Changing: Kenya’sLiterary Landscape: Introduction

By Alex Nderitu

‘Tick-tock, I want you to remember me
Tick-tock, but the day don’t have no memory.’
– ‘I’m Coming’ (song), entrance music of WWE wrestler, ‘MVP’

A cocktail party at the British Council, then. This one is to celebrate the successful conclusion of the 2012 StoryMoja Hay Festival. I have arrived unfashionably late. I had gone to the wrong venue. When my sister, Caroline Nderitu (Play Your Own Drum), and I used to stage productions at the British Council, at the dawn of the millennium, it was inside town, along Kenyatta Avenue. I had left Nairobi for some years – in which I wrote a couple of books and co-founded A.C.T Theatre/Film Group – and I didn’t know that the Council had since moved. I called up Moraa Gitaa (Shifting Sands) who gave me instructions to the new location in Upperhill, near the British High Commission; and even then, I had difficulty finding it in the darkness. Still, I was not the only one making a late arrival – Sitawa Namwalie (Cut off My Tongue) and others were streaming in, no-hurry-in-Africa-style, when I arrived.

So here I am, finally. There are some short speeches as the attendees are served drinks and hors-d’oveuvres. The StoryMoja founder, Muthoni Garland (Attack of the Shidas), stands humbly off to one side and doesn’t say much.

After the speeches, I do a little mingling. There are a lot of foreign visitors in attendance, like Giles Foden (The Last King of Scotland) who was the main draw during the festival. I have a chat with a really tall Welshman who tells me he is working on a novel. I take this opportunity to present him with UK comedian Rhod Gilbert’s theory that the Welsh language is killingly difficult to learn, even for natives of Wales. No, it’s not that hard, Tall Guy asserts. But, yes, it does have ‘mutations’ (The spelling of a word can change depending on context, tense etc).

The Welshman is rejoined by some effervescent British friends and they all move off. Looking across the room, I spot my friend, motivational speaker Bonnie Kim (Born Without A Choice), talking to a middle-aged mzungu woman in a flowery green sun dress. He’s smiling like a politician on the campaign trail. I join them. Bonnie introduces me as an e-book writer. The lady, who appears to have sunburn on her upper body, informs me that she also has an e-book on No, she’s not a professional writer – she works for an NGO based in Malindi at the Coast (That explains the sunburn!) As we discuss literature, and e-books in particular, she suddenly asks, to wit: ‘What is your overall objective with your books?’ I pause, an hors-d’oveuvre half-way to my mouth, and gaze at her Kazuri Beads necklace as if it is a charm that can link me to my wisdom-spouting African ancestors for answers.

I have never actually thought about this before. Writing books for me is like giving birth – I just feel there’s something big in me and eventually I have to let it out one way or another. I wrote my first novel when I was only 19. I have since engaged in every kind of writing – from scripts to poetry to web content – but I have never actually had an ‘overall objective.’ ‘I guess I just want to be remembered as one who made a major contribution to literature,’ I tell the Malindi lady, and she seems satisfied.

Even now, having had time to think about it, I believe I would still give the same answer if asked a similar question. It is part of the reason why I wrote Changing Kenya’s Literary Landscape (2012 Onwards) – a blueprint for aspiring Kenyan writers – and released it for free. And it is also my motivation for compiling this second part of a non-fiction series of ‘papers’.

This collection of essays, research material, quotes and pictures covers some of the subjects that I either skimped on or didn’t address at all in the first volume of the series – things like political literature, humour writing, the live theatre business (locally and internationally) and deaths of authors. I trust that university students/lecturers, journalists, researchers, publishers and writers from all walks of life will find something of value here.

As with Changing Kenya’s Literary Landscape (2012 Onwards), this material is issued for educational purposes and has been released free of charge (for 1 year – future downloaders will have to pay). After reading my first research paper on Kenyan literature, many people asked me why I didn’t publish the material in book form or at least sell it instead of giving it away. Understand this: it is my pleasure to present you with this information. I enjoyed researching it, I enjoyed writing it and I hope you will enjoy reading it.

Given the enthusiastic reception of Changing Kenya’s Literary Landscape (2012 Onwards), there’s no doubt in my mind that these non-fiction documents are bringing me ever closer to achieving my dream of making a major contribution to world literature, something that will outlive me. Some people want money. Some people want power. Some people want to be loved. Me, I want to be remembered.


Name: Alex Nderitu
Profession: Author/Script Writer/IT expert
Country of Origin: Kenya
Books: When the Whirlwind Passes, Kiss Commander Promise, The Moon is Made of Green Cheese, Africa on My Mind
Papers: Changing Kenya’s Literary Landscape (2012 Onwards), Journalism Under Fire!, Changing Kenya’s Literary Landscape 2: Past, Present & Future
Movements: The E-book revolution, PEN International
Career: Social Media Consultant at Office of Public Communications, Editor at Matatu Today magazine, Founder/CEO of Websoft Interactive, Website Designer, Author of Africa’s first digital novel


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