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Curtains fall on UoN literature scholar Wanjala

Seth Onyango @SethManex

Renowned literature scholar and author Prof Chris Wanjala passed on yesterday, aged 75. The University of Nairobi (UoN) lecturer died at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret where he was receiving treatment for stomach and chest complications. Wanjala made a significant mark in the country’s academic field.

His son Dr Alex Wanjala, also a literature lecturer at UoN, told a local daily his father had attended a funeral at the weekend in his ancestral home village of Chesamisi in Bungoma county before he was taken ill.

“After the funeral, he went back to his home in Lwandeti village and he was taken ill at home. He was rushed to a hospital in Eldoret where they gave some emergency treatment and he was quite stable throughout the day. And the doctors said they would keep him there for two or three days as they carried out tests,” he said.

Prof Wanjala is credited with promoting literacy and reading culture in the country, especially during his stint as the chairperson of the National Book Development Council of Kenya.

He was also at the forefront in promoting and inking books that catered for the needs of the youth when he was among organisers of the Burt Award for African Young Adult Literature, a regional literary prize that recognises excellence in young adult fiction from Tanzanian, Ethiopian, Ghanaian and Kenyan writers.

Prof Wanjala has also written several books, among them  Memories We Lost an anthology of short stories which was approved and adopted as one of the high school set books by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development.

He was also a columnist, with various articles published by a local newspaper. He also hosted popular literary programmes on radio and television such as Literary Giants, Books and Bookmen and the Chris Wanjala Show.

In his last interview with the Parents, a monthly magazine, Prof Wanjala opened up about his upbringing, saying it was marked by family gatherings that involved storytelling sessions, especially of the community’s heroes. In addition, some of his family members were avid book lovers and this rubbed off on him from an early age.

 “My grandfather was a ritual performer and one of my most vivid memories of him was his performance of a ritual dubbed kumuse, a traditional ceremony performed three days after the death of a senior citizen in the village. Part of the ceremony included reliving, through drama, the history of the entire tribe.

The performance incorporated lots of proverbs and moral tales. As a young boy, I would accompany my grandfather as he performed this ritual and greatly admired his oratory skills,” he said.

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