Posts Tagged ‘Kenyan writing’

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.
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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.

Maisha Yetu caught up with Ndinda and had a chat on what it means to win the coveted schorlaship. Read on

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Maisha Yetu: Explain to our readers what the Morland Award is all about?

Ndinda Kioko: It is a writing scholarship that is awarded annually by the Miles Morland Foundation to three writers from Africa. Each of the winners receives a grant to allow them to take a year off and write a book.

MY: How does it feel to be a recipient of the Morland Award?

NK: When I first received the news, I was shocked, followed by a deep sense of gratitude. Now that the excitement is finally settling in, I am a little terrified by the responsibility that I have to myself; the responsibility of writing that novel that I have wanted to write for so long. There is something deeply satisfying and equally frightening about finding yourself on the path towards your dream.

MY: What does the award mean to you?

NK: The scholarship came at a time when I was thinking of pausing everything to focus fully on writing. But then there is also that uneasiness that comes with leaving the comfort of a paying job to immerse yourself into the eternal darkness of writing. The reality is that, it is hard to make a living as a writer, and in between a 9 to 5 job, one can barely find enough time to make significant progress. This is not to say that it is not doable. There are those who have managed to maintain an equilibrium between the two. This scholarship means that I can now finally pull down the shutters and concentrate on my writing for a sustained period of time without the previous distractions and limitations. I am also hopeful that this opportunity opens a door for other literary endeavors.

MY: This seems to have been quite an eventful year for you. You were also recognized as one of the Africa39 authors. Tells us more about this.

NK: This also came as a surprise. It is not a small thing to be recognized as one of the 39 promising writers under the age of 40 in Africa south of the Sahara, especially when all you have to show for it is a bunch of short stories. Even more humbling, to be recognized alongside people you have read and admired for years. But beyond the honor, the excitement and the shock comes a reminder that I need to take writing seriously; that I need to stop looking at writing as something that merely punctuates my life. This is what I am here to do, and I need to do it constantly for as long as I am here.

MY: What motivated you to become a writer?
NK: I can’t really isolate that exact thing or person or moment that got me started. Growing up, I did not have the luxury of a television, so all my childhood was immersed in books. I have indistinct memories of reading John Steinbeck and not understanding a word. But what populated my childhood was a lot of Nancy Drew, John Kiriamiti, newspaper cuttings, to mention but a few. I can say that reading got me interested in writing, but I know I am a result of many things.

MY: Who are your role models; local and international?
NK: There are a lot of writers whose work I admire, who have influenced me greatly. I can’t possibly fit them here. The world is a hovel of atrocities, and there are writers like Toni Morrison who take away my restlessness. And I think this is the most powerful thing about being a writer- that through your writing, other people are able to survive the world. If I can do that for just one person, then my work here will be done.

I wish Mariama Bâ had stayed around longer. I am constantly craving for her writing, and I feel like I have reread her enough already.

My stylistic admiration at the moment belongs to Ali Smith, who was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. She writes from a space of formlessness, which is something I am very much drawn to. She plays by the rules yes, but at the same time, she stretches these rules to see what reinventions are beyond the rules.

I have utmost respect and admiration for Yvonne Owuor, Jeniffer Makumbi, Okwiri Oduor, Teju Cole, Ousmane Sembène, NoViolet Bulawayo, JM Coetzee, Junot Diaz; it’s a long list.

MY:  What proposal did you submit and when should Kenyans expect to read you?
NK: I think it is too early to tell, and too early to talk about the project. All I can say is that I am charting a journey of remembering by exploring the relationship between a dead mother and a daughter. When should Kenyans expect to read it? Even I do not know. I am in no hurry. I want to take my time with it.

MY: What is your strongest point/ what is your style of writing? Prose/poetry?
NK: I write prose. I am still trying to understand myself as a writer, so I can’t quite speak of ‘a style’ that I can be identified with. I will let that be a burden of those who read me. But I am drawn to writing that is not so pedantic; writing that invents and reinvents and leaves you feeling like the writer has broken the law.

