Poetry chose me, says 'Beautiful Mess' author

By - Aug 1st 2023

Scholastica Moraa waxes philosophical about her decision to write and publish poetry: “I didn't decide,” she says. “I didn't even choose it. I like to think that poetry chose me; I write a few stories, but I write poetry more. It comes easy to me. I like to think that it feels comfortable with me as I feel with it.”

At an age where her peers are fixated on where the next ‘bash’ is ‘happening’, Moraa already has her name on three poetry books. She is 25.

Beautiful Mess, her first book was published in June 2022. It was shortly followed by Dreams and Demons, co-authored with Anyango Nyar Aketch, Emily Millern and Winnie Madoro, which was published towards the end of last year.

Her latest book, This Heart of Mine, which she co-authored with Betty Kilonzo, came out early this month. What is more, all these books are self-published. Self-publishing, she explains, is easier and faster. “Most publishers only accept novels and I'm not writing those yet,” she says.

“Self-publishing is quite easy, especially after I figured it out,” adds Moraa, a mother of one. “I struggled with Beautiful Mess because I didn't really know what I should do or what to expect. But once I figured that out, it became quite easy. You just need a good printer and some money because you have to pay for everything and, yes, content.”

With her books out there, she now has to reckon with marketing. “Marketing is the hard part and I'm still trying to figure it out,” she explains. She should however take comfort in the fact that even seasoned publishers struggle with marketing. In his book Publishing in Africa: One Man’s Perspective, Henry Chakava, the chairman of East African Educational Publishers and who is also known as the Father of African Publishing, has a chapter titled Book Marketing and Distribution: The Achilles Heel of African Publishing.

That said, Moraa is among a growing list of young Kenyan writers who have decided to ‘take matters into their hands’ and go the self-publishing route and are not fazed by costs. These young writers have found an ally in the Alliance Francaise, which offers them a free venue to launch their books.

Dennis Mucheru, the chief librarian at the Alliance Francaise Multimedia Library, says the demand for the venue is high. “If you book today, the earliest you can get a slot is mid-November,” says Mucheru, adding that this is a testament to the fact that the writing scene is ‘alive and kicking’.

Moraa explains that although poetry works are still struggling out there, giving up is not an option. “I think we are having more people change their perception that poetry is 'hard' or 'boring',” she explains. “So the books may not be where they should be, but I believe that they still stand a chance.”

How does she describe her latest book? “This Heart of Mine is a poetry collection by two women that strives to explain how they feel about love and their experiences with it. It is an emotional description that tries to put into words what so many musicians and writers have tried, what so many people feel but somehow can't express. It tells what this heart has gone through and the future it hopes for.”

Moraa says that her love of words is what influenced her to become a poet. “I know the words will always come. So I owe the universe this; if I don't write, I will just burst.  So it is better that I keep writing,” she adds.

While she considers poetry to be her first love, she is equally at home with prose. She won the 2022 edition of the Kendeka Prize for African Literature with her short story Chained. This is the haunting tale of 22-year-old Danielle, bleeding in the bathroom, staring at imminent death after an abortion.

Winning the Kendeka Prize made her feel like the literary world was finally taking notice of her writing. “Being more of a poet, I have always felt that writing prose is not really my forte but the win made me feel like I have something to tell the world and I am good at it,” explains the Actuarial Science graduate from Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University.

She feels that the Kenyan writing scene is really growing and that more young writers are getting published. “We are beginning to notice Kenyan writers with the likes of Ndugu Abisai and Eunniah Mbabazi writing things we can associate with,” she says. “Given time, we can rival Nigeria.”

Her dogged determination to become a writer of note is influenced by many things. “Most importantly I want my daughter to look up to me and say... 'my mother didn't give up. I also want young mothers out there to know they are not limited,” says Moraa, who is currently working on her Masters in Strategic Management at Mount Kenya University.

Where does she see herself ten years from now? “I hope in ten years if they mention my name in a room, people can say ‘oooh the writer...’ I'll have published more poetry books; maybe short stories too, but who knows what the future holds?”

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