By margaretta wa gacheru
What a difference a week can make. Several Saturdays ago, Nairobi witnessed the more heinous terror attack ever seen in our fair city; but this past weekend, Westlands was abuzz with brilliant energy and intellectual activity as the second Authors Buffet took off at Sarit Centre.
There had been concern that the turnout would be sparse since Sarit is a stone’s throw from Westgate. But on the contrary. The 16th Nairobi International Book Fair was full to overflowing with book publishers as well as book lovers who roamed all round the 1st floor of the mall.
But for me, the place to be from 10am throughout the day was definitely the Authors Buffet where 25 published writers were expected to be on hand and seven new books were set to be launched. As it turned out, more than 35 published authors arrived to transform what had initially begun as a book signing for a single writer, Kinyanjui Kombani last May (organised by the Textbook Centre) readily became an event including more than a dozen local authors.
That was the first time round for the Authors Buffet. But last Saturday, the event was even more of an inspiration as nearly three times that number arrived at the second Buffet by Saturday afternoon.
That initial conversation between Kombani (author of Wangari Maathai: Mother of Trees and The Last Villains of Molo) and Textbook Centre generated so much interest among local authors that the turnout far exceeded organizers’ expectations. But it also revealed just how much the literary landscape of Kenya has changed in the last few years.
Kinyanjui moderated the program which involved the launching of books by David Mulwa, Muroni Kiunga, Ephantus Achebi, Patricia Ojiambo and Bonnie Kim, all of whom were on hand for book signings and sharing a few words.
At the same time, Kinyanjui took time to introduce all 25 authors present (as well as those who came trickling in unannounced), which offered a stunning sampling of our expanding literary scene.
Those who arrived after the first 25 included Elizabeth Orchardson Mazrui and Arwings Otieno who in addition to being a newly published author is also the proud recipient of the Burt Award for his new book A Taste of Fame.
“William Burt is a Canadian philanthropist who wants to promote Kenyan writers as well as the Kenyan reading culture, which is why the award includes a KSh1 million prize,” said Otieno, a full time language instructor at Pwani University in Kilifi who received the Burt Award together with his cash prize the night before at the Hotel Intercontinental.
“The money is already in the bank,” confirmed Otieno, who says he had simply seen the call to submit manuscripts in the media online and then applied.
What was one of the most positive features of the Buffet was seeing so many emerging—and established– authors writing in a multitude of literary genres. There were non-fiction children’s books like Sibi-Okumu’s on Tom Mboya and Mulwa’s We Come in Peace. There were autobiographical books by Muthoni Likimani and Churchill Winstone.
There was also a good deal of fiction (some of which has been available for some time) addressing issues pertinent to Kenyans’ everyday lives, including stories related to environmental concerns, HIV-AIDS, abortion, ethnic clashes, and even the shallow nature of celebrity ‘success’.
What was also striking about the day was the number of motivational books written by Kenyans, including Bonnie KIM, Winnie Thuku and Anthony Gitonga among others.
The other surprising aspect of the day was the discovery of how many Kenyan authors are currently writing full time or at least devoting themselves to advancing Kenya’s literary culture. Among them were Thuku and Gitonga, both of whom are motivational speakers as well as authors, who specialise in coaching aspiring Kenya writers.
Gitonga was given time to share ideas on how one can personally advance kenya’s reading culture. “Get together with a dozen of your like-minded friends and start your own book club,” he said.
The other writer who was overwhelmingly acknowledged for his role in advancing the country’s literary scene was David Mulwa, the Kenyatta University lecturer in literature and theatre arts, who may be better known as an actor on stage, in multiple TV series and in films than for his inspired approach teaching writing. But for a man who has more than 30 published titles to his name, including both plays, novels and novelettes, Mulwa has yet to receive a lifetime achievement award for his immense contribution to culture and the arts in Kenya. But undoubtedly he will.
The Authors Buffet went on non-stop throughout the day as the reading public appreciated the opportunity the Buffet gave them to get authors to sign their books.
It was just as the Buffet was ending that the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation book award was about to be given. The field had been quite competitive this year as Mbugua Nganga, Henry Ole Kulei and Waithaka Waihenya were all in the running to win. As it turned out, this year’s winner Ole Kulei for Vanishing Herds with Mbugua’s Different Colours came in second and Waithaka got third for The Vender.
The cash prizes were not nearly as size of the Burt Award but the prestige of winning is increasing year by year,. So we congratulate all three writers for their success. We also recommend everyone go out and get copies of their books to promote and deepen writers’ incentive to write now as they might win next year.