When a talented poet seduces your mind

A poet, like a spider, works tirelessly spinning silver yarns. He struggles, endures until finally, a pattern is made: a web of beauty; a trap for the reader.

Those are not my words; I have just paraphrased Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s poem A Poet for it beautifully captures what good poetry does to a reader. It rejuvenates the soul, runs away with your imagination and makes you want to create some poetry of your own. At least that is what it does to me.

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The above quoted poem is contained in an anthology titled This Land is our Land by Mbugua. In his seminal book Things Fall Apart, the late Chinua Achebe quotes an Igbo proverb that goes something like: “When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk”. For purposes of describing this book, I would have replaced walk with dance, for dancing is more poetic. After reading this collection even the most hopeless of writers would wish to create some poetry.

The vivid imagery in Mbugua’s poems seduces the reader’s imagination and drags you along to that secret world where only talented poets can take you. Take for example that short poem titled The Voice. The poet relives the relief of old Abraham and his son Isaac, when they laid their eyes on that ram, horns entangled in that thicket; specifically delivered to save the young man from the harsh knife wielded by his father.

From the introduction the reader mentally prepares themselves for a sermon on the all-enveloping love of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, until the poet takes an unexpected if not cheeky detour:

                                       Abraham lifted high his knife

                                       And was about to strike

                                       When out rang a voice

“What do you think you are doing?”

It was the voice

Of the owner of the lamb.

Aside from improbable Bible stories This Land or Land also captures the modern day realities and renders them in a way both entertains the reader and still retains the sting that admonishes our follies without being too preachy. A case in hand is the poem titled You should know people. Here, the poet brilliantly highlights the ever-widening rift between the haves and the have-nots.

‘You should know people’ therefore becomes the metaphor of what the poor should do in order to be ushered into the rarefied world of privilege. Sample this:

                          In a land where the many and the hungry are one and the same…

                          It pays to know people

                          If you are to be spared the pangs of want.

From the title This Land is our Land, one might think that this book is a patriotic ode to the Nation that celebrated 50 years of self-rule. The truth about the poem, however, is that it is a cynical appraisal of the nation our country has morphed into.

The poem is actually a deep-seated cry for peace, while also alive to the fact in the country we find ourselves in ‘real peace’ can never be attained. Or rather, some quarters would not allow for such peace to prevail; and that is why the poet is crying out for ‘just any peace’.

While the meaning in This Land is our Land might be somehow obscured Let’s Create Misery is an open bare-knuckled rebuke of wielders of power and who derive moronic pleasure from the suffering of the masses. Here, the ‘creators of misery’ revel in their ability to make people die; for they will create jobs in morgues, and more jobs ‘for coffin carriers and grave diggers’

And if all the workers die

                                             We’ll have bigger farms

                                             To grow coffee, tea, cotton

                                             No more food crops…

Oh, and there are also some love poems in the anthology as well including a tragic love story of Andrew and Jane who were ostracised by the church brethren, whose tongues began to wag, Casting the little couple in shady light/Preaching that they were far from right.

And who told you African names can’t rhyme? What about The merry old man from Ndumberi, who loved strawberry, and whose love was Njeri. Thus goes the tale of Wanderi.

Mbugua should be commended for investing his hard-earned funds to bring this publication to reality, at a time when mainstream publishers are giving poetry a wide berth and Kenyans think poetry is hard.

This book is selling at sh 350. You can order it through sales@bigbooks.co.ke or through the author at mbugua@bigbooks.co.ke

Tony Mochama’s book that won him big money

Everyone has a story to tell but it depends on who is telling the story and how that story is told. That is what makes the difference between a well told story and an ordinary, even boring story. Now, Tony Mochama, who also goes by the name Smitta, has a way with words and you can be assured that his pen can give even the mundane an interesting sheen, especially when he is not using his ‘Greek’ lexicon.

Omtita

Mochama’s new release is a book titled Meet the Omtitas. Keen readers of Mochama’s writing, after reading this book, will tell you that he is writing about his family, though in a fictionalised format. Omtita is a corruption of the name Ontita; the name he uses on Facebook, after Tony Mochama got appropriated by cyber thugs keen on cashing in on big name recognition.

