The Standard Group Plc is a multi-media organization with investments in media platforms spanning newspaper print operations, television, radio broadcasting, digital and online services. The Standard Group is recognized as a leading multi-media house in Kenya with a key influence in matters of national and international interest.
  • Standard Group Plc HQ Office,
  • The Standard Group Center,Mombasa Road.
  • P.O Box 30080-00100,Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Telephone number: 0203222111, 0719012111
  • Email: [email protected]

Literary seminar helps authors find their voice

Arts and Culture
Kenya holds Literary Seminar. (Courtesy)

Kenya hosted the International Literary Seminar (ILS) for the first time. The two-week programme which took place between December 6 to 20, was divided into two phases, with the first phase happening in Nairobi and the last in Lamu.

The writing programme emerged from a parent programme called Summer Literary Seminars (SLS) that had been operating from 1998 until it was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2019.

Founded by Professor Mikhail Iossel - a professor of literature at Concordia University - the summer programme was well-known not only internationally but also in Kenya for creating networks of writers through workshops and seminars across America, Canada, Georgia (the country, not the American state), Lithuania and St. Petersburg (in Russia).

Some of the local beneficiaries of the then summer programme include Billy Kahora, Tony Mochama, and the late Binyavanga among others, who attended these seminars across the years in St. Petersburg, courtesy of the SLS programme.

This year, the East African winners of the International Literary Seminar programme included Dennis Mugaa, a 2021/2022 Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship recipient, Munira Hussein- author of ‘Highland Cactus’ and Jahazi-Saseni 2022 Masterclass participant Gladwell Pamba. As participants of the programme, these three received free tuition, accommodation and travel for a literary experience spanning Nairobi and Lamu.

The programme kickstarted with a reading event at Prestige Bookshop by Dawn Raffel, who gave a fascinating reading of her latest book Boundless as the Sky and Billy Kahora of his upcoming book, followed by a talk led by Jahazi Press publisher Ahmed Aidarus.

The literary conversations flowed into a next-day event at Cheche Bookshop where Yvonne Owuor and Idza Luhumyo delved into the ins and outs of embarking on a writing journey in an insightful session that was moderated by Lucy Muli. 

In Lamu, the participants (other than the three East African fellows, the programme had attracted the interest and participation of many other foreign writers) took part in physical workshops and literary talks facilitated by Laia Jufresa, Valeria Luiselli, Josip Novakovich, Dawn Raffel, Billy Kahora, and via Zoom with George Saunders, Deborah Treisman (fiction editor of the New Yorker), Annie Dewitt (agent at the Shipman Agency), and Fiona McCrae (former publisher of Graywolf Press).

According to Prof Mikhail, the aim of the programme is “to amplify the literary and cultural visibility of Nairobi and Lamu within an international context and with a particular focus on showcasing the vibrant and complex voices of emerging East African writers.

To do this, it offers a unique and intensive series of literary workshops, career consultations, and cultural offerings in Nairobi and Lamu that foster artistic cooperation, elevate emerging literary talent, and increase mutual understanding across the North American, East African, and international literary communities.”

Although Kenya’s literary scene has been bustling with life in recent years thanks to writers like Binyavanga and others who revolutionised the literary landscape through initiatives like Kwani? which as Dr Wandia explains, ‘liberated our art from the literature police in Kenyan universities, it still is lacking, greatly, in quality.

Yes, we produce a lot of stories, both from established and new writers and yes, some of those stories make it to global platforms (hooray to our scattered flashes of brilliance!), but somehow, most of them like our music, seem to be good enough only for us.

The problem is not that Kenyan writers do not read or that they do not work hard like other writers, the problem is that most of our writers lack the global experiences or skills to tell our stories in unlimited ways (although my friend Eddy - a brilliant writer himself - is convinced that we simply lack the national trauma, say, like the Nigerians.)

Since we cannot all afford to glob trot while collecting these stories, this is where masterclasses or even seminars like these come in.

A writer cannot fully function as a solitary unit, they must feed and be fed by others. Perhaps this is what inspired the professor to start these travelling, cross-cultural, cross-genre writing programmes. Other than his experience in academia, he serves in a mentorship role.

That of a knowledgeable, highly published, senior (in age and experience) godfather to the writers, who looks like he can send you to tears with just a single-word feedback on your writing but is still cool enough to listen to a Tupac mixtape with you.

His latest book, ‘Love Like Water, Love Like Fire’ is a collection of essays mostly from his days in the Soviet Union, but he has also published about four other books and several essays across New Yorker, Foreign Policy, The New York Times and other literary journals.

By the end of the programme, the East African Fellowship winners are expected to have built a new network of writers from across the globe with whom they will be able to continue to exchange work and share feedback. 

Related Topics


Trending Now


Popular this week


Latest Articles


Recommended Articles