READERS CORNER: Read widely to sharpen your writing skills, pull audience (Daily Nation (Kenya))

Writing, regardless of the genre, entails story telling. To be a good writer therefore, one has to master the art of storytelling.

In this age that lacks grannies and aunts with the luxury of time to plant the golden seed of oral art in us, books remain the straight answer to all our creativity questions. In fact, to increase the chances of carrying a writing career dream to fruition, a budding writer must set all his heart on telling the story in the best way possible.

And to be a master story teller, one has to read widely. There is no crime in a writer drawing inspiration from other writers provided he does not duplicate other writers works.

Vast reading will ease the feelings of frustration budding writers have been forced to contend with whenever their ‘masterpieces’ are rejected by publishers as they do in most cases.

Besides, reading what other people have published does not kill a writer’s spirit but fuels his dreams to be a prolific writer.

In my case for example, the number of articles I have written that were never published is a subject that only the editor of this page and I can best talk about.

My experience, to say the least, has however endeared me to the works of Vivere Nandiemo, a regular writer in these newspaper. I have consequently followed his internet trails and consumed all his articles with a third eye – an eye trained on finding out why he has so many publications to his name. I hail him for exuding a really rare confidence with his pen.

Reading Biko Zulu, who has lately been a feature in the conversations in this page, any budding writer would easily tell how far he still is from or how close he is to being an accomplished writer. Interestingly, even Biko himself in his article, ‘This book causes a hangover’ professes his appetite for good books.

In the article, he treats us to a list of some of the memorable books he has read and the memories the books left him with – in the form of the characters, when he started reading which book, where he finished reading it and the feelings after reading.

The long and short of all this is that, for one to get a space in the writers’ hall of fame, one must read as many books as possible.

Literature practitioners, from the lowest to the highest levels, must lead the pack when it comes to reading. It’s absurd to have high school literature teachers whose only source of analyses is a guide book. It’s even tragic to have a literature lecturer who has only read Francis Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City and consequently has not a single book title to his name.

A lecturer or teacher who has read widely anchors his arguments in a variety of sources and in the process whets the reading appetite of his learners. Such learners are highly likely to take the cue from their teachers to read and become good writers in future. This way, the students will also enjoy the same level of authority and confidence as their teacher.

It’s only when we read widely that we will tell our stories differently. The literary gurus opine that one who reads what everyone reads, tells the same stories as every other person.

Let’s go an extra mile. Let us read widely and build a rich and strong word bank which is the best war chest one requires in a highly competitive literary battlefield.

I rest my case.

The writer is based in Migori


Ngugi should help Kenya address many other challenges chocking the country

Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s recent address at Kisii University and witnessing the opening of the refurbished Kenya National Theatre were highlights of his latest visit to Kenya. However, just how significant has his presence been to the country?

For starters, Ngugi is a monument on the Kenyan social landscape on at least four accounts: He has a legacy of creative works. He has also kept the literary discourse alive by originating notions and propositions which he has gone on to defend sustainably. He is also promoting use of African indigenous languages, even for creative writing. In an earlier visit, he urged the State to ensure teachers do not punish learners for using their mother tongues in school.

Ngugi has gone down history as having suffered State harassment in the course of his literary practice. He used literature to fight ills such as dictatorship and inequality. His play ‘Ngaahika Ndeenda’ cannot be forgotten in this regard.

Then, needless to say, Ngugi is a major personality in the history of Kenyan written literature. Ciugu Mwagiru’s article, ‘They put Kenya on the world map, so why the hatred?’ (Saturday Nation, August 22, 2015), reminds us of this history.

Mwagiru talks about white settler authors Karen Blixen, Elspeth Huxley and Mirella Ricciardi. Ngugi led an attack on these authors, terming them racists. Ngugi has always fought colonial domination of Kenya.

Ngugi started fighting dictatorship and other ills perpetrated by the leaders. This would land him in detention and later exile. Ngugi is making his way back to his motherland, about which he recently noted, I am happy with the changes going on in the country and the democratic space existing in Kenya’s politics.”

