As a reader, I am becoming extremely aggravated by a certain crop of conceited authors who still feel a misplaced entitlement to the name ‘writer.’
The old chiefs seem to have a stubborn belief that yesteryear writers are better than today’s. They seem to be suffering an unending superiority complex but will soon be put in their place if the trend going on in the youthful literary circles is anything to go by.
I have one word for such ‘writers’. There comes a time in the life of a literary critic where nostalgia, however poignant, must be done away with and replaced with informed reason.
It is disturbing that such people are the ones lecturing in our universities. These dons simply dismiss youthful writers, thanks mostly to the bar discourses they have with those who share their conceited chest-thumping views. They lead literature students into despising modern young authors.
No wonder there are complains that ‘youth don’t read and books don’t sell’ yet those who would make up the biggest reading group are told to keep off pop literature. Just like these writers, I, too, have read my fair share of earlier Kenyan writers both in Kiswahili and English.
So Felix Osodo, Katama Mkangi, Abdilatiff Abdalla and Cynthia Hunter were as key to my primary school days in the late 1990’s as was Moi’s Nyayo milk.
I have also made a point of reading the newer Kenyan writings; the controversial Kwani? anthologies, Tony Mochama, Eva Kasaya, Jeff Mandila and even Binyavanga Wainaina.
One of those at the forefront of such misleads is Enock Matundura, a lecturer and writer who, in his article in the readers corner titled ‘These names should have been on the list of Kenya’s prolific authors,’ coins the term “short distance writers,” which he uses to refer to those writers who, according to him, are in the literary limelight by fluke and are yet to prove (to whom I wonder) that they are worth such titles.
I find his allegation that Binyavanga Wainaina is masquerading as a creative write absolutely ridiculous and his vagueness and wrong facts rather pitiable. Binyavanga won the Caine prize for African writing in 2002 and not in the 1990’s as Matundura wrongly believes.
Also, the “some short story he penned” is a very well articulated travelogue titled Discovering Home about his journey as a young person trying to navigate the African waters towards his career but also quite tied to his familial roots.
This story is so beautifully penned and so ‘identifiably African’ that though voluminous, I was compelled to read it at one sitting; making it pass Edgar Allan Poe’s definition that a short story is a story that should be read in one sitting.
In case Matundura is not aware, Binyavanga, on June 1, 2011 also launched a very well written memoir One Day I Will Write About Phis Place. It is so well articulated and vivid that even Kenya’s hard-to-please critic, Dr Tom Odhimbo, called it “lyrical, rhythmic and beautiful” during a writers workshop in Nairobi last year.
However, Matundura’s argument does bring to light a very pertinent issue stifling intellectual growth in our universities. The obvious lack of research that goes on there. I, being a teens and childrens’ trainer, blogger and high school teacher who graduated from university in late 2010, believe that the youth prefer a different style of writing — the short blog-like type that appears in Kwani?
Ask any popular blogger and they will tell you most comments on articles go like. ‘I loved how short, brief and on point the piece was.’
In any knowledge economy, such information on changing tastes in writings should be relayed to us by university lecturers and their students who research on such matters and publish the outcomes in readable journals like Kwani? and not in those complex university journals.