Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

The highly acclaimed TV drama Game of Thrones might be on its last stretch but it would appear that it has left a mark on Kenyan audiences. In the drama series there is an Iron Throne that every person, who thinks they have leadership blood in them, wants to occupy.

The throne is forged out of many swords said to have been melted by fiery dragon breath. Now, the quest to occupy this throne leads to a lot of bloodletting. Closer home, Sebastian Kiarie, a visual artiste from Ngecha Village in Kiambu County has come up with his local version of the Iron Throne.

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Like the throne on King’s Landing, Kiarie’s throne is made up of hundreds of machetes. He calls it The Seat of Impunity. The image is, at once, terrifying. This is especially when one takes into consideration Kenya’s blood soaked election cycles. Starting with 1992, the machete or panga became the weapon of choice for politically inspired ethnic clashes during election time.

 

Politicians who felt threatened by voters from ethnic communities, other than theirs, hired goons to finish off these ‘enemies’. The dark climax of these killing was witnessed in 2007, when Kenyans turned upon fellow countrymen in an orgy of mindless violence that left more 1,000 people dead; all in the name of politics and the quest to acquire power.

Kiarie’s sculpture is thus a timely reminder of the deadly nature of our politics, where politicians will do anything, including shedding blood in order to get into power. These politicians are encouraged by the fact that they will get away with it. In short, the top political seat in Kenya is drenched in blood.  This is the impunity Kiarie addresses in his unique sculpture.

Seat of Impunity is among artworks that have been on display, at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) since the beginning of this month. Titled Art Creative and Beyond, this is a joint exhibition by artists drawn from Ngecha Village. This village has been made popular by the large number of self taught artists who have left a mark, nationally and even internationally.

This is a village where everyone knows someone who is an artist. Besides, Ngecha could well be the only village in Kenya with two active art galleries. Some of the popular names from Ngecha include, Brush Wanyu, Sane Wadu, Shine Tani, Chain Muhandi, among others.

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Artists are said to be mirrors of society and true to type, the artistes from Ngecha have not shied away from happenings in society including politics. Still on the topic of violence and impunity, Brush Wanyu has a painting that depicts the violence that took place in Mpeketoni, Lamu County, a few years ago, that resulted in the death of a number of people.

The explanation given to Kenyans on those killings was that it was the work of terrorists, but Brush is unconvinced. “This is impunity at play; perpetrators know they will get away with it,” he says. “Life in our country has completely lost meaning.”

Then there is King Dodge, whose painting style mirrors that of Brush. Dodge has a painting that talks about the foundations of nationhood. He says that the Kenyan Nation was founded on falsehood. “The true fighters of freedom were shunted and power was taken by home guards and loyalists,” he explains. “That is why the Kenyan flag is upside down.”

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There are a total of 14 artistes from the Ngecha collective, who have taken part in the exhibition that ends at the end of the month. Notably missing from the exhibition were Sane Wadu, who now has his base in Naivasha and Shine Tani, who runs the Banana Hill Gallery.

With such an abundance of artistic talent one would assume that the Kiambu County Government takes good care of these artistes, after all they are a positive marking point for the county. Sadly, this is not the case. King Dodge explained that the county government has been aloof at best. “We’ve tried getting in touch with the county government to see how we can work together but we were taken round in circles; we eventually gave up on them,” he said.

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It is ironical that while the top leadership in the county is busy airing its smelly fabric in public, they have completely ignored this artistic village in Ngecha, which if well embraced, would catapult them to the top of the charts as it were. Yet, this is a county with a Cultural Officer under its payroll.

Meanwhile as the Kiambu County Government continues to bury its head in the sand, NMK knows too well the important place these artistes occupy in the country’s cultural heritage. This explains why they keep hosting them for exhibitions.

Lydia Galavu, the curator of the Creativity Gallery at the NMK says that the story of Kenyan contemporary art would not be complete without mentioning artistes from Ngecha. “The beauty of these artistes from Ngecha, who also include women, is that they live and work in the village,” she explains. “They are mostly farmers, which is their main source of livelihood. Their day to day existence is reflected in their artworks.”