MY: Mile Morland says that he was blown away by the quality of this year’s entries. What about your submission blew him away?
NK: To be honest, I’ve also been wondering about that.

MY: Recently, we’ve seen Okwiri Oduor win the Caine Prize and now here you are; can we say that this is the time of the Kenyan woman writer?
NK: I don’t want to give that phrasing a nod. A lot of writing by Kenyan women precedes us. Writers like Yvonne Owuor, Grace Ogot, Margaret Ogola, Moraa Gitaa, Phyllis Muthoni, Njeri Wangari, and Marjorie Oludhe. However, I do recognize a dead gap between, say Yvonne Owuor and Margaret Ogola. And it is not because no one was writing, but because no one was paying enough attention. I am glad we are here now, and that more Kenyan women are getting published and that we are paying attention to their stories.

MY:  What have you been doing prior to winning the prize?
NK: I have been writing and producing two TV shows for Mnet. The first project, titled How to Find a Husband is a sitcom that follows the life of three women living and surviving Nairobi as they try to find, lose, escape and keep love. We just finished filming the second project, a 26-episode political drama which we are currently editing. The shows are set to premiere early 2015.

MY:  What are your views on Kenyan writing in general?
NK: I am excited to see the writers of our generation taking matters into their hands and creating spaces for themselves. Spaces like Jalada are a product of that. There is a lot of wonderful writing that stands a danger of disappearing into oblivion, and these spaces that are being created by writers’ collectives are there to minimize that danger. Traditional publishers can’t do it all on their own. I am also glad to see poets like Michael Onsando and Abigail Arunga taking the bold self-publishing step. It is an exciting time to be a writer in Kenya.

MY:  Your message to younger writers who will now look upon you for inspiration, and especially those who might not have the opportunity to submit for either Caine or Morland
NK: Buy a notebook, and use it.

Despite the challenges facing the local writing industry, writer Onduko bw’Atebe prefers to see it as a half full glass rather than half empty. “The Kenyan writing scene is changing for the better,” he says. “More people are getting into the scene which is a good thing.”

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Atebe’s book Verdict of Death, published EAEP, won the inaugural Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize in 2006. The prize is awarded by the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) every two years in honour of the late humourist Wahome Mutahi of the Whispers fame. It alternates with the more established Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature, also ran by KPA.

Towards the end of September 2014 KPA announced Yusuf Dawood as the fifth winner of the Wahome Mutahi Literary Award with his book The Last Word, which is a collection of past episodes of his Surgeon’s Diary column. He beat off competition from Nation editor Ng’ang’a Mbugua, who had submitted This Land is our Land (Big Books), a collection of poetry, and A Gift from A stranger (KLB), a play written by University of Nairobi lecturer Waigwa Wachira.

It is worth noting that Yusuf Dawood pocketed sh50,000, the same amount Atebe won eight years ago. In the intervening period the cost of living has shot up, inflation has given Kenyans a hiding and still writers get the same amount of money for an effort that took them the better part of four years. It is any wonder Kenyan writers do not have enough motivation to write?

Atebe took time off his busy schedule to talk about the award and Kenyan writing in general. While acknowledging that things could be better he nevertheless feels that positive strides have been made in the writing scene. “Some of our Kenyan authors have made their presence known on the international scene,” he offers. “Billy Kahora of Kwani? has been nominated twice for the Caine Prize for African Writing. Vyonne Owuor’s blockbuster Dust is currently scorching the literary world. Compared to eight years ago Binyavanga has firmly established himself in the international literary scene.”

“Let us also not forget Okwiri Oduor who won the Caine Prize this year with her short story My Father’s Head. You see, good things are happening on the local writing scene. With such shining examples our children have something worthwhile to aspire to,” says Atebe.

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In spite of the progress he has enumerated Atebe is however convinced that a lot needs to be done to improve the welfare of local writers; those who do not have international connections like the ones he has mentioned above. “The uncomfortable truth is that it can be difficult for someone to make ends meet through writing alone in Kenya,” he explains. “You see after my book won the prize I thought I would live off writing. I even took an initiative to market it in schools across the country but at the end I realised that my expenses far outstripped what I was making.”

