Events Issues News Releases

Judges announced for the Kwani? Manuscript Project

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 Kwani Trust called for the submission of unpublished fiction manuscripts of between 45,000 and 120,000 words from African writers across the continent and in the diaspora.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“we have received an amazing 282 unpublished fiction manuscripts from 19 African countries including at least 5 submissions from Rwanda, Zambia, Cameroon and Zimbabwe, more than 10 submissions from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.

News Personalities Releases Reviews

Eva Kasaya: The Mboch who wrote her story

So you have that house girl and you have been mistreating her. Are you that man who steals into the househelp’s panties when the missus is asleep? You thought that you would get away just because you fired her, and that she will keep quiet about it. Well, you’ve got another thought coming. Yes, your days are numbered…

Soon, house-helps will be telling their stories and exposing what a bad society we live in. They will reveal all and you will have nowhere to hide, nowhere!

And I am not talking about the future here. I am talking about Eva Kasaya, who felt that she needed to tell the story of her life as a house-help. Read on…

House-helps occupy a parallel space in society, where their services are much sought after, yet they are rarely appreciated.
Little wonder then that you will always hear employers bad-mouthing them, yet they readily acknowledge that they cannot do without them.
To appreciate how lowly most employers rate their house-helps, you only need to read in the media how they get routinely mistreated. The most recent case that comes to mind is the Kenyan girl, who was thrown from a storied building in Saudi Arabia, by her employer.
Yet, in all these instances, no one, apart from close relatives and friends, bothers to listen to their side of the story. Well, one former house-help has sought to change all that and has actually penned down the story of her life.
And you can trust Kwani Trust, who are always experimenting with different styles of writing, to be the ones to publish the book. Tales of Kasaya: Let us now Praise a Famous Woman, is a book that will probably get other house-helps rushing to tell their stories.
And if Eva Kasaya’s life story is anything to go by, boy do house-helps have stories to tell? “It is apparent that you have quite some information, only that you lack an audience,” thus goes a popular Kikuyu saying that would readily apply to Kasaya and any other house-helps out there who would be willing to pour out their hearts.
Told in the first person, Tales of Kasaya puts the reader in the turbulent world of house-helps. It is rendered with the freshness and simplicity of an impressionable village girl. Like most house-helps will testify, circumstances beyond their reach, mostly poverty back at home, lead them to take up such jobs.
Kasaya, who hails from Maragoli could not continue with her education beyond primary school, as her peasant parents could not afford it. After a stint as a house-help back in her rural home, she thought is was time she upgraded and sought employment in the big city of Nairobi. Her adventurous trip to Nairobi is a must-read for every person has a house-help. So are the trials and tribulations she undergoes from one employer to the other.
While the book makes for interesting reading, I am not sure about the bit about praise for a famous woman. Clearly, there is nothing in the narrative to make one think of the narrator as a famous woman.

UPDATE: A newer edition of the book was released with a changed title: Tale of Kasaya

