Don’t you care for my love? she said bitterly

i handed her the mirror, and said:

please address these questions to the proper person!

please  make all requests to headquarters!

In all matters of emotional importance

please approach the supreme authority direct!

So I handed her the mirror!

And she would have broken it over my head,

But she caught sight of her own reflection

and that held her spell-bound for two seconds,

While I fled. ūüôā


Is professional literary criticism on its deathbed?

At the recently concluded 17th  Nairobi International Book Fair, professor Henry Indangasi stood up and declared that  professional literary criticism is on its deathbed.

He made the comments during an open literary discussion between intellectuals , editors, publishers and writers. The session, moderated by University of Nairobi’s  Dr. Tom Odhiambo  saw the audience  seek answers from the panelists comprising Professors’  Chris Wanjala,  Henry Indangasi  and Kithaka wa Mberia, Writer David Maillu and Publisher Lawrence Njagi.

One reader asked why it is that lately, intellectuals seem to be engaged in newspapers  battles instead of focusing on constructive discourses that will propel literature forward.

To answer this, Professor Kithaka wondered if Kenyan critics wrote because of intellectual inspiration or because they have a personal thing against a particular author. He further asked whether critics  even read the books they review.

In defense of critics, Professor Wanjala stated that diversity is for journalists and that literary critics, just like eye specialists, have a right to specialize in one thing. Professor Wanjala’s argument however, didn’t seem to go well with professor Indangasi who said that much as intellectuals specialize in particular fields, it is also their moral obligation to carry out in-depth studies on popular literature, analyze it and offer intelligible argument on them.

It is at this point that professor Indangasi declared that professional literary criticism, as he understood it, was on its deathbed because the new breed of critics did synopsis summaries instead of informed criticism.

As a book lover and avid follower of the literary discourses, I couldn’t agree with professor Indangasi more. Lately we have seen  critics who instead of focusing on the issues in books,  waste  ink  either showing how better they are than their colleagues or  reminiscing over how great Ngugi was and how  no modern writer will ever fit into his shoes.  And yet so many new writers have come up and are winning international awards.

In his autobiography There Was a Country, author Chinua Achebe tells of the premise on which he and his colleagues (Soyinka, Okigbo and Clarke) began to write.‚Äô As young intellects in a new country, we didn‚Äôt know what we were up against, however, it was clear that our major objective was to challenge the stereotypes, myths and the image of ourselves and our continent, it is then that we decided to ‚Äėwrite back ‚Äėto the west so that we could reshape the dialogue between the colonizer and the colonized (paraphrased).

Evidently, Achebe and his counterparts had a clear objective when they set out to become writers and critics. They therefore didn’t waste time chest thumping  and names-calling and thus  greatly succeeded in reshaping literary dialogues, condemning social ills and   chiming for positive change.

This is, in fact, what the Kenyan critics urgently need to do to prove that they are indeed, serious intellectuals bent on propelling Kenya forward and not empty Debes which are, infact, known to make a lot of noise.


‚ÄėWe should one day walk into the offices of the two major newspapers in the country and demand that they channel funds toward this award that bears the name of the one man who not only made their papers widely read but also saved many men from being thrown out of their houses after they arrived home late in the night‚Ķ.‚Ķ

These were the words of the chief judge of the Wahome Mutahi prize, Dr. Tom Odhiambo, a man I like to refer to as a literary activist. He was speaking during the award ceremony that happened on Saturday   evening 27th of September at the Nairobi Club’s vast Tennis Court.

Hundreds of writers, editors, critics and book lovers gathered on the warm September evening to witness the awarding of the winners for the biannual prize and the official closing of the 17th Nairobi International Book fair.

The ceremony started off with a number of youthful poets reciting their pieces. Njeri Wangare, also known as Kenyan Poet  then read out a piece , asking the audience to tell her which was more powerful between a pen and a gun. This question,  I found rather hard to answer it being the  first anniversary of celebrated  Ghanian Poet Kofi Awonoor losing his life at the hand of gunmen at the Westgate Mall.

Attorney General Githu Muigai , the guest of honor, seemed  quite at ease  even amongst scribes perhaps because as a learned friend, he too had made friends with books.

The Chairman of the Kenya Publisher’s Association, Lawrence Njagi, requested the attorney general to help save the publishing industry through enactment of stringent measures to curb the rampant piracy that is ongoing and which could easily bring the industry to its knees.

Attorney General Muigai in his speech, promised to look into the matter and help chart a way forwad. He then congratulated the writers and editors and informed them that intellectual property earnings are chiefly the reason why Kenya has moved from a low income to a middle income economy.

Pete Openda, the Mcee’s rich baritone then took the audience through the awarding ceremony. The adult English category was won by Yusuf Dawood  with his book The Last Word (Longhorn).He beat  Waigwa  Wachira’s A Gift From a Stranger (KLB) and  Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s Different Colours(Big Books).

The Adult Kiswahili Caregory was won by Jeff Mandila for his play Upepo wa Mvua. This is the second time he is scooping the prize after his first novel Sikitiko la Sambaya won the same award in 2012.  Mandila beat Juma Namlola’s Kula Kwa Mheshimiwa and Tom Olali’s Watu wa Gehenna.

The  English children’s category, introduced this year, was won by Charles Gachega for his book Kuti Makes a Difference. He beat Joseph Mzee’s Naomi the Detective and Mureithi Maina’s A note for Alice.

In the Kiswahili children’s category, Lilian Wairimu’s Kiswahili Gani took home the trophy. She beat John Kobia’s Maskini Punda  and Bitugi  Matundura’s  Adhabu ya Joka.