Faced with the stark reality of a shrivelled bank account Atebe decided to cast his net wider and veered off into business. “Here in Kenya you need a firm financial background only then can you embark on writing,” says Atebe who today is a contractor in the rural electrification sector.

His business endeavours however have left him with little time to put pen on paper. “My work eats up most of my time,” he says. “I am forever on the road; come evening I am exhausted and sleepy.” Verdict of Death remains his only book. “I had a completed manuscript but it was destroyed when a virus wreaked havoc on my computer. I spent a lot of time grieving over the lost manuscript.”

He assures his readers that if all goes well they will be reading another of his books in the ‘near future’. “I have two incomplete manuscripts I am working on. The good thing is that I am not new in the field of writing,” he explains. “A number of publishers have approached me asking me to write for them, so I am not short of options.”

Atebe asks Kenyan publishers to pull up their socks as far as marketing creative works is concerned. “They don’t do much marketing which explains why readers are not aware of what is available by local authors,” he says. He disputes the notion that Kenyans do not read. “Visit any local bookshop today and you will see stacks and stacks of novels, only that they are by Western authors. You can’t buy something you are not aware of” he adds.

He faults his publisher EAEP for not doing enough to market his book after it won the Wahome Mutahi Prize. “The least they would have done it to ensure that subsequent editions have a stamp indicating that it won a prize. That would have helped boost the sales,” he explains.

He is happy that Yusuf Dawood won the Wahome Mutahi Prize. “I really enjoy reading what the good surgeon writes,” says Atebe.

 

 

Sometime back I compiled a list of what I thought we the top ten Kenyan books of all time. I actually did the project to coincide with Kenya’s Jubilee celebrations. Since this list is mine some of my readers might feel that it is not complete or even subjective, but hey one has to start somewhere. What are your thoughts?

 

  1. The River Between

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This is the book that introduced Ngugi wa Thiong’o as a writer of note. Following in the tradition of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, The River Between tackled the issue of the clash between African traditions and customs, on the one hand, and the white man’s way of life and religion (Christianity) on the other. This book has been the subject of heated debate among readers as to the real message Ngugi wanted to convey, despite the fact that it has been a school set book more than once. At some point a critic took an extreme view and accused Ngugi of being a Mungiki sympathiser, probably due to his elucidation of Gikuyu culture in this book.

 

  1. Going Down River Road

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Meja Mwangi has been hailed as Kenya’s foremost urban writer. While his more decorated colleague Ngugi wa Thiong’o based his writing in a rural setting, Meja Mwangi scoured the African urban districts for inspiration. Going Down River Road, alongside his other two urban-based books Kill me Quick and Cockroach Dance form some of his most inspired writing to date. With memorable characters like, Ben, Ochola, Baby and Yusuf, Meja Mwangi introduced a certain romance to Nairobi’s River Road. Is any wonder then that critics have compared the squalor and hopelessness in this book to Gorky’s Russia. There are Kenyan readers who swear that Ngugi cannot hold a candle for Meja Mwangi when it comes to writing.

 

 

 

  1. After 4.30

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The Kenyan literary menu cannot be complete without David Maillu’s After 4.30 among his other offerings of Kenya’s version of erotica, like My Dear Bottle. Many Kenyans above the age of 40 will confess to secretly – mostly in class – absorbing Maillu’s titillating details from well-thumbed copies of After 4.30, in their hormone-driven teenage years. There were also the holier-than-thou types who loudly castigated After 4.30, and those who read it, in public, but were themselves devouring it in the secrecy of their bedrooms. Those who condemned After 4.30 and Maillu’s other bawdy writings should ask themselves why Fifty Shades of Grey has become such a global hit.