News Releases Reviews

Kwani? and the post-election violence

The Post election violence, it would appear, has inspired a lot of creativity from Kwani? Readers are treated to an unprecedented double edition of the Kwani? Journal, and most of it revolves around the post-election violence.
It has been said that countries that have suffered violent upheavals tend to produce great writers and by extension great stories. Could this be the one event that finally lifts Kenya’s creative writers from the doldrums? Could we see our writers competing on the same pedestal with the exciting southern and West African writers?
Those are some of the questions Kwani? editor Billy Kahora is grappling with in the second edition of Kwani? 5. “Are there even any defining texts for the present or for the future, let alone from the past?” asks Kahora. “I am yet to read a work of which I can say: yes, this is a Nairobi, in all its plastic glory, these are the Nakuru, Kisumu, and Mombasa that I recognise…”
Well, Kahora is speaking from his experience of having been a co-judge of the Commonwealth Regional Prize for Africa. This is a question Kahora should be directing to the Kwani? society. After all, when they happened on the scene about seven years ago, they promised to make a clean break from old generation of writers, earning themselves donor support in the process.
Well, there have been flashes of creativity from the Kwani? fraternity, and that is something to be proud about. Parselelo Kantai story You Wreck Her, was this nominated for this year’s Caine Prize for African Writing. This is Kantai’s second nomination.
This is not forgetting Kwani? founder Binyavanga Wainaina and Vyonne Awuor, both of whom won the Caine Prize in 2002 and 2003 respectively. Maybe we will have to wait for a little longer for books from this quarter.
Back to the latest edition of Kwani? For the better part, the book deals with what happened in January last year, and its aftermath. It for example contains interviews with victims and in some cases perpetrators of the violence.
Ideally, these interviews would make for extremely interesting reading were it not for the fact the interviewers were all given a template of questions to ask. This has the effect of limiting the responses to only the questions asked.
Still, there are some creative non-fiction stories that stand out for their freshness. Samuel Munene writes a piece on the rice wars in Mwea Constituency, juxtaposing it with the 2007 parliamentary campaigns in the constituency.
Millicent Muthoni writes another excellent piece on the Kigumo parliamentary campaigns and elections, although I got the feeling that she was quite close to one of the candidates.
Kalundi Serumaga, is one writer who features prominently in most Kwani? publications, and in this edition, he has an interview with Alfred Mutua, the government spokesman.
While he subjects Mutua to very tough questioning, one can’t help getting the feeling that he has certain issues to grind on Kenya and Kenyans.
This came out quite clearly in a very emotional piece he wrote on the first edition of Kwani? 5. In that story Kalundi pours out his bile on Kenya, based on his early life as a refugee, having fled from the chaos in Uganda.
From his argument in the story, he seems to say that what happened to Kenya during the post-election violence was poetic justice for Kenyans, for having mistreated him and his family when they were refugees in Kenya.
While I sympathise with what happened to him at that time, it is not enough excuse for him to take it out on Kenyans in his writings. In any case no one said that the life of a refugee should be a bed of roses.
Tony Mochama, who recently launched his book, The Road to Eldoret recently, makes a return to Kwani? with his irreverent poem Give War a Chance. The poem is a satirical piece full of dark humour. He takes a look at the different ethnic communities and what role he thinks they played in the 2007 elections and the subsequent violence that met the announcement of the results.
Petina Gappah breathes fresh air into the book with her short story titled An Elegy for Easterly. Petina, who was in Nairobi for the Storymoja Hay Festival, recently launched a collection of short stories under the same name. Petina who practices law in Geneva tells the story of slum demolitions, in Zimbabwe, at the height of Robert Mugabe’s autocratic rule.
An Elegy for Easterly tells the uncertain existence of shantytown dwellers in Harare, and how in spite of impending demolitions, life must go on.
The twin edition of Kwani? 5 records the horrors that took place during Kenya’s violent period, takes a rare peek into the minds of Kenyans during that time, and hopes that we will learn from our foolishness.
Isn’t it insulting that the two politicians we fought and lost lives over are now feasting together, polishing of bottles of champagne while planning to shield perpetrators of the post-election violence from punishment?

Events Issues News

Kwani? Litfest is the place to be

The Kwani? Literary Festival (Litfest) kicks off today in Nairobi. This is by far the most prestigious literary event in the country, which attracts celebrated international literary luminaries, who mingle with homegrown talent.

The festival starts today and runs up to August 15 in Nairobi and the coastal town of Lamu.

The festival will be in the form of a series of workshops, symposiums, book launches, discussions, retreats, travelling and networking. Participants will also have a chance of developing their creative writing skills, with an emphasis on how stories can help society to see itself more coherently.

One of the star attractions of this year’s event is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian, who has variously been described as Chinua Achebe’s literary daughter. And it is not for nothing. Chimamanda has written two highly acclaimed novels, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. The book won the Orange Prize for Literature in 2007.

Chimamanda was one of the participants
Chimamanda was one of the participants

Another personality who will also be coming down for the festival is Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone, whose book A Long Way Gone has caused enough controversy, in the literary world with groups of writers vigorously contesting is authenticity.

There is also Doreen Baingana, a Ugandan, whose book Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe, won a Commonwealth Prize in 2006, among others. Her stories have been nominated twice for the Caine Prize.

Another Ugandan is Monica Arac de Nyeko, Winner of the 2007 Caine Prize for her story The Jambula Tree.
Aminatta Forna, will also make an appearance. She is a writer of non-fiction and fiction. Her critically acclaimed memoir of her political dissident father and her country Sierra Leone, The Devil that Danced on the Water was runner-up for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003.

Dayo Forster, a Gambian based in Kenya will also be there. Her book Reading the Ceiling, was short-listed for the 2008 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize Best First Book for the Africa Region.
Most of these foreign authors will be conducting a series of writing workshops

The festival will also be teeming with local talent, ranging from journalists, poets, writers to movie-makers. Toping the list of local stars is the other rebel, the mercurial Tony Mochama, otherwise known as Smitta Smitten.

Now, Mochama is not your everyday journalist. He is a gossip columnist extraordinaire. He also likes calling himself a vodka connoisseur, for his well-publicised escapades with the demon drink. He is also a poet and a trained lawyer.

Late last year he wrote his poetry anthology titled What if I am a Literary Gangster? which earned him the moniker literary gangster.

There is also Muthoni Garland, the founder of Storymoja, which has taken Nairobi by storm with its stimulating storytelling sessions. Muthoni is also the author of Tracking the Scent of my Mother, which was nominated for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2006.