Meet the Omtitas, told through the eyes of Tommy – presumably Tony – though told in the third person, covers a brief period when the young man, the first born in the Omtita’s household, fresh out of high school, is waiting to join university. The book also captures Tommy’s first day as a fresher – did they have to tell us the meaning of this and other words, when there is a glossary at the end of the book? – and the disaster it turned out to be.

Those who follow Mochama’s escapades in his Scene at column in Standard’s Pulse magazine, know the author is always a sentence away from a disaster; but you need to read his rendering in the book, where you do not have to navigate through endless ‘skis’ suffixes to almost every word, to appreciate what a hilarious writer Mochama is.

By far the most interesting character in the book is the head of the Omtita’s household, Mr Omtita himself. He comes home drunk at four in the morning carrying a bunch of bananas and two chickens from Kisii and orders Nandwa, the houseboy who, in his spare time likes reading novels and chasing after neighbourhood house girls, to cook chicken. Mr Omtita is also given to pinching branded towels from the various hotels he has been to so that people know that “the Omtitas have been to places.”

Everyone who finds their way to the Omtita’s household, including Simba, the mongrel Mr Omtita brought home from the local pub, is treated like a member of the family. Thus, when Simba is knocked down by a speeding motorist, the whole family skips church to give the canine a decent send-off – a burial behind the house – and Mr Omtita sheds real tears.

In spite of his quirkiness Mr Omtita has deep respect for his wife, Mrs Omtita, the family matriarch, who despite being consigned on a wheelchair – following an accident – commands loves and respect from the whole family.

The other ‘family member’ who enjoys prominence of place in Mochama’s book is Angel, who is Tommy’s sister’s (Wendy) best friend and who Tommy has the hots for to Wendy’s eternal embarrassment.

As the book is set in 1990 it is hard not to talk about retired President Moi – whom the author refers to as Omojaa, president of a republic called Kenaya, while the ruling party Kanu becomes Paku. In his drinking sessions Mr Omtita says unpleasant things about Omojaa and Paku, a thing that gets his wife worried. To forestall the likelihood of Special Branch officers coming to arrest her ‘anti-government’ husband Mrs Omtita makes sure a portrait of the president hangs prominently in the living room as a ‘show of loyalty’.

Mochama’s sharp, sometimes dark humour makes the book such an enjoyable read.

Meet the Omtitas won the third prize in the Burt Award for African Literature and which came with a sh430,000 cash award.

A Taste of Fame: A review

Fake it till you make it. This is a common refrain in the make believe worldof showbiz and pop culture. Here, outward appearances – manner of dressing, speech and accessories – matter most.

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Since the late 90s, when the crop of new generation artistes stormed into the music scene a ‘celeb’ and ‘bling’ culture has taken root. And since the target audience are the impressionable youth in their teens, the more you dazzle – never mind that it could be on borrowed money – the more fans you get, hence the more popular you become.

What the youngsters who idolise these ‘stars’ fail to realise is behind the glitter and glamour, lies miserable and troubled lives (ask Michael Jackson).It is this vain culture that ArgwingsOtieno addresses in his novella A Taste of Fame. The book speaks to the youth especially the naïve ones who get carried away by the fickle nature of local showbiz.

Rando is one such youngster who is awestruck by an artiste going by the stage name Dee Zasta – note the word play on disaster. He so much wants to be like his idol – who wears studs – that he gets his friend in school to pierce his earlobe with a thorn!

He finally gets to meet his idol through a music competition where he performs Dee Zasta’s hit song. Impressed by Rando’s performance Dee Zastahe asks him to do a ‘collabo’ with him for the next round of competition, this time for adults.

Dee Zasta’s seal of approval, and the little time they spend together rehearsing,fires the young man’s imagination; he pictures himself being a celeb. He even flirts with the idea of quitting school to concentrate on music.He is totally bought into Dee Zasta’s hype.

The visage of flashy lifestyle,however, starts to crack as Rando interacts with his hero. Dee Zasta descends to the level of recalling the money he had deposited in a hospital,for his mother’s treatment, so he could hire a chopper to drop him at the performance venue (Prezzo anyone?) withdisastrous results.