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Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o makes a homecoming, of sorts, when he returns to Amherst College—where he was based in the early stages of exile—in a three-day fest celebrating his 80th birthday.

He will be one of the star attractions at the Amherst Lit Festival, hosted by the top liberal arts college, and whose prominent Kenyan alumni include President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Ngugi taught at Amherst College in 1991, serving as a distinguished visiting professor of English and African Literature. His birthday celebrations will be between March 1-3.

The Kenyan journalist and author, Dr Peter Kimani, who is coordinating Ngugi’s event, is presently the Visiting Writer at the college. Kimani expects Ngugi’s celebration to springboard an assessment of his artistic legacy.

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Poster for the three-day event

Kimani, whom many in the literary world consider to be Ngugi’s literary son, explained that the theme of the celebration, ‘This Time Tomorrow,’ draws from an old Ngugi play that contemplates the future of a widowed woman, who is rendered homeless after her slum home is overrun by city authorities.

“It’s opportune time for Kenyans and Africans to ponder: Where do we go from here? Where do we take Ngugi’s artistic legacy, ‘this time tomorrow’”? Kimani said, adding that Ngugi’s engagements as a socially committed writer and activist provide useful lessons for African writers.

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Prof Ngugi (left) and his protege Dr Peter Kimani

“Ngugi’s decision to return to his roots, by championing African languages in late 1970s, was at the peak of his writing career. That meant his work suffered less immediate circulation, though not necessarily, less impact.

“But he received less external recognition, as Europe wasn’t going to reward someone seeking to end their cultural hegemony. He put his people and continent first, and that’s a useful lesson for us to postulate.”

The Amherst celebration will feature readings and discussions surrounding Ngugi’s life in writing. Most activities will be held at Amherst College, though Smith College, which is part of the Five Colleges incorporating Amherst, Hampshire, Mt Holyoke and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, will host some events.

This includes Ngugi’s public lecture: “Birth of a Dream Weaver: The Pleasures and Perils of Writing,” reflecting on Ngugi’s evolution as a writer, a career that took off while still an undergraduate at Makerere University in Uganda in 1962 with the play, The Black Hermit. This will be on March 1.

That evening, Amherst College will host a staged reading of the play, This Time Tomorrow, directed by Kim Euell, an award-winning African-American dramaturg based at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

On March 2, Amherst College will also host a screening of a film, Ngugi wa Thiong’o: The River Between African and European Languages, directed by the Kenyan academic, Prof Ndirangu Wachanga, who is based at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

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Wachanga’s work looks at the intersect of memory and the construction of national history. Over the past decade, he has documented the lives and times of leading Kenyan academics, including Ali Mazrui.

Ngugi will deliver the final reading the Amherst Lit Festival, followed by his birthday celebration, on March 3.

The month of March will prove busy for Kimani. He has a scheduled tour of London between March 10 and 17, to promote the British edition of his historical novel, Dance of the Jakaranda.

The book was released in New York last February, to great critical acclaim, including a New York Times Notable Book of the Year selection.

Kimani will give public readings and discuss his work at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, London School of Economics, and Cambridge University.

Other book events will be Daunts, the oldest independent bookstore in London, and Waterstones, the largest bookstore chain in Europe, where he will be in conversation with Fiammetta Rocco, the Books and Arts editor at The Economist.

Kimani will wrap up his mid-year book tour at the Calabash festival in Jamaica, hailed by critics as the best literary event in the world. Hosted at Treasure beach, south of Jamaica, the biennial festival is held on a beachfront. It’s free and open to the public.

At any given point in the weeklong fest, some 2,500 people sit in the audience, waiting to soak up a reading or performance!

