Recently I called on my friend-in-pen Muchira Gachenge and in our conversation, we questioned ourselves the plight of (us) budding writers in a state like Kenya. What really awaits budding writers? What is (in) their future? Are they to continue in their total orphaned state? Or will established writers, publishers and other people among them professors in university literature departments come to their rescue, by adopting them?
The use of the word ‘orphan’ to refer to budding writers befits their lone spirited fight to find relevance in a society that seems to read [only from] established writers. We’ve seen this everywhere. The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development continually selects texts by writers who have been in the business long enough to be termed old.
That’s not the problem either. The problem is that the books are re-done when there are new writings by contemporary writers.
Staying afloat as a young writer in a country where reading culture is termed poor, with the few who read preferring to read only from established writers and what such writers recommend becomes nothing short of an uphill task.
Literature Departments in universities may not be obligated to produce writers but they can help inspire and revive in writers who had long given up on writing, the spirit to start all over again.
In universities where literature dons help budding writers through weekly writing workshops held in small, manageable groups, the term orphans no longer remains appropriate.
It is such sessions that all literature departments all over the nation should undertake; sessions where a budding writer’s work-a short story, a poem, a commentary, an essay, a chapter of a novel or a scene from a play is read and critiqued. First, it is the fellow budding writers to say what they think followed by the input of the chair, the professor.
Additionally, creative writing courses should be introduced as well as writing workshops curated by members of the departments.
Yet, even if this happens, writers are not spared much for even afterwards, not many a publisher want to publish emerging writers. Most traditional publishers have fully shifted their attention to school books, for their economic viability. There is the assumption too that emerging writers produce half baked works. Getting one’s poem or short story featured in a magazine is no easy task either. This is despite reading and editing by professional editors who might have even rated a work a masterpiece.
Literature departments should be venues where publishers likely to like someone’s piece of work can be discussed.
Ideally, people write to be read. It is only when a work reaches an audience that it may serve the purpose for which it was written. So then, what purpose is writing if it can’t serve the society, which it can only do when its people read?
I was delighted when in July, The National Writers Association of Kenya and Kenya Literature Bureau sought submissions for two anthologies they are yet to publish. They did receive submissions and even sent out acknowledgement of receipt of submissions of poems and short stories. Probably there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of submissions for it was free. The question that remains unanswered is: what number will get published? Why could they not publish more, say five anthologies?
It is in this regard that I find it a necessity that literature departments all over Kenya should found their own publishing press to help budding writers publish their work. It should not stop there though. They should then link up and carry out rotational book launches and readings (in different universities or in the public). It will help writers travel across the nation launching and reading their books. They will not only market themselves but also learn a lot from these readings. Additionally, reading culture of the youth will be enhanced.
I have always looked forward to a day when a young writer’s novel or play will be selected as a set text in our secondary schools. Come to think of it, a book by a contemporary writer on contemporary subjects? Even those studying the book will be at peace studying such a book. I am not however laying claims that we should not celebrate our late authors but why not celebrate people while they are still alive?