As the book’s title suggests, Rando has had his taste of fame and he discovers, rather painfully, that all that glitters is not gold.

Well written works of fiction by Kenyan writers are few and far between, and Otieno’s book is among the select few.  I read this book in one sitting – it is a small book anyway – and at the end of it wished the author could do a sequel.

Such is the author’s simple witty, engaging style that makes reading it a pleasurable experience. The twists and turns in the narrative ensure that the reader gets pleasantly surprised with every turn of the page. The editing is thorough and devoid of cumbersome typos. Little wonder then that the book won the top prize in the Burt Award for African Literature, becoming the second recipient of this award. For his troubles he went home sh800,000 richer.

Speaking of the Burt Award, Otieno’s book is by far much better than Anthony Mugo’sNever say Never, who storyline was rather weak. Mugo’s book won the inaugural award last year.

Otienowho teaches English language at Pwani University graduated from Moi University with a degree in Education and proceeded to Kenyatta University for a Masters in Education. He did his PhD in Language Education from Moi University in 2010. He has also taught in secondary schools and mid-level colleges. Otieno has written other children’s books. They include The Head without a Body, Looking for a new King, Alone in a Storm among others.

Kinyanjui Kombani and his journey as a writer

Kombani

Maisha Yetu: Describe your best moment as a writer

Kinyanjui Kombani: The relaunch of The Last Villains of Molo in September 2012 at Daystar University, Valley Road Campus. The story of ‘Villains’ is another novel altogether. It was written in 2002 and I promptly signed the publishing contract. Sadly, I had to wait six years before it was published. Even then, I did not receive any royalties, so I moved over to Longhorn Publishers. The launch in 2012 was a culmination of 10 years of waiting, and it was my best moment.

MY: Describe your worst moment as a writer.

KK: It must be when I discovered that I could not earn much from The Villains See, when the publisher agreed to do it, I knew I had crossed the poverty line – I even went to a car showroom to enquire about the price of my favourite car (Landcruiser VX). So after a year of sales, and not a cent to show for it, I was very let down. It nearly killed my writing dreams. It hit me so hard that I did not finish my second novel until last year.

MY: Where do you find time to write given your busy schedule

KK: A technique I learnt from writer Anthony Gitonga is to split my writing into manageable pieces. If I am writing, say, a 40,000 word novel and I have two months to do it, I know that I have to write about 1,000 words a day. Once I set this target I commit to it. Sometimes I sway, though!

I write mostly in the early mornings, and evenings. Last year I spent the entire Easter hold up in my private office writing some books for the Uganda market. I nearly collapsed, and I vowed not to try such stunts again.

MY: What inspires your writing/ who are your role models

KK: Locally, I have been inspired a lot by the writing of Meja Mwangi (I read Little White Man then I was in primary school and I have never read a more intriguing book. I have read ‘Cockroach Dance’ so many times my copy is dog-eared). I think Meja has the biggest influence in my writing.

Sam Kahiga’s book Paradise Farm has had the biggest impact on me. One of my future plans is to write a modern story along the same theme.

Internationally, I’d say Sidney Sheldon. Sidney’s work have  a way of telling stories of many different characters who seem un connected to each other, until the end of the story when all the pieces come together. You will see that kind of influence in my new novel Den of Iniquities.

MY: “Villains” has put you on the Kenyan literary map; describe your journey with the book – from the beginning – what message you intended to pass. Juxtapose that with activities in the Kenyan social media – the latest tribal battleground.

KK: The journey towards ‘Villains’ is very much like my life. Our actual home is in Njoro, and my grandmother had given refuge to a family that had been displaced during the 1997 clashes. The patriarch of the family – one Mzee Joseph Mbure – used to tell us stories of the 1991/2 Clashes in the Kamwaura area of Molo. In campus, I wanted to write a short story based on the clashes. I did more research and before I knew it, I had a novel.

Initially, I just wanted to tell a story. I have always been intrigued by ‘Rich girl, poor boy’ stories and I wanted to tell that too. So I built the two stories together. When I did more research and interviewed more players in the Molo conflict, I realised that there was a bigger role to play. Negative ethnicity was real, and I could use reconciliation as a message for the youth.