The marketing of Tafaria Castle, which straddles two counties, Lakipia and Nyandarua, is such that no one in their right mind would pass up the opportunity to spend a night there.
When a call came in, one fine Friday, asking if I would like to go to Tafaria, the following day, I did not think twice; I cancelled an appointment I had the following day.
The caller mentioned that the tour would involve a ‘two hour hike’. I easily brushed off this information; the only thing ringing in my mind was Tafaria.
We were to be picked by a van at 5.45 am, at the Kencom Bus Stage. Ordinarily, I would have taken a matatu, but the thought of walking from the Railways matatu terminus to Kencom, carrying a camera, at that early hour, was not one I fancied; what with the blood cuddling reports of muggings in this Sonko city.
For the sake of my camera, I managed to convince my mechanic to act as my chauffeur that morning.
I was the first one to arrive at Kencom, a full five minutes ahead of schedule. We were to pick a few other guys along Thika Road. To get to Tafaria, one has to go through Nyeri. Nyeri is about 150 kilometres from Nairobi. Tafaria is 65 kilometres from Nyeri, as you go towards Nyahururu.

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The majestic Tafaria Castle

We were supposed to get to Tafaria Castle at 9am, where I imagined we would take breakfast before embarking on the ‘hike’.
Our last pick-up in Juja was a young man, who kept us waiting in Kenol for more than one hour.
This delay was to cost us dearly, at least for me.
Along the way George Waititu, the director of Tafaria Castle, called, asking us to find them deep inside Aberdare National Park, where the team was to embark on the hike.
That call put paid my dream of a sumptuous breakfast at Tafaria. Just before getting to the Rhino Gate, of the park, we encountered a steep incline and our van was unable to get to the top. We had to push it to the top.
Bad mistake.
Pushing the vehicle sapped all the energy in my body; remember I had not taken breakfast, having woken up at 3.30 am. Coupled with the fact that I was woefully unfit, I was not in the best shape for the hike, which by now I realised involved climbing a mountain – Satima is said to be the third highest peak in Kenya, after Mt Kenya and Mt Elgon.

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The Castle of Love

When we got to the starting point, having driven some 10 kilometers inside the Park, Amos Mwaura, the high pitched guide told us that the leading pack, having gotten impatient, had set off an hour earlier. We needed to catch up, he said, there were four kilometres ahead of us. I panicked.

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The hikers approach the Theatre of Heaven

Mwaura noticed that one of us had come dressed in office attire; a suit!
From his tone, Mwaura came across as a no-nonsense guy; no cutting corners here.
You can imagine my relief when Mwaura passed around snacks wrapped in tinfoil. I attacked mine straight away; such was my hunger.
From the word go Mwaura set a punishing pace and immediately I knew it was going to be a long day for me. I simply could not keep up. My lower back was on fire, my legs felt like they were made of lead. I was panting, nay grunting, as I shuffled one protesting leg after the other.
After clearing the first hill made up of bush and thickets and having wolfed down my entire lunch pack I felt somehow energised and enjoyed the less strenuous descent into the moorland.

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The enchanting vegetation up there

My worries temporarily forgotten, my eyes suddenly opened up to the beauty and splendor all around me. This was an absolute eye fest; a true hiker’s paradise . Apart from the gently rolling hills, the valleys and the gorges, I saw some of the most dramatic rock formations ever witnessed in God’s wide world.
From the look of things, God must have been in a mischievous mood when he created these rocks.
To be honest, some of the rocks, from a far, look like animal droppings. Others have more elaborate patterns like ancient ruins. I was especially struck by one that looked like a giant tulip. This one I later realised has been christened The Lost Pyramid.
We later learnt from Mr Waititu that due to the fact that not many people frequent this particular area, these interesting rock formations are yet to be named. Thus the Tafaria establishment have, with the permission of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), embarked on naming these amazing rockformations.

