the clashes of modernity and tradition in the social organisation of African communities.

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