Sadly, the Kenyan Social media scene has become the next battleground. We did not physically fight in 2007, but the fragmentation that was in society was deep set – if the tribal sentiments on social media are anything to go by.

MY: It has been said that you are the hottest young writer in Kenya today…

KK: Wow! I don’t know who said that, and what the context was, and who I was being compared to! So I cannot say anything to that claim! I must say that God has been good to me – the fact that Villains is one of the fastest selling Kenyan novels is a true blessing. Last weekend I was at Text Book Centre Thika Road Mall, and I tweeted that copies of ‘Villains’ have been replenished. I was called by the book centre’s management just a few hours later to have my publisher deliver more copies – they had been sold out. It is a blessing.

MY: In your words, what ails the Kenyan writing scene – are we headed in the right direction?

KK: We have always claimed that Kenyans do not read, and we have made ourselves believe it to be true. I cannot disagree more. If Kenyans do not read, how come writers like Anthony Gitonga are churning out books every half year?

The only issue I see is that a lot of young writers do not know what to do once they have their manuscript ready. A lot of them think that they should look for money to pay publishers to get the book done for them. This situation can be reversed if our universities work on creative writing programmes that do not end just with submission of a finished piece of work, but with tips on getting published.

I think we are headed towards the right direction. ‘Authors Buffet’ a forum where 14 authors and publishers got together  in May to spend time with their readers and the general public, was very well received. (We are doing ‘Authors Buffet 2.0 in September at the Nairobi Book Fair).

After this event, we have laid plans to start a creative writing course, complete with tips on getting published, at Daystar University. I am happy that writers John Sibi-Okumu, Bonnie Kim, Jennifer Karina, Anthony Gitonga, Stephen Kigwa, Mbugua Mumbi, Winnie Thuku, and Nganga Mbugua have accepted to co-facilitate the program.

MY: Describe your upbringing, education and family.

KK: This is another novel altogether! I grew up in Molo in Nakuru and went to Molo Academy from Nursery to Form Four. I was the last born in a family of 5. My upbringing was very humble. Our mother was a single parent, and two accidents literally crippled her. My education from Std 8, when she was completely unable to fend for us, was paid for by a kindly family friend. It was not easy growing up in Molo, especially because Molo Academy was a school for the fairly well-to-do. I remember that we could not afford shoe polish, and to avoid getting into trouble we used the soot from our beaten tin lamp. When asked why our shoes always had a dull coat, my elder brothers taught me to say that the polish came from our cousins in the USA and that is how the polish there looks like!

I worked hard to help my family get out of poverty. Unfortunately, my mother never got to see the fruits of her hard work – she passed on when I was in form 4. I never recovered from this loss and when we moved to Nairobi – Ngando slums, I lost all ambition in life. I used to play ‘pool’ from 8 am to midnight. When I was called to Kenyatta University for a degree in Education – English and Literature, I was reluctant, and I only accepted to go when I discovered that the university had common rooms with dozens of pool tables.

My life changed when I met Mr. David Mulwa who ignited my writing flame. I also enrolled to the Kenyatta University Travelling Theatre. By the time I was leaving in 2004, I had climbed the ranks to be KUTT’s longest serving Executive Director.  A year after graduation, during which I worked as a casual officer at the Culture Week secretariat, I joined an international bank as a clerk. Having performed several roles in the bank, I am now a Segment Trainer taking care of the learning needs of the branch distribution network and contact centre.

I have also received certification as a business mentor with Inoorero University.

I currently live in Nairobi with my wife of 7 years, Alice, our two kids, ‘Malik’ and ‘Nimu’ and Steve, a nephew.

MY: West Africans (Nigerians) and South Africans have been beating us of late. Aren’t we good enough?

KK: Again, I don’t have statistics, so I am not able to comment on it. I think that with initiatives such as Authors Buffet, StoryMoja Litfest, Kwani Hay Festival, Kenyan writing will go to very great heights.

MY: Who is to blame between writers and publishers?

KK: I think writers and publishers need to stop pointing fingers at each other and start selling books! Publishers need to add some marketing budget towards promotion of works of fiction. Writers, on the other hand, need to be at the forefront in promoting their books. It is in their best interests to make sales of the books!