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Into the moorland

This is how we learnt that they have called this place, its haunting beauty and all is now called the Theatre of Heaven. I for one could not imagine a better place to shoot a movie. The Kenya Film Commission, Ezekiel Mutua seems to be making all the decisions nowadays, can thank me later.
Other interesting names include the Castle of Love, Devil’s Sword and Dragon’s Teeth.
Tafaria wants to promote the Theatre of Heaven as a tourist destination to the level of Mt Kenya and even Maasai Mara. Mr Waititu, a widely travelled man, said that he has been to the Swiss Alps but he maintains that the Kenyan Alps are in a class of their own.

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The Devil’s Sword

Soon, it was time to go back and it struck me how far we had come. Luckily, I had taken some mountain spring water and was somehow rejuvenated.
Still, it bothered me to no end that the man in a suit was constantly ahead of me. Just then, I missed a step and my right foot got stuck the sticky dark mud. Meanwhile, suit man and his office shoes, kept walking ahead like he was on red carpet.
My discomfort was compensated by the anticipation of spending the night in the dreamy Tafaria Castle. It gave me the energy to plod on. Luckily it was downhill, er, in a good way, all the way.

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The magical wedding under the Twin Peaks

When we got down to the twin peaks, where the vehicles had been left, a table was laid for a delicious cocktail. And to the surprise of many, a couple was tying the knot. Many ladies were left envious at what beautiful the mountain scenery was.

Pictures by Joseph Ngunjiri

Nganga Mbugua makes history by being nominated for a record fourth time in the Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize with his book Angels of the Wild, published by One Planet.
The winner of this year’s edition of the Wahome Mutahi Prize, administered by the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), will be awarded at the end of the 19th edition of the Nairobi International Book Fair, whose hast tag is #NIBFinspiredtoread.
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The first time his book Terrorists of the Aberdare (Big Books) got nominated, in 2010, it went ahead to win the prize, which is awarded on a bi-annual basis. The next time the prize was announce, in 2012, his other book, Different Colours (Big Books) again won the prize.
In 2014, his collection of poetry, This Land is our Land was again nominated and got the first runners-up position, after the top spot was scooped up by surgeon Yusuf Dawood’s The Last Word (Longhorn).
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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

This year Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s book has been nominated alongside Anthony Mugo’s Ask the Stars (Longhorn) and Peter Kareithi’s Komu Fights for Change (Longhorn).
KPA also announced the nominees for the Kiswahili category of the Award. They are Mashetani wa Alepo by Tom Olali (Jomo Kenyatta Foundation) Kovu Moyoni by John Habwe (BookMark Africa) and Narejea Nyumbani by Jeff Mandila (Jomo Kenyatta Foundation).
The Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize, now in its sixth edition, was established in 2006, by KPA, in honour of humourist and satirist, the late Wahome Mutahi, who was made popular by his Whispers column, which was published by both the Sunday Nation and Sunday Standard.

Kenyan parents can now rest easy in the knowledge that book prices are not going to be increased, at least according to the publishers’ umbrella body.
In a press statement dated January 2, 2016, Mr. David Waweru, the chairman of Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), reports appearing in the media to the effect that book prices have been increased by up to 15 per cent are ‘false and alarmist’ .

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“The  source cited is  not an industry insider and  no  effort was made  to verify this  false
information,” explained Mr. Waweru, who is also the CEO of WordAlive Publishers.
He added “The facts  are that  out of over 4,000  textbooks in the
Orange Book only  about 200 books are affected  by a  price increase of between  4 and 10 per cent.” He however did not specify which books are to be affected by the price increase.
“Whereas publishers would have
wished to  increase the prices to match the increase of the  costs of production and mitigate for the
weakening shilling, publishers instead  opted to  lower their  margins with  the increase of  4 to 10 per cent and keep a majority of  the titles at the same price level.  In fact, prices on some titles were  reduced,” he added.

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Mr. David Waweru

Our sources however tell us that, on this issue, the horse has already bolted, as book distributors have marked up their prices and are advising bookshops to follow suit.
The real bone of contention, though is the Kenya government’s unpopular decision to slap VAT on books. “KPA once again  urges government  to
zero-rate textbooks as it is  immoral to  tax knowledge and  therefore raise  the  barriers  of access  to books,” said Mr. Waweru.
Kenya, he explained, is the second country in Africa, after South Africa, to impose VAT on books despite being signatories to international conventions that commit not to impose taxes on books.

