Archive for the ‘Releases’ Category

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.

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.

Artists have until October 14 to submit their pieces for this year’s Affordable Art Show which is set to be held at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) between October 23 and 25. This is an event of the Kenya Museum Society (KMS) aimed at raising funds in support of NMK.

Bertiers

The art show is open to paintings, sculpture and mixed media work. Submissions will be juried. An individual artist can submit a maximum of two pieces, which should not be priced at more than Sh99,000. “Each piece should measure 100cm x 100cm (paintings and sculptures) for easy carrying of the art pieces by buyers,” says the communication signed by Lydia Galavu, the art curator at the museum and Patricia Ithau, who chairs the KMS Affordable Art Show.

The artworks to be submitted must have been created in 2015. Artists can also submit a third, A3 piece priced at Sh10,000.  The opening of the art show will take place in the courtyard behind the Louis Leakey Auditorium on Friday evening, October 23, 2015. The show will continue on Saturday and Sunday until October 25.

Artists’ work should be delivered to the former NMK boardroom at the rear of the courtyard on Wednesday, October 14, between 10am and 3pm. Artists from outside Nairobi who send work by public means,  must ensure that their submissions arrive no later than October 12.

Unsold art must be picked up on October 26, between 10am and 3pm. After that date and time, the art will belong to KMS and will be used to raise further funds for NMK.

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

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.

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.

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.