Report & Essay
Kwani? 06 Editorial
In mid-2009, I requested several conversations and meetings with people who matter in the shaping of literary and creative matters at Kwani?. I wanted their support in the shaping of the new issue of Kwani?, a ‘fiction’ issue ala Kwani? 01 and 02. The last 3 issues have carried a disproportionate amount of creative non-fiction; Kwani? 05 takes non-fiction’s high road. Kwani? 01 and 02 dwell in fiction’s broader vistas.
The process of agreeing on an idea for a Kwani? issue varies. The preceding issue shouts at the editor to move in certain ways, mostly conflicting, after the fact of the current issue. Back in 2009, I felt that it was time to revisit the journal’s ’s founding premise. We announced the ‘Kenya I Live In’ short story competition in August 2009 for writers born after September 1978, the year that Daniel Arap Moi came into power. This was not an important literary cut-off date in itself; the idea came from an ominous sense that Kwani? 05 Parts 1 and 2 had failed to capture the voice of a certain generation that had been key to the events following the contested elections of 2007. September 1978 was the best fit for what we thought a new generation.
The twinning of these two belated realizations, that we suddenly needed more fiction and from a whole new space, gave birth to the idea of Kwani? 06. We did not know enough younger writers to simply exhort, plead and harass for content. And here I speak from the accusatory hindsight of belonging to an organization that many refuse to see as no more than a private club that requires membership. If there is any membership required – the only criteria required is a level of writing that the editors can agree on as of a certain standard. And of course, a regard for the work we do to want to be published in these pages. That is the only membership that we are interested in. One in which serious minded individuals can care for writing and literature without bias and execute its actualization with the right amounts of energies. We refuse to be caught in the dim headlights of other mis-visions, the mediocre keening that we as Kenyans have become excellent at – an extension to some extent from public and political life where things are said without thought to both intimidate and dismiss whoever this is directed to. And in keeping with that democratic impulse we opened up the issue to the largest possible group of creative and literary people. The call-out and its response attest to that.
We received 700 short stories, held a workshop, a retreat and announced 15 winners. Like all lists, subjectivity weighed heavily, tempered by a base-line criteria. We found stories that had a distinct voice and style. We found daring, subversive ways of looking at the ‘Kenya and “Africa” We All Live In’. There were tens of rants – short essays, letters slashing at ‘The Kenya I Live In’ to show that enough people care about these matters. Others ignored the ’78 cut-off and called us ‘age-ist’ on our website. I asked each of these individuals to submit a story directly to me and never heard from them again.
African literary competitions like the Commonwealth Prize and the Caine Prize continue to have a huge Nigerian and South African response. This is also anecdotally true of literary success in the diaspora. The Kenyan fiction we have collected is measured against writing from the continent and the African diaspora. There are 32 stories in this issue that are balanced on this idea.
The winning story in the ‘Kenya I Live In’ competition, Farah Aideed Goes To Gulf War by Mehul Gohil is a dystopic paean that explodes our obsessions with mono-Kenyan identity and binary understanding of Nairobi (Nairobbery vs Green City In The Sun) into a huge chessboard patchwork of lives. The runners up and second runners up, respectively, All In The Family by Brenda Mukami and The Activist by Wilson Wahome are interrogations of national political culture through dysfunctional families. Chicken by Benjamin Ikaal is a fable of political dynamics through the eyes of that domestic bird. Fowl play, indeed. Baboon House by Waigwa Ndiangui is a bleak apocalyptic look at a family in Nakuru threatened by a troop of baboons. ‘Africa’ is strongly represented by Nigeria, Uganda, Somalia, Ghana, South Africa and Cameroun. Earthling by Diriye Osman, Demonstrations Of Craziness by Akenji Ndumu and Three Levels Of Elevation by Michael Akiyo Asaja give the Kenyan stories a serious run for their money. Poetry compiled by Stephen Partington and Ngwatilo Mawiyoo mirrors the prose.
This process has run parallel to a larger narrative writing exercise in Kenya – The Constitution. I see these stories as a tiny appendage upon which that document rests.
A while back, a literary academic and astute observer of Kenya asked me how anyone ever lets us do what we do. This was asked in an amazement that came from a deep insight into the Kenyan ecosystem. I answered that we were very lucky. And so once again, our luck holds. We are privileged to make another issue of Kwani? happen. And there are countless people to thank for this. But first and foremost we thank all those creative minds who responded to our call in Kenya and in the continent. And who trusted us enough with their literary gems to make this issue. These are the leading orchestral voices in this collection of Kenya’s best contemporary new writing, if not Africa’s. We also thank 5 individuals who branded these stories with their various expertise: the 5 judges who spent tireless hours sifting through a long list of stories: Doreen Baingana, Parselelo Kantai, Dr Wambui Mwangi, Kwamchetsi Makokha and Dr Tom Odhiambo. To Mazza Lenjo, thank you for the visual direction to this collective creativity. I acknowledge you once again after Kwani? 04 and two issues of Kwani?! . Much Love … To Keguro Macharia, for his painstaking care in all these texts. For making this happen, I thank my three fellow editorial colleagues: David Kaiza , Renee Mboya and Crystal Ading. And to Angela Wachuka for ensuring that the institutional support for such an endeavour is possible.
To all of you Asante,
Kwani Trust Managing Editor
Click here to listen to one of the judges talk about some of the stories mentioned above