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Kenyan book lovers, on Saturday October 17, woke up to an excoriating piece of criticism aimed mostly at literary critics of the University of Nairobi. The writer Harry Mulama, in not so many words, dismissed them as a bunch of washed up incompetents.
Pricked to the quick, Prof Chris Wanjala, who was especially heavily targeted, took to his Facebook page to respond. Read his response, verbatim, below.
“What a reading on an October morning before the 20th when we celebrate Mashujaa day? Does the author know the pain of keeping the literary discourse going for all these years. If we had not written would Harry Mulama have had anything to rant about? He is looking for answers outside us,outside Kenya. It is like the proverbial child who thinks that this is not his mother and looks outside for surrogates. Let us see how far Harry Mulama will go.
As a colleague has mentioned this morning,the question we ask is, “Who is behind Harry Mulama ?” His article cites very few cases of the works that have been written by members of the academic staff of the Department of Literature Depth Uon .I know in the article like his, he would not have had enough space for quotations, references and different works and ideas. But at least he needed to contextualize and make comparisons.
And even then, the discipline of literary criticism is growing and multiplying and depending on many people, including Harry Mulama,to move it into new areas. The evidence of this is all over in this country, not just at the University of Nairobi, but at Kenyatta, Moi, Egerton, Maseno, Masinde Muliro, and private universities like Daystar.
We are not doing badly at all and no one is going to create sheep and goats in the discipline.
All the people that Harry Mulama mentions belong together. Why do people who fail to either get a degree from the University of Nairobi and/or get a job there resort to hiding
in the bush and begin throwing stones at the reputable scholars who keep knowledge flowing in Kenya? Look around this country’s universities and tell me how many professors, senior lecturers and lecturers there the Department of Literature at the University of Nairobi has trained, examined and rewarded higher degrees. You just need to look at the list of high degrees the Department of Literature at the University of Nairobi when it gave Dr Eddah W. Gachukia a PhD on “Cultural Conflict in East African Literature,” and she now the founder of Riara University to see our influence and impact. You will come to the winner of the 2015 Burt Award, Christopher Okemwa who now teaches in Kisii University, wrote: “Mushida’s Cooking Pot: A Creative Exploration of Women Issues in Kenya.” for his MA qualification at the UoN, in 2008, and scholars like Dr John G.O. Mugubi, Kamau wa Goro, Dr. Sophie Macharia, Dr Kweya G Kweya, who are teaching in other universities, and Dr Kisa Amateshe of Kenyatta University, to know the expanse of the UoN’s influence.
Even those Harry Mulama is extolling like Professor Simon Gikandi and James Ogude are University of Nairobi products. Professor Evan Maina Mwangi, who operates from
the US, was our MA and PhD student. He wrote a thesis entitled: “Stylistic Reciprocity Betweeen Textual Errancy and Cohesion in David Maillu’s Broken Drum,” for his Master’s in 1997.
Is Harry Mulama’s not the story of the proverbial rabbit who could not get fruits from a tall tree and ended up saying, “After all those fruits are not ripe?” If Harry Mulama has some writers who can write better than us, why does he not get them to come forward and write for the Saturday Nation? If he thinks we are not worthy academics, why, in this free and democratic country, can’t he train his own and have them do the job of literary scholarship?
We may not be the best but we are what you have and we are expressing the fears, hopes and aspirations in the discipline of literature, which even the best can deal with. This shameless attack is a case of infantile radicalism coached in demented cowardice.”

Kenyan writers are still basking in the afterglow of the most important twin events in their calendar year; the literary awards season where they get to be appreciated for their labour love.
The Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) and the National Book Development Council of Kenya (NBDCK) gave out the Text Book Centre Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature and the Burt Award for African Writing respectively. It was truly a harvest season for writers as the overall winner for the Burt Award went home with Sh765,000 while the one for the Jomo Kenyatta Prize got Sh300,000.

