So I have a confession to make. I have not read much Kenyan Literature. I grew up an avid reader, getting my hands on everything from James Patterson, to Jodi Picoult, to Jefferey Archer, Francis Rivers, and so many others. I even did some Shakespeare and fell in love with it, the whole “To be or not to be.”
Only recently did I start to develop an interest in what my country had to offer when it comes to the art of expressing stories through the written word. The reason being, I gave it a chance. Before I actually took the time to sit down and read a couple of books by Kenyan author I had the wrong mentality. I felt like it probably won’t be as interesting if it is written by a Kenyan, also the book length is quite small compared to other novels. Lastly I thought that Kenyan books are only meant to be set books in school; they probably have no other purpose.
This was an extremely negative view of local literature, considering the fact that I myself wanted to be a writer of novels in the future. So I decided, finally to give it a try and I read a book written by a young Kenyan author that I finished in one sitting. The book was a fantasy and I absolutely loved it because it changed my whole thought system. I’m not saying that now after reading I don’t think we can do better. In fact just the opposite, I am saying we have the potential to be amazing in Literature.
I believe the Arts are making so much headway in this generation and with that it is easy to see that there is so much talent just waiting for a chance to be unleashed into the unsuspecting world. When it comes to Literature, I personally have met quite a number of extremely gifted writers, and it’s so good to know that I’m not alone in that world! *Power to the writing community*
Though there are very many things I am surprised by how well we are doing, there is still as in any situation, room for improvement. I’ve come up with a list of pros and cons in the Kenyan Literature department that I personally think would help us achieve great strides in moving forward.
• Talent. As I mentioned earlier lack of talent is not the issue. There are a bunch of gifted writers out there, growing in their art.
• Authenticity. Kenya’s literature is dare I say, authentic and unique to our culture just as Nollywood would be to Nigeria.
• Relatable. the content of most Kenyan literature is relatable to the specific people it was written for, Kenyans.
• Creativity. We do not fail for lack of ideas. I mean Kenyans are a smart people and full of creative suggestions; especially when it comes to storytelling as that is part of the essence of our culture. Myths and legends have been intertwined into who we are! Just ask your grandmother where your people originated from, I can bet you 1,000 shillings there would be a story there.
• Local Appreciation. I do not believe all Kenyans are like me, getting a late start on the literature of local authors. I actually think a lot of Kenyan people appreciate the process, the work, and the authors
• Not international/ small marketing pool. I guess this is one of the biggest reasons I feel Kenyan Literature is left behind. Even though, the specific audience may be the local people, there should be room to build an international audience. I mean if we are reading books written by people half way across the world, why shouldn’t people halfway across the world be reading books written by Kenyans?
• Poor Publishing. I have talked to a few accredited authors who have stated that publishing can be a nightmare. First of if you don’t have an agent, or you don’t know the first thing about bargaining for what you deserve it is easy to get ripped off, or be left with all the hard work. There are a few publishing houses that are doing us proud though.
• Bad Marketing. A small evaluation on how many people knew, growing up when the next Ngugi WA Thiongo book was coming out? Yet you probably knew immediately the Twilight series were in store. It should not be the case that an author has to walk around with a bunch of his/her books in their bag trying to sell them; instead those are the books that should be dominating the shelves in book stores.
• Read More! It has been said that if you want to keep something a secret from an African, hide it in a book… That is a mindset we must grow out of, in order for the Literature community to grow, the readership must grow massively as well! Support our writers by reading their books!
• Take risks! Before I had mentioned that Kenyans are creative, and that is completely true when it comes to content. It is, however another matter when it comes to execution. Literature writers cannot afford to be afraid to take risks, be creative in building up yourself and selling your ideas to the rest of the world.
• Building up a name! This is the last one I shall mention, it is extremely important that in order for Kenyan Literature to grow, Kenyan writers must build up a name for themselves. Even if it means giving some of your work to the public at the start for free. People cannot be blamed for what they do not know, make sure they know you!
All in all, I think the future is bright and it may just be a new dawn in showing the world that Kenyan Literature may be a force to be reckoned with!
Shingai is an upcoming writer with a passion for words and expression through writing. She lived in Zimbabwe as a child and has traveled to over ten countries. She craves adventure and hopes to be an inspirational writer. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with a minor in Psychology at Daystar University.