I have a good relationship with Longhorn Publishers, and it is because I have taken the initiative to ensure my books are available and people know about them. I also do the physical sales of the books. Last year, two weeks before Longhorn released my children’s book ‘Lost but found’, I had already sold 600 copies in my workplace alone. The book sold out in two weeks because I took the campaign to Facebook and Twitter.

I also got into a strategic partnership with Tuskys Supermarket for distribution. In addition, I worked with FunkyKids Retro Store at Prestige Plaza to give a gift of the book to select shoppers. What I am saying is that the publisher will release the book, but it is the responsibility of the writer to convert it to sales!

MY: Tell us about your new book and how long it took you to write it.

KK: My new book is tentatively called Den of Iniquities and should be released in September 2013. Unlike Villains it is 100% fictional though loosely based on police extrajudicial killings in Kenya. It gives the story of 3 individuals whose lives are very different, but come intertwined in a chain of unfortunate events. It is a ‘What If’ story inspired by the Philip Alston report on police killings in Kenya.

Den of Iniquities is a story 8 years in the making. I gave my mentor – David Mulwa of Kenyatta University – a short story for my creative writing class and he kept on prodding me to finish it. I had stopped writing following disappointment with my first publisher. The story was cooking in my head all the time, so I wrote it in one month last year.

MY: List all the books you’ve written so far.

KK:   The Last Villains of Molo (Novel)

  • Wangari Maathai: Mother of Trees (children’s biography)
  • We Can Be Friends (children’s educational; theme: HIV/AIDS).
  • We Can Be Friends (Rwanda Edition)
  • Lost But Found (children’s adventure; theme: safety for children)

I also did a play Carcasses that was commissioned by the Born Free Foundation for their bush meat awareness project. The play was later shot to film as Mizoga which has been screened in the US, UK, and 5 African Countries. Last year I wrote a yet-to-be-released series of 12 children’s stories for the Uganda market.

MY: Halafu unipatie majibu za Yes and No, utaona!

KK: He he!

Unsellable art: What you need to know

Below is a press statement from the Network of Kenya Visual Artists (NKVA), who will be holding an exhibition, at the National Museums of Kenya starting Tuesday May 21 to June 4, 2013, titled Unsellable Art

Unsellable_Art_Exhibition_Facebook_Cover_photo_8th_May

50 years on; it is about time that visual arts in Kenya had a vital voice for good governance

Since its inception with collaboration of the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs through one of their initiatives, the Non State Actors Support Programme (NSA – NET), together with the European Union and the National Museums of Kenya, the Network of Kenya Visual Artists (NKVA) became the first national network ever put together by visual artists.

NKVA has come at the right time with the ushering in of a new government. A key agenda of the new government is job creation. The NKVA realizes this quest, and more so because it is embracing the concept of collective action for more economic empowerment. By sharing information, communicating better and finding viable solutions to artists’ common challenges, the network hopes to create more demand for art as well as sensitize the general population about art, for better engagement and business.

NKVA convinced that the myth that art is expensive can be addressed by repackaging it and also communicating the same to the target market. The quest for aesthetics in homes is intensifying especially with the expanding middleclass and therein lies the market that needs to be satisfied.

This power of unity amongst Kenyan artists will serve to protect the Kenyan artist from exploitation by middlemen and also encourage upcoming artists to pursue art as a career that can generate continuous and predictable income.

NKVA will use the one year it will be under the umbrella of NMK to reach out to all visual artists nationally and establish regional links. The exhibition questions where art in Kenya is today as Kenya prepares her jubilee celebration of 50 years.

This art exhibition “Unsellable Art” is an exhibition of extreme expressions by artists that address matters that touch on society and the individual. The concept is what is being referred to as ‘unsellable’ because normally people want to buy a piece of art that is ‘nice’ and beautiful with happy themes. Nobody wants to buy a painting that will remind them of injustices and other ‘uncomfortable’ issues of society. Unsellable does not mean the art works are ugly, on the contrary they are very beautiful pieces, strong and done by some of the top artists in Kenya. It is when one looks closely that they see the theme.

