Kariuki wa Nyamu is a Kenyan poet, radio playwright, editor, translator, and educator. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (honours) in Education, English Language, and Literature from Makerere University, Uganda. Kariuki featured in Poetry Potion 10: This woman is and is also the winner of the 2017 Babishai haiku prize. We threw a few questions his way and this is what the man had to say.
PP: Congratulations on your recent Babishai Niwe Haiku Award. Writing haiku requires the writer to be present and observant, something evident in your winning haiku. How often do you experiment with the form? Should we expect a collection of Haiku from you soon?
KwN: I’m dearly grateful for the congratulations. I must say that winning this Prize has elevated me to a literary pedestal. Well, haiku writing demands one to especially focus on extraordinary sights and sounds from nature. I’m glad you’ve appreciated my winning haiku. It was a product of literary experimentation. I can thus confidently say that I’m a versatile writer having written and published myriad poetic forms on diverse thematic paradigms. By the way, I was recently appointed Kenya’s representative and moderator of Africa Haiku Network which is run by award-winning haijins from West Africa. Africa Haiku Network is an initiative that seeks to promote African haiku [Afriku] writing across the continent. And from next year, I’ll be conducting a series of workshops on Haiku writing in schools, colleges, and universities, courtesy of AHN. I’m thus set to play an active part in training and mentoring young talents on the continent. I shall willingly spend part of the prize money that I set aside to kick-start this project. Should the world expect a collection of Haiku from me? Well, I’m afraid there is no immediate prospect of publishing my own collection of Haiku. Nevertheless, I must say that I’m currently creating more haiku that I intend to publish in myriad online journals, magazines and blogs. Later on, I’ll definitely publish a compilation of my haiku published here, there and everywhere.
PP: You co-authored a children’s collection of poems and short stories “When Children Dare to Dream”. Congratulations! Can you give us a breakdown of the book? How difficult is it to speak to a younger reader? Is there anything new that you learned during the writing process?
KwN: Thanks for appreciating. When Children Dare to Dream, which I co-authored with Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, is primarily a Children’s collection of poetry and short stories. To your wonderment, in addition to having the works of Beverley and I, it has poetic contributions from children writers aged between five and ten years. And during the book launches in Kampala‒Uganda and Nairobi‒Kenya, we watched them as they impressively recited the pieces. The adult readers of our book have also found it a meaningful read. It has thus opened room for commemoration of childhood experiences with nostalgia. That aside, I must sincