John O Ndavula: Lily Mabura stands out for me as a short story writer and academic. She is well known for her story ‘How Shall We Kill the Bishop’, which was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2010. Her work is suspenseful, witty and experimental. She pushes the reader’s imagination almost to the brink.
JON: I write short stories, children’s stories and poems. Reading the works of other African writers like Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o made me think about my responsibility in the society as a writer. I write stories that make readers reflect more about their society.
JON: ‘Chicken Run’ attempts to capture events surrounding the 2007/08 post-election violence in Kenya. My home town, Turbo, was worst hit by the violence. Events in the story could have happened to anyone who survived the violence. So, the story is a combination of my observation and imagination. As a writer I try to distance myself from events as the happened by taking on a fictional character and letting my mind wander.
JON: Kikwetu was founded as a response to established journals which tended to exclude emerging and promising writers from East Africa. Our model was to mentor emerging writers and giving them space to publish. Christine Mwai, Micheal Don and I founded the journal. Our experience has revealed that there is a lot of promise from East Africa. Writers need just a little mentoring to make their stories tick.
Some East African writers, with links to their recent stories:
- Ruth Kenya – Only Good Christian Girls Live Here
- P. Ochieng Ochieng – Juicy Zambaraos
- Lutivin Majanja – Moriot
- Lily Mabura – How Shall We Kill the Bishop?
- Doreen Baingana – Tuk-Tuk Trail to Suya and Stars
- Makena Onjerika – Fanta Blackcurrant
JON: I write in both Kiswahili and English. My experience, however, is limited to writing Kiswahili poetry. I find that there are certain ideas that lend themselves well to one language rather than the other. This makes translation a daunting task because nuances of meaning get lost. For example, there are lots of assumptions regarding context when writing in Kiswahili. When translating such a story, we may fall in the trap of explaining contextual issues instead of letting the narrative flow.
Catching CloudsWater color clouds collect over the horizon. I ride my bike, with a tailwind urging on, to catch the clouds before they form and fall as rain on the green and me. I peddle through pines and find the country road dusty, when the hills tease me I stop to rest where sunbeams peek among sagging branches where unseen twigs snap thinly. I work the bike to a hill’s brow that opens up to distant blue lands, when I turn the rain clouds I set out to catch are way behind me.
JON: The book is the first scholarly book in Kenya to explore the relationship between digital networking sites and contemporary Kenyan politics. Digital communication is an emerging area in communications and it has so far received very little contextual scholarship, especially from developing countries. As a writer, it is exciting to contribute to this emerging area in communication studies. Fiction and academic writing are two different ball games. The first requires an active imagination while the other rigorous academic research. However, writing simply involves working with words, and writing skills are transferable across genres.
JON: We had access to very few children story books growing up. Blue Flowers was one of the few books I read as a child. Sometimes I would read books like Cinderella and Snow White which captured experiences far removed from my reality. Blue Flowers had children characters who looked like me and played with flowers like me. That is how the book came to have such an impression on me.
JON: I live in Nairobi City where I have a full-time job. Often times I have to wake up quite early, beat the morning traffic, so that I can spend a few hours writing before the day’s activities begin. Given a choice, I would prefer to sit outdoors in the sunshine and fresh air to write.
JON: The works submitted were of a high standard and from diverse backgrounds. Writers like Binyavanga Wainaina, who won the Caine Prize in 2002, warned of the dangers of a single story from Africa. My selection aimed at providing a window into the diversity present on the continent.
John guest edited the October 2018: AFRICA issue of Flash Frontier