 The artists were given the freedom to showcase those pieces of art that they feel have a story behind them. Each art piece is accompanied by a caption so that the audience will be able to explore and interrogate the mind of the artist. Similar exhibitions by NKVA in the regions are taking place at Mombasa (Alliance de Mombasa 17 May – 7 June) and Kisumu Museum (25 May – 8 June)

Judges announced for the Kwani? Manuscript Project

The shortlist for the Kwani? Manuscript Project will be made in April 2013 and the winners announced in May 2013. The Kwani? Manuscript Project was launched in April 2012. Kwani Trust called for the submission of unpublished fiction manuscripts of between 45,000 and 120,000 words from African writers across the continent and in the diaspora.
At stake is a Ksh 525,000 (equivalent of 6000 USD) cash prize. The winners and longlisted entries will be considered for publication by Kwani Trust and by regional and international publishing partners.


“we have received an amazing 282 unpublished fiction manuscripts from 19 African countries including at least 5 submissions from Rwanda, Zambia, Cameroon and Zimbabwe, more than 10 submissions from Botswana, Ghana and Uganda, over 20 submissions from both South Africa and the Diaspora, and over 65 submissions from both Kenya and Nigeria,” says a statement from Kwani. “The number of entries has significantly exceeded our expectations – 50% of the submissions were sent two weeks before the 17th September 2012 deadline.”
The judging panel will be chaired by Sudanese novelist Jamal Mahjoub. Working with him will be a panel that includes the editor of Zimbabwe’s Weaver Press Irene Staunton, leading scholar of African literature Professor Simon Gikandi, Chairman of Kenyatta University’s Literature Department Dr. Mbugua wa Mungai and internationally renowned Nigerian writer Helon Habila.
“All submissions will be read anonymously as the judges look for new voices that explore and challenge the possibilities of the ‘African novel’. Kwani Trust will partner with Chimurenga in South Africa and Cassava Republic in Nigeria to further promote the prize,” added Kwani.
The Chair of Judges is Jamal Mahjoub, an award winning writer of mixed British/Sudanese heritage. He has written seven novels including The Drift Latitudes, Travelling with Djinns and The Carrier. His writing has been widely translated and has won a number of awards including the Guardian/Heinemann African Short Story Prize, the NH Vargas Llosa prize and the Prix d’Astrobale. He has also been the chair of the Caine Prize for African Writing.
Irene Staunton, co-founder of Weaver Press in Zimbabwe. She is the editor of the short story collections Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe, Laughing Now: New Stories from Zimbabwe, Women Writing Zimbabwe and Writing Free.
Simon Gikandi, Robert Schirmer Professor of English at Princeton University and editor of PMLA, the official journal of the Modern Languages Association (MLA). He was born in Kenya and graduated with a B.A. [First Class Honors] in Literature from the University of Nairobi. His publications include Reading the African Novel, Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature, Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism, The Columbia Guide to East African Literature in English Since 1945 and Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Dr. Mbugua wa Mungai, Chairman of the Literature Department at Kenyatta University. He received his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for a thesis exploring identity politics in Nairobi matatu folklore. His research interests include urban folklore, popular
culture and disability. He is the editor of Remembering Kenya Volume 1: Identity, Culture and Freedom.
Helon Habila, author of Waiting for an Angel which won both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Caine Prize for African Writing. His second novel, Measuring Time, was published in 2007, won the 2008 Virginia Library Foundation Fiction Award and was shortlisted for the 2008 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. His third novel, Oil on Water, was
published in 2010 and was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Orion Book Award.

Dr Margaret Ogola’s voice from the grave

She introduced herself to Kenya and the world with her evergreen novel The River and the Source, at a time when Kenyans were starting to wonder who would step into Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s gigantic shoes. Readers instantly fell in love with the book.

The cover of Dr Margaret Ogola’s new book

And to prove that it was no fluke, the book won the 1995 edition of the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature, Kenya’s most prestigious literary award. That was not enough, the same year, the book also clinched the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Africa. In between becoming a school set book in Kenya, it became the most translated Kenyan novel aside of Ngugi’s books.

In this book, Dr Ogola tackles the issues of women’s rights with such clarity and authority that people who have studied it say it has contributed a lot to the increased number of liberated women in Kenya today – women who do not necessarily have to rely on men for their survival.

