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Keeping African writers’ torch aflame

What came first, poetry or writing?

Writing. But before I started promoting it as I am doing now, I got into spoken word to introduce myself to the audience, to see what people respond to and value. I wanted to develop a conscious voice alongside my writing. It was initially a hobby, but became positively full time in 2007.

In your experience as a literary fellow with four books, what is the hardest thing in the beginning?

Catching traction; something that can be a slow uphill task, but you eventually get there. You just have to find your groove and keep pushing. It took a while to find my areas of specialty, which are African mythology and history. But once I did, everything seemed to fall in place.

Now that you’ve found your niche, what themes have you explored in your books?

Each of my books cover some of the themes given under-representation. In my poetry, I try to bring in a lot of social issues and concerns that go beyond the everyday talk of life struggles. I offer content that is educative, informative and raise the conscious level of people.

Shadow Walkers, for example, is an African Mythology while The Upcoming Spruce Street is a generational crime story. It was my first literary piece that I wrote for a competition while I was studying in Canada. It nabbed first place and was published in a newspaper.

Did you study literature?

I did a couple of courses on writing while at Fanshawe in Toronto from 2002 to 2004. I wrote for the college newspaper at Fanshawe. It helped me refine my writing.

I then worked for three years before enrolling at Humber College in the late 2008, in the same city and finished an advanced Diploma in Banking and Financial services.

I returned to Kenya in the end of 2014, and completed a degree at Catholic University of Eastern Africa in the same subject, while developing connections in the local art industry.

Has your family been supportive of your career from the word go?

They have. I grew up in a loving family in Nairobi and went to St Mary’s School. I’m a third born of four siblings and my parents have always been our supporters. They were a bit worried and thought I needed something solid before I could venture into writing and establish myself.

Back to your work, who is your target audience?

My writing is adult, so I would say 17 years and above. But I’m trying to appeal to everyone and not be exclusive. It is great to be a writer at a time when marketplace is growing.

Shadow Walkers: The Glory of Kings has been quite abuzz. What did it’s making entail?

It involved a lot of research before its publishing in 2014. With several characters from different regions, it was challenging to accord them equal balance within the story and give a background of their environment and the world they walked. It took me about nine months to write, then I had to do two edits to make sure it was balanced.

When is the last time you performed at a poetry gig?

In 2015/16 at a couple of Slam Africa contests to test the waters. I haven’t performed since then after deciding to shift gears and give all of my energy to Shadow Walkers. It’s hard to juggle writing, poetry and running my company MAKN Productions.

The likes of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o are literary stars of the golden age who are still embraced today. Do you think that they laid a great foundation for upcoming writers?

African writing began with Pan-Africanism where this golden age writers such as him and Major Mwangi set the bar. In so doing, it seemed they claimed all the space, but they haven’t fostered a new creative environment for other writers and so when you try to break into the writing scene you deal with political elements in terms of who runs the show.

That must be a tremendous hindrance?

It is. Some people may feel threatened that you are trying to upstage them as you are going up against the grain. Writing should not be about that, but about people working on finding their own voice and matching it with their stories. Another problem is the idea that only traditional stories will be accepted. These are about African struggles, slavery and crime scenes.

But these stories should be constantly told lest we forget our history?

I agree. But we are confined to a box where it’s trouble to get out of.

What are you doing on your part?

One of the things I’m working on is getting together with other writers to do a Nairobi anthology. Do stories with young writers from all over Nairobi.

You mentioned a possible upcoming comic book launch?

Yes. I’ve converted Shadow Walkers into a comic book.

Lastly, some people have stories behind their beards; what’s yours?

I kept going to the barber, but stopped to see how long it could grow. It is now part of my character.

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