Kenya’s Book Culture
The book culture in Kenya is slowly but surely picking up. A weekly magazine in the capital, Nairobi, known as ‘Lifestyle’ diligently and religiously features the newest and the oldest authors, books launches about town, tips on writing about Africa for Africans. It also writes about topics such as open-mic sessions and peaks into the hip-hop culture that has its roots richly embedded in a good number of the youth of Nairobi and of Kenya as a whole.
Kwani Trust, a Grantee of the Ford Foundation, takes the lead in most of the activities that embody Kenyan and African Literature in general. Kwani Trust hosts open mic sessions on the first Saturday of every month at Nairobi’s Das Ethiopian Restaurant giving young and upcoming poets a chance to showcase their creativity and their general artistic talent.
It supports high school and university poetry and short-story writing by sponsoring events such as the Black History Month of the United States International University and it is the publisher of ‘Kwani?’ which features local stories told by Kenyan and African writers. Its editor is Binyavanga Wainaina and featured authors include Kenya’s Tony Mochama, Andia Kisia and Paul Goldsmith, and Gado, a famous Kenyan cartoonist.
International poets of the spoken word who continue to grace the field through Kwani include Imani Woomera. ‘Kwani?’ is always on the lookout for that new voice and that interesting story to give the reading culture in Kenya and in Africa an unforgettable rebirth.
And this rebirth would be very much beneficial to young Kenyan and African writers seeking to make a difference even to just a few individuals through the written word, to Kenya as a country and to Africa, looking at the larger picture. The culture of Africans as a people, will for instance, be known far and wide, their traditions, their art and their music will cross borders and their hospitality will see to it that peace is enhanced for the sake of development in all of its fronts. A story is told, in the Lifestyle Magazine, for example, of a gesture of kindness by one of the Maasai community that was celebrated at a book festival in Washington D.C in the United States of America.
This Maasai warrior led his villagers in the taking of a consolation price of fourteen cows to America after a terrorist attack. As a result of his gesture, Wilson Kimei Naiyomah has been around the world speaking to multitudes of children about the Maasai community. Such stories need to be told anew for posterity and what better way to tell of brevity, kindness and selflessness to the new generations than through a published book doing its rounds far and wide.
Book festivals in Nairobi are held periodically for the sake of uniting African and international authors. They are sometimes specific to age groups and they include the Pan-African Children’s Book Fair, the Nairobi International Book Fair and the Kenyan Chapter of the Frankfurt Book Fair, and they are sometimes incorporated into interesting events such as road shows and cocktail parties. Bookshops in Kenya with works of African authors include Book point in the Central Business District, Savani’s Book Centre Limited, Karen Books and Gifts, Keswick Bookshop on Standard Street and Books First that has also enabled online purchases.
With Kenya it’s not just about the plains, the ridges and the wildlife- it’s also about the voice of the African child- come listen to it, come showcase your own work and be appreciated the way only Kenyans can.