Sadly for her readers, Dr Ogola passed on in September Last year. She had been battling cancer for some time. Although her subsequent books did not enjoy the success that met The River and the Source, she nevertheless continued writing in spite of her busy schedule as a medical doctor.

Her last novel was Place of Destiny which told the story of Amor, a woman, a mother and wife, who had cancer, which later killed her. At the time this book was published, around 2007 I doubt many people knew that Dr Ogola was herself also suffering from cancer. Could it be that she was writing about herself, and actually foreseeing her death?

It takes a person of extra ordinary courage to actually talk about their imminent death. Dr Ogola went further, she wrote about it! Here is a woman who was suffering from a terminal ailment, but did not let it bog her down. She even came to terms with the inevitable death.

Now she has gone one better; she is now ‘talking’ with her readers from the grave! Focus Publishers, who published The River and the Source are soon to release Mandate of the People. The new novel talks about an imaginary country that goes into elections. In this book the reader will encounter the typical Kenyan politician, who will cut corners, even kill, to achieve what they want; that coveted seat in Parliament.

And by coincidence Kenya is in the throes of a watershed election slated for sometime next year, the first after 2007 elections whose bloody aftermath left over a thousand Kenyans dead, and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Could Dr Ogola’s voice from the grave contain prophetic wisdom? You only have to get a copy and discover for yourself.

According to Ms Serah Mwangi, the managing director of Focus Publishers says the manuscript of Mandate of the People was handed to them by Dr. Ogola just before she died.

Her other books include I Swear by Apollo (Focus), which is a sequel to The River and the Source and Place of Destiny, published by Pauline’s Publications. She also teamed up with Margaret Roche to write Cardinal Otunga: A Gift of Grace, a biography of the late cardinal Otunga. She also co-authored Educating in Human Love, a handbook on sex education with her husband Dr. George Ogola.

Brace yourselves for SK Macharia’s explosive autobiography

S.K. Macharia is a household name in Kenya today. If there is one word that can sufficiently describe the man, then that word is tenacity. Here is one man who decided that he was going to build a media empire and went ahead to build one.

His dream, Royal Media Services, was hatched during the reign of retired President Moi. Those who know how Moi operated will tell you that it was the very wrong time to establish a media outfit, especially for a man who was perceived to be anti-establishment.

At one point Macharia’s broadcasting equipment were seized by the State, thereby switching the fledgling Citizen TV off air. This was not enough to deter SK, as he is known to many. Come 2002, Citizen TV had become so popular among ordinary Kenyans that it became the official mouthpiece of the Narc campaign, which was to send the then ruling party Kanu, packing.

The State broadcaster, KBC, which was being used by the government to relay Kanu propaganda, had lost the trust of Kenyans. It has yet to recover.

Despite a minor blip when the ODM juggernaut perceived the station to be pro Kibaki’s Banana wing in the campaigns for the constitutional referendum, in 2005, Citizen TV is the channel with the highest ratings in Kenya today.

You will also recall that incident when after Patrick Quarco’s Radio Africa poached a number of radio announcers from Royal Media’s Citizen Radio. What happened after that? Frequencies for Radio Africa’s stations, namely, Kiss and Classic were severely tampered with, leading to Radio Africa lodging a complaint with the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK). It was alleged that Macharia and Citizen were behind the whole mess.

You should also bear in mind that SK has the memory of an elephant; he does not forget it if you cross his paths. He has a reputation of being a tenacious litigant. If you doubt me, ask retired President Moi and most recently Justice Martha Koome. SK, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday, is also reputed to be very faithful to his friends, and that is why you will find a number of people in his companies, whose sole reason for earning a pay check is their friendship to SK.

In short, what I am trying to say is that SK’s life is quite colourful, and would make for great reading. And that is precisely why Moran Publishers are set to release his autobiography, aptly titled Tenacious Courage. David Muita, the managing director of Moran Publishers says the book should be released to the public by the end of the month.

“Readers should brace themselves for a very interesting book,” says Muita. “First and foremost SK is a very inspirational figure both to the young people and aspiring businesspeople.” And for the young ones Moran will be releasing a junior edition of the book at a later date.

With the release of SK’s book, one thing is clear though, it is going to be a major talking point, especially now that the country is caught up in the throes of next year’s watershed elections.