Another Kenyan in the faculty is filmmaker and writer, Simiyu Barasa. He wrote and directed of the Feature film Toto Millionaire (2007) and has written for numerous Kenyan dramas like Makutano Junction, Tahidi High and Wingu la Moto.

Going the example of the Litfest, there can be no denying the fact members Kwani? Trust has what it takes to keep the literary flame ablaze in Kenya for a long time to come. Ever since they happened on the scene about six years ago, they have been growing bolder and better. And lovers of the written word have been taking notice.

It all started when Binyavanga Wainaina, then virtually unknown in the country, won the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing with his short story Discovering Home in 2002. He chose to invest his prize money in promoting writing in his country.

This came at a time when the Kenyan literary landscape was experiencing a fallow period, still smarting from the effects of Prof Taban Lo Liyong rebuke that East Africa was a literary wasteland.

Binyavanga had a plan for reigniting the now cold literary fires, and he had to do it his own way. For one he broke with conventions, and embraced individuals who conventional literary types would not have touched with a ten-foot pole.

Binya, as he is fondly known, took in his wing the Ukoo Flani Mau Mau, a hip-hop community based in the slums of Dandora. And to cap it all, he founded the Kwani? Journal, which even featured graffiti art. And to ruffle the establishement types even further he celebrated Sheng, that bastard street language, that is much reviled for its corrosive effects on proper English and Kiswahili.

In the Third edition of Kwani? there was a short story written in Sheng! The conservative types were not prepared to take Binya’s, brave and different style lying down. They called him all manner of names and he gave back as much as he got.

To cut the long short, Kwani? has today become a movement. Even those initially opposed to them today find themselves honored to appear in their functions.

Form the Open Mic, monthly poetry reading sessions, to Sunday Salon, monthly prose reading sessions, the Kwani? gospel is slowly but surely winning followers.


Events Issues News Personalities

Reformed drug trafficker’s book is all the rave

Judy Akinyi, or Saga MacOdongo, if you like, is the latest sensation in the Kenyan literary scene. Every one now seems to want a piece of her. Well, I will not deny her the right to be feted by literary enthusiasts. She has earned it. Her book Deadly Money Maker is currently the talk of town. The book was written while she was serving a jail term at the Langata Women’s Prison, for drug trafficking.

A former lecturer at the Kenya Polytechnic, Akinyi fell to the lure of quick money and plunged into the underworld. Her dream of overnight riches evaporated into thin air when on coming back from her maiden trip as a mule, she was arrested at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

The drug queen, who had introduced her into the illegal business left her to her own devices, and that is how she found herself cooling her heels at Langata. It seems odd and cruel that she would be arrested even before she tasted the fruits of her “work”. Well, word on the ground has it that, she had been set up as a pawn. She was earmarked to be a sacrificial lamb. This theory goes on to further suggest that drug lords and drug enforcement officials sometimes work in collusion.

The plan, it is said, is to have an unfortunate mule arrested, after a certain period of time, so as to show the public the war against drugs is alive and well. Thus, poor Akinyi found herself in the middle of a complex web and suffered the consequences

As fate would have it, it was not long before she got her chance to exact revenge.  The drug queen, who sold her short, was finally arrested and was to be tried in the US. Akinyi was only too willing to testify against her. Akinyi’s testimony was all the justice system in the US needed to finally put the other woman behind bars.

Akinyi had not finished her sentence when she was released courtesy of a presidential pardon. Shortly after her release, Kwani? featured her in their monthly prose reading sessions, the Sunday Salon in June. Storymoja were waitinng in the wings and no sooner had Kwani? finished with her, they snapped her up with an even bigger and more elaborate schedule.

The readings kicked off on July 5 at the Wheels Restaurant along Ngong Road, followed by another one at the Das Restaurant in Westlands, the following day. On Saturday July 12, they were at Choma Vision along Thika Road. Their next event takes place on Sunday, July 27 at Tea Pot Restaurant, along Koinange Street from 2p.m. to 6p.m. The host will be radio personality Valentine Njoroge.

This is on top of the numerous TV interviews she has made in the intervening period. And Maisha Yetu reveals that a movie project, based on the book is in the works. Watch this space for developments. All this hype will definitely do a lot of good to the book, which might boost its sales. Hopefully then, she might not be tempted to go back into crime.

One thing though, all this hype risks getting into her head. Before you accuse me of sour grapes let me explain; Soon after her release, a journalist with one of the leading papers in Kenya called her seeking for an interview. After taking him round in circles postponing the interview, she finally asked him if he would pay her! To cut the long story short, the interview eventually did not materialise.

And how come her publishers, Paulines Publications are not getting any mentions? Could it be that they are just content to have their book marketed for them?