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One might look at the varying prize money in the two awards and think that the Jomo Kenyatta Award is inferior to the Burt Award – indeed, the top winner in the Jomo Kenyatta Prize gets substantially less than what the second runners-up in the Burt Award got (Sh425,000). The fact of the matter, however, is that the Jomo Kenyatta Prize, small money notwithstanding, is far more prestigious, having been established in 1974. Some of the winners, over the years include heavyweights like Meja Mwangi, David Maillu and the late Wahome Mutahi, among others.
The Burt Award, which is bankrolled by William Burt, a Canadian philanthropist, after whom it is named, was awarded on Friday, September 25, at the Kempinski Hotel, while the Jomo Kenyatta Prize was awarded, a day later, at the Pride Inn Hotel, in Westlands. Text Book Centre was added as a prefix to the Jomo Kenyatta Prize, to recognise the proprietors of Text Book Centre, who have consistently funded the award over the years.
Christopher Okemwa, took the overall prize, in the Burt Award, with his book Sabina and the Mystery of the Ogre, published by Nsemia Publishers, pocketing Sh765,000 in the process – had he been sufficiently philanthropic, he would have donated his prize money to overall winners (in the English and Kiswahili Adult categories in the Jomo Kenyatta Prize) and still retain Sh165,000 as balance.
Okemwa’s book addresses the thorny issues of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early forced marriage as exemplified by the struggles, and eventual triumph, of a girl called Sabina, who dares to challenge these two cultures in her Abagusii community and comes out triumphant. This win is a major plus for Nsemia Publishers, who have for sometime occupied the margins of publishing in Kenya. Nsemia was the refuge for writers who, rightly or wrongly, felt that mainstream publishers had shut doors in their faces.
Mark Chetambe, published by EAEP, took second prize for his effort Names and Secrets, taking home Sh595,000. This is the first time EAEP was getting a nominee in the Burt Prize, which has previously been dominated by Longhorn, Moran and Phoenix Publishers.
The third prize went to Charles Okoth, whose book A Close Shave is published by Phoenix Publishers. For his effort, he received a check worth Sh425,000.
In the Text Book Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature, Yvonne Adhiambo, via her critically acclaimed book, Dust, published locally by Kwani? took the English Category prize, earning herself Sh300,000. Yvonne Adhiambo won the Caine Prize for African Writing with her story, Weight of Whispers, in 2003, a year after Binyavanga Wainaina, the founder of Kwani? won the same award with autobiographical short story, Discovering Home.
The panel of judges, chaired by Dr Tom Odhiambo of University of Nairobi noted that Dust, written by a writer “who is comfortable with style and language of expression, strongly reminds Kenyans that ignoring the country’s ‘fractured’ history is perilous for our pursuit of national commonness.”
The winner in the Kiswahili adult category was John Habwe, with his book, Pendo la Karaha, published by Moran. In the Youth Category, the winners were Tissue Boy, written by Edward Mwangi (Moran) and Naskia Sauti ya Mama by Ken Walibora (Longhorn).
In the Children’s Category, the winners were A Scare in the Village by award winning author Stanley Gazemba (OUP) and Ushindi wa Nakate by Clara Momanyi (Longhorn). The two winners in the Youth Categories, each took home Sh150,000 while those in the Children’s category got Sh100,000 each.
There have been murmurs in writing circles as to why writing for adults, as opposed to writing for the youth or children, is considered superior if the prize money is anything to go by. Proponents of children’s writing argue that the prize money should be the same, seeing as writing for children is quite technical. No writing should be seen to be inferior to the other, they say.
Now that the prizes have been awarded, it remains to be seen whether publishers and award administrators will make extra efforts in marketing these books. In previous years, apart from the award ceremonies and stories in the media, no extra effort is put to make these award-winning books known to the wider public.