We predict that a few people will threaten to go to court. Yes, it is that explosive!

Mbugua takes the Wahome Mutahi Prize, again!

Nation journalist Ng’ang’a Mbugua, is this year’s Wahome Mutahi’s Literary Prize winner with his book Different Colours. This makes it two times in a row that he has won the prize.

Ng’ang’a Mbugua (Left), is all smiles as he receives his winner’s certificate from Prof Egara Kabaji, who was the chief guest at the ceremony

In 2010, he won the same prize with his other book Terrorists of the Aberdare. Different Colours is published by Big Books. Ng’ang’a’s book beat a formidable competition from Dr Yusuf Dawood’s book Eye of the Storm (East African Educational Publishers) and David Mulwa’s book, We Come in Peace (Oxford University Press). Eye of the Storm won last year’s edition the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.

In the Kiswahili category Jeff Mandila’s book, Sikitiko la Sambaya (JKF) was the winner, beating other nominees John Habwe’s Pamba also published by JKF and Mwenda Mbatia’s Msururu wa Usaliti (EAEP). The two winners took home cash prizes of Sh50,000. John Habwe won the Kiswahili prize in 2010 with his book Cheche za Moto.

The Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize is held every two years in honour of the late humourist and novelist Wahome Mutahi of the Whispers column fame. It is organised by the Kenya Publishers Association and held at the end of the annual Nairobi International Book Fair, which was in its 15th edition.

The judging panel was led by Prof Henry Indangasi of University of Nairobi, Prof Wangari Mwai of Kenyatta University and Dr Tom Odhiambo of University of Nairobi.

Ng’ang’a Mbugua, who is the chief sub editor of Business Daily said that he was happy to have won the prize two times in a row saying that it was testament of the hard work he put into his writing.

Finally, someone won Sh1 million; from writing!

Anthony Mugo is probably the richest author in Kenya today. On Friday evening he won Sh1 million in the inaugural Burt Award for African Writing. The Burt Award, administered by the National Book Development Council of Kenya (NBDCK), is the richest literary award in Kenya’s history. His manuscript titled Never say Never has been published by Longhorn Publishers and is out on sale.

The Burt Award is a partnership effort between NBDCK and the Canadian Organisation for Development through Education (CODE), with the support of a Canadian patron Mr. Bill Burt, after whom the prize is named. The award is aimed at encouraging authorship as well as a reading culture among Kenyan children.

Anthony Mugo (center) receives a dummy check for Sh1 Million from Prof Chris Wanjala, that chairman of NBDCK (Right) and Mrs Ruth Odondi, the CEO of NBDCK. At left is Geoff Burt, son of Bill Burt, who graced the occasion.

37-year-old  Mugo, who until July was a credit officer with a micro finance company says writing is not new to him. “I have been writing for the last twenty years only that I have never been published,” he explains. In 2009, he participated in another NBDCK organised writing competition, where he won with his manuscript Too Innocent to Die. In 2010 he again participated and emerged victorious with another manuscript, Not a Drop. Mugo, who is married with two children graduated from Moi University with a BA in Economics.

Coming in at second position was Edward Mwangi, who took home Sh500,000. His manuscript, The Delegate, was published by Moran Publishers and is also on sale. The 32-year-old, who has just completed his MBA from Nairobi University, works as a general manager for an engineering company in Nairobi. Mwangi, who is also married with two children says his perseverance has finally paid off. “Every morning before I start working, I write for an hour and another hour after work,” he explains.

In third position was Ngumi Kibera, with his manuscript titled The Devil’s Hill, which is published by Longhorn. Mr Ngumi, who is an established author, won Sh250,000. He is not new to winning; His other book, The Grapevine Stories, a Collection of short stories, won the 1997 edition of the Jomo Kenyatta prize for Literature.

Ngumi is full of praises for the Burt Award saying that it is a timely effort that will take Kenyan writing to the next level. “There is a lot of writing talent in Kenya only that our publishers are not aggressive enough to tap them,” he said. “The fact that there were 400 submissions for this prize is testimony of raw writing talent out there waiting to be discovered.”

Also present during the awards ceremony, held at the Silver Spring Hotel,