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Champions of the writers’ bloc

By | Published Sat, May 30th 2009 at 00:00, Updated Sat, May 30th 2009 at 00:00 GMT +3

Key words; writes; women leaders;

By Kiundu Waweru

Kingwa Kamencu

Fiction writer, young adults

Describe your journey in writing

Kingwa Kamencu

Fiction writer, young adults

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I started writing professionally in 2003 while I was a first year Literature student at the University of Nairobi, with encouragement from my lecturers. I did a couple of short stories that were published by The People Newspaper. My novella, To Grasp at a Star, won the National Book Development Council Award, 2003, and later, two other awards, Wahome Mutahi Prize and Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature. I have also published in various other media, including online. I have a short story, The Cost, in the Caine prize anthology for African writers.

I am a staff writer for a media review publication. I do the creative writing early in the morning and on weekends. Also, I have written some poems that I hope to get published. I have performed the poems at Kwani? open mic forums and at Femrite, Makerere.

What do you write about?

I write fiction about young women, teenage girls and young men. My writing is about how they navigate life; handle pressure and cope with failure and triumph. Writing is about examining oneself, a kind of self-analysis. I love writing because it begets me meaning and fulfilment — it kills my demons.

For instance, To Grasp at a Star, has two short stories, one bears the title, and the second, Muddled Transition. In the former, the protagonist, a young girl is so obsessed with becoming a supermodel that her ambition gets her in trouble. The title is ambiguous, because one can hardly touch the stars. Stardom is vanity; a mirage.

Muddled Transition is about a village girl, suddenly thrown into a posh urban school. In her struggle to fit in, she gets into drugs and other forms of immorality. The stories are about identity and society. In The Cost, a young doctor struggles with the fact that his family expects him to feed them and yet he is just an intern.

Your take on local writers?

Moraa Gitaa Fiction writer

They are fairly good and dedicated. I see it in two ways: one, as mentors — writers who are reviving the Kenyan writing scene through open mic forums, dramatised poetry and literary debate. They include the likes of Binyavanga Wainaina and Billy Kahora both of Kwani? and Muthoni Garland of Storymoja.

Two, content — as writers, we are not doing enough, we are not aggressive enough but we are trying. We have good writers but we need to write in diverse genres and also be specialised and prolific.

Do Kenyans read beyond the class?

Yes. But most read western novels. Kenyans are patriotic and they want quality stuff they can identify with. As I said, writers need to be prolific. Look at the local TV and music scene — it is a local cultural renaissance. As writers, we are headed there — kind of the Russia of 19th and 20th Centuries, when the likes of Leo Tolstoy wrote.

Looking into the future?

My appeal is to writers and poets: we need to free artistic expression, establish our values and rewrite our history.

 

 

Breaking the silence

Moraa Gitaa Fiction writer

Describe your journey in writing

I have always been writing about women. I have several short stories published in various anthologies: a story titled ‘To Serenity via Perdition’ in the G21, 2007 Anthology Africa Fresh! New Voices from the First Continent’, stories titled Devil in the Detail and From Shifting Sands to Deeper Dimensions’ in Author Me-Author Africa Anthology 2008.

Rebecca Nandwa Author, children’s storybooks

My debut novel, Crucible For Silver and Furnace for Gold, was published last year by Nsemia, a Kenyan initiative based in Canada. In a month’s time, StoryMoja will be launching my two new books, one a crime fiction novella and the other an inspirational text.

What do you write about?

I write from personal experience. Crucible for Silver and Furnace for Gold is a verse in the Bible. The theme is AIDS. The fictional protagonist is drawn from a real life character — my best friend —from Malindi, who got married to an Italian while she was HIV positive, and eventually succumbed to the virus.

The Devil is in the Detail, tells of women at the Coast, whose husbands are arrested by the FBI and accused of being terrorists.

All along the women thought their husbands deal drugs. These things happen a lot at the Coast, where I hail from, although no one is willing to write about them.

Your take on Kenyan writers?

I find them safe and predictable, kind of social commentators and society’s gatekeepers. They should snap out of it and be bold. Writing is not easy. Writers should sacrifice their social lives and sleep to write.

I practice the four C’s: commitment, courage, constant revision (of your work) and creativity.

Do Kenyans read beyond class?

Most Kenyans read foreign inspirational books and Kenyans writers should fill this void.

My voracious reading dates back to my primary school days where I would regularly be sent home for reading novels in class.

Looking into the future?

Kenya is a young country with potent situations like informal settlements. There is enough sad and happy material to draw from and write about.

I dream of opening a creative writing school, which will also help children with dyslexia — a learning disorder marked by severe difficulty in recognising and understanding written text. My daughter, 14, has struggled with the condition, leading to writing and spelling problems.

 

 

 

An inherent love for children

Rebecca Nandwa

Author, children’s storybooks

Describe your journey in writing

I have written 30 storybooks, 25 in Swahili and the rest in English. It started as a joke. An editor with the Phoenix Publishers read a story I had done for a local Swahili daily that I worked for. He asked if I could write a children’s storybook. Two weeks later I delivered Chura Mcheza Ngoma. He asked me to write another one. I did, hoping to get rid of him. But after three months I had published another two. Then I got excited. Really, it was for me a good pastime. By 2005 I was hooked and I started interacting with other writers and editors. I also realised I could work with different publishers.

What do you write about?

I trained as a teacher and actually taught for 10 years. All the while I would send articles in the local dailies, which were published. Eventually, I quit teaching and got a job with one of the dailies. I have an inborn drive to help children by teaching them contemporary social issues through storybooks. I draw my material from personal experiences and observation. For instance, I have a book, Kiki and the Piggy Bank, which teaches children about saving.

Your take on Kenyan writers?

If you are writing for money, you will never write. Breaking in as a writer is tough. Publishers like to work with familiar authors and even when published, the royalties are meagre. My first book earned me only Sh5,000 in the first year. Passion makes me a writer. My advice to other writers is to write what you are comfortable with, be open to criticism and take writing as a long time investment. If you write for quick money you will become frustrated.

Do Kenyans read beyond the class?

No. Publishers focus on textbooks and a good manuscript can lie on the shelf for two years. Some are even published post humously. Parents term storybooks as a luxury and they buy only the ones in the school reading list. I read a lot because reading is like eating good food. It improves ones thinking, attitude, communication skills and etiquette. But it all depends on what you read.

Looking into the future?

Well, my books target primary school pupils although I have also written for secondary pupils. I am working on a book on short stories for secondary and tertiary schools. I think I will also write in my mother tongue to keep my culture alive. I want to be prolific and be a household name like Barbara Kimenye. When I am gone, I want my epitaph to read, "Here lies Rebecca Nandwa who realised her passion to the fullest in writing".


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