  1. Betrayal in the City

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This is the one play that put the late Francis Imbuga on the literary map. Betrayal in the City that recently made its way back as a school set book, was written in the 1970s and the issues it addresses are still as relevant today as they were then; corruption and abuse of power in government and impunity by leaders and their sycophants. To get services in government offices, according to Betrayal in the City, one needs a ‘taller relative’, more like the modern, ‘you should know people’. It is this book that introduced lexicon like ‘green grass in snake’ – a corruption of green snake in grass – and ‘I wonder why you possession that thing between your legs’.

 

  1. Across the Bridge

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“Hail jail! the place for all …” or so goes the beginning of the recently departed Mwangi Gicheru’s Across the Bridge. It tells the story of Chuma who, it today’s lingo, would be called a hustler, who achieves the unprecedented feat of impregnating Caroline the daughter of rich man Kahuthu. The adventure that follows there after that is one that will either leave you in tears or with cracked ribs. Any book lover, of over 35 years, and who hasn’t read this book should bow their heads in shame and never utter a word in the company of serious book lovers. This book was Kenya’s version of James Hadley Chase; it was that good.

  1. My Life in Crime

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My Life in Crime by John Kiriamiti is by Kenyan standards a best-seller. Yes this is a book which, despite never having been a school set book continues to fly off the shelves. John Kiriamiti a reformed bank robber wrote this book while serving time at Kamiti Maximum Prison. Ngugi wa Thiong’o is among the people that recommended the manuscript be published. This crime thriller, a fictionalised account of Kiriamiti’s life as a criminal, captured the imaginations of young Kenyans who read it. There had been talk of it being turned into a movie, but the initial excitement has since fizzled down.

  1. The River and the Source

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The River and the Source by the late Dr Margaret Ogola burst into the scene when it won the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature, in 1995. It went on to win the prestigious Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, for Africa, that same year. Shortly after it became a school set book. Those who studied the book in high school have nothing but praise for this book that celebrates the place of the woman and the girl child in African societies. The author, a pediatrician, outdid herself in celebrating Luo culture. For its strong women characters, this book has been hailed as Kenyan’s manual for feminists.

  1. The Last Villains of Molo

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Kinyanjui Kombani, a banker, to date remains the only Kenyan writer to have comprehensively tackled the subject of Kenya’s tribal/ethnic clashes. Ethnic violence, as we know it, has recurred in Kenya’s Rift Valley every election circle since 1992 – apart from 2002 – and degenerated into the killing fields that greeted the disputed 2007 presidential election. The Last Villains of Molo enters this list for its sheer audacity to confront the demons of ethnic violence at a time when mentioning tribes, in any form of writing, was frowned upon. Kombani goes ahead and prescribes reconciliation as the surest way of ending such hostilities. It is instructive to note that the author grew up and went to school in Molo, which for the longest time, was the epicentre of this politically instigated violence.

  1. From Charcoal to Gold

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The late Njenga Karume’s autobiography From Charcoal to Gold is probably the very first of such genre to have captured the psyche of Kenyans. For a long time Kenyans had been fascinated by the former Defence minister’s rags-to-riches story, in spite of the fact that he received little or no formal education. It was therefore quite something when the man himself put his story in writing thereby clearing out some myths and misconceptions. Readers got to know how Njenga shrewdly negotiated his way through the complex world of business from a humble charcoal-seller to becoming one of the richest men in Kenya and who would later become a confidant and much sought-after power-broker in Kenya’s first three governments. The book has also become a must-have motivational book.

10. Peeling back the Mask

 

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If there is a book that shook the foundations of Kenya’s political life, then Miguna Miguna’s book Peeling back the Mask is it. Miguna says the book is his autobiography but many Kenyans will remember it for the unflattering take at former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Muguna was after all Odinga’s close confidant and political advisor. It was after the two fell out that the former decided to publish the book. For months, this book sparked heated political debate with supporters and detractors of the former Langata MP taking opposite sides. Peeling back the Mask also takes the cake for sheer nuisance value. There are those who hold the view that this book dealt a mortal blow to Odinga’s chances of ascending to the presidency in the March 2013 elections.

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.