Fifty years after independence, Kenyan media is finally coming of age. At last, in 2013, the Kenyan print media has decided to give some attention to Kenyan legendary writers while they are still alive. We no longer have to wait for writers to die to see their photos splashed over our local media for a couple of days before they are forgotten again. In the past couple of months, I have been privileged to read informative articles on renown writers like Francis Imbuga and David Maillu. The former’s story appearing just two days before his demise. I am looking forward, with baited breath to more literature on other authors like Marjorie Oludhe Mcgoye and proficient Meja Mwangi who, unlike his peer Ngugi, seems to be suffering a double blackout from both the media and K. I E( how come Mwangi’s work which is quite good is never read in schools? ).
On March 16th, I immensely enjoyed Saturday Nation’s interview with Asenath Bole Odaga. Asenaths’ story inspired the would-be author in me as she told of how she, alongside other acclaimed authors like Ngugi and Maillu braved the literary desert of the 1960s to 1980’s and in a bid to decolonize African minds and liberate Kenyan children from western literature, wrote and published quite a number of books.
They say a dream only becomes reality when you wake up from it and do something about it and we see a writers’ steel intent in Asenath who, when the children she wrote for grew up’ she let herself grow too as a writer by writing them adult books.
In this story of the mother of African folklore who gave up her position at the institute of African studies at University of Nairobi to focus on writing and publishing in English and her native language, I see a resilient achiever whose dream of authorship wasn’t quenched even when the highest royalty she has made so far is 120,000 only.
That she set up her own publishing house in 1983,’Lake publishers and Enterprise’ in Kisumu city, is a lesson to today’s upcoming authors, not to give up even when thousands of publishing houses reject their work.
‘Even as they venture out to be pretty imaginary and experimental, youthful writers should try and maintain high standards’ says the 74 year old author who mentors young women at the ‘Gender and Development Center’ which she founded to encourage women to publish their stories.
Asenath turned down acclaimed Nigerian children’s writer Florence Nwapa suggestion that she should move to where people ‘actually read and buy books’ (Nigeria).
I do hope that with the ongoing literary discourse, Kenya will also become a place where people ‘actually read and buy books’ too. Where youthful writers will hold workshops and book signing ceremonies across the country just the way Nigeria’s talented youthful writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does in her country.