- 2016/2017 apexart New York City (NYC) Fellow
- 2014 Winner Burt Award for African Literature, Kenya Chapter
- 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing nominee
- Ist Prize, Adult Fiction Category – NBDCK Literary Awards, September 2008 Book Week
Literary Crossroads in Nairobi Hosts Kenyan & Nigerian Writers
- Written by Moraa Gitaa
Created: 02 May 2016
The panel from left: Professor Elizabeth Orchardson-Mazrui, moderator Khainga O’Okwemba and Ambassador Ifeoma Akabogu-Chinwuba
- Conversations with African Writers. This is a new series of talks hosted at Goethe centres in three African cities which brings together African writers on the continent and from the diaspora. At these events in Nairobi, Lagos and Johannesburg, the writers discuss contemporary issues prevalent in their literatures today.
On Thursday, it was Nairobi’s turn to host the series and it was organised as a collaboration between PEN Kenya and Goethe Institut. Featured authors were Ifeoma Akabogu-Chinwuba and Elizabeth Orchardson-Mazrui. The conversation was moderated by Kenyan poet and journalist, Khainga O’Okwemba who is also PEN Kenya Centre’s President. Professor Elizabeth Orchardson-Mazrui was until March last year when she retired, a professor of Fine Art & Design at Kenyatta University and a well-known fine artist. She has several books among them Sheila Lets Write to God, Seasons of the Jacarandas, Nzinga: The Warrior Queen, Bitter Sweet a poetry collection and The Adventures of Mekatilili. She writes both for adults and children. More about her: . On the other hand, Ambassador Ifeoma Akabogu-Chinwuba is apart from being a prolific writer also a career diplomat and is currently ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire. As a writer her treatises include novels and an anthology of poetry titled .
The evening begun with an introduction by Goethe Institut’s Eliphas Nyamogo, Followed by a short history from Khainga on how he came to meet Ambassador Akabogu-Chinwuba on one of his trips to Cairo at a PEN conference organised and funded by Egypt's Supreme Council of Culture of the Ministry of Culture, and the subsequent invite proffered to her by the Goethe Institut to appear on Literary Crossroads. A moment of silence was observed to honour Kenyan writers who have recently passed on like Grace Ogot, Marjorie Oludhe MacGoye and Asenath Bole Odaga. Remembered in this moment also was Goethe Institut’s director of Cote d’Ivoire Henrike Grohs who perished in the recent terror attack at the Grand Bassam.
The panelists discussed their work in a conversation with the moderator. I have read almost all of Prof Orchardson-Mazrui’s books and I have to say she wields the pen with dexterity as much as she does her paintbrush. She spoke about several of her books and particularly talked about her PhD Thesis ground-breaking book on the Mijikenda history and culture which inspired her to write a children’s book on the Mijikenda woman freedom fighter Mekatilili wa Menza titled The Ambassador on the other hand spoke mostly about how she was inspired while working as a consular officer in Italy to write which tackles human trafficking. She talked of how she met young African girls in Italy who were involved in prostitution and their tales inspired her to document their woes, and in particular how most of them would not even keep their earnings at the end of the day but would be forced to hand over the money to the madams who run the brothels. Earlier in the day the Ambassador had been at the University of Nairobi talking to literature students.
Prof Mazrui averred that there are still many untold women stories while Ambassador Chinwuba said that more narratives are still needed to counter the 'dark continent' one. Excerpts were read from works of both authors. There was a Q & A where most of the questions from the audience wanted to find out how the two authors went about their research. The evening ended with short speeches from Muthoni Likimani patron of PEN Kenya who at 90 years is still writing and said she came to listen to the Ambassador as she is also currently writing a novel on human trafficking - is that inspiration or what?! Other speeches were from Prof Chris Wanjala of University of Nairobi who is also chair of PEN Kenya’s Linguistics & Translations Committee and publisher Dr Matunda Nyanchama, There was a poetry performance by Tony Mochama who is PEN Kenya Secretary General, known for his spontaneous creativity and a traditional Dholuo song by Evelyne Ongogo a poet and teacher from Kisumu county.
It was a full house and as Vice President of Pen Kenya I was encouraged by the good turnout despite the heavy traffic jams experienced in the city.
Part of the audience
Images Courtesy of James Murua - http://jamesmurua.com/