While what he said sounds fine, Kenya today has other serious challenges, including corruption and tribalism. National cohesion is far from being achieved. This, in particular, is a subject no one wants to touch on, for to do so would be to poke the soft underbelly.

A student leader at Kisii University who spoke before Ngugi’s visit on August 31 was spot on: Ngugi has mingled with people from all walks of life and we think he can help address tribalism in our institutions.”

We are a democracy. We are free to say what we want without fear. However, what ought to be done to address these challenges must be done.

Writers exist to push certain collective social agenda. Things are not all right in our nation. A lot is yet to be done. Thus, for Ngugi’s latter-day contribution to have greater impetus, he ought to embrace the spirit of our time, the spirit of displeasure at the myriad ills of this time.

The writer is the president of Alyp Writers Organisation and author of the Masterpiece English series


Tough choices facing Kenya’s budding creative writers today

Timothy Muchunku

A number of contributors in the forum have been urging upcoming writers to up their game. However, most of them don’t seem to understand the challenges most budding writers are faced with. Some of them have manuscripts of creative works but don’t know what to do with them.

Some of the contributors have given these writers several options including self-publishing, e-book platforms and networking.

There are those who feel the writers can succeed on their own as long as they have the necessary skills to produce quality work. The other group believes writers cannot achieve much on their own as they require some players such as publishers. Yet another group has expressed reservations with some of these options.

And so, the question has always been: which path should the young writers follow? My take in this case is that it all depends on the writer’s background. Those with finances can attempt to go it alone without necessarily relying on networks of other writers or publishers who in most cases have ignored young writers.

However, those from humble backgrounds must have the necessary networks to succeed as they await a publisher who is willing to risk printing a fictive tale that would not sell.

Thus, we need to seriously think about the fate of creative writers in Kenya. Whether a writer will opt for self-publishing or publishing through a firm, both have their own challenges. It is possible for someone’s writing talent to die due to lack of a willing publisher.


Young authors deserve a chance to publish

Makhulo wa Makhulo

One of the challenges facing upcoming authors is opportunities to publish their works. Most publishing firms are rarely willing to engage young writers whose works they consider a risk. Thus, preference is given to the more established writers.

Publishing firms are guided by capitalistic principles where they assume publishing the works of established authors is sure to fetch them good returns. Yet by so doing, we end up killing young talent.

Sometimes, publishers would hold onto the manuscripts of the upcoming writers for too long at times exposing them to theft.

We have heard of the many cases where even the established authors have stolen the ideas of the young writers. Time has come for the young writers to be given the opportunity to publish their works. We will need them when the so-called established authors are long gone.


There’s hope for poetry as stars emerge

Michael Macharia

A visit to any traditional publisher would make any young poet want to quit. The excuse has been poetry doesn’t sell.

However, it is encouraging many young poets have chosen to continue writing and performing rather than lament. They are so many, it would be hard to list them.

Many people enjoy listening to music in languages they do not even understand yet they go on perpetuating the myth that poetry is hard to grasp.

David Cook and David Rubadiri from England and Malawi respectfully, put together Poems From East Africa in the 70s which are still used in our schools. Anthologies such as Boundless Voices and Echoes across the Valley, meaning there is a market for poetry.

The social media gives young poets a window to be heard without midwifery by publishers who decide what should be printed and readers are free to judge the quality.

It is a revolution. Last year, a Kenya won the Babishai Poetry competition organized by Mamushika Besigye in Uganda.

The writer is based in Laikipia


Students can perform well in literature

We blame teachers when students perform poorly in literature. However, this should not be the case as many factors are normally at play. For instance, students don’t read as much these days and this impacts.

Reading skills should be developed from an early age. However, it’s never late to start and teachers have a great role to instil a reading culture in students.

We should also emphasise on imaginative writing which can sharpen students’ writing skills. Students should be guided to grow their skills by teaching them on proper use of English, including sentence structure.

We must reignite a reading culture in students. Teacher, parents and mentors should recommend books students can read. Some of these books should be given as holiday assignments after which the students should write short summaries and lists of vocabularies they have encountered in their course of reading.

Students should also be introduced to newspaper to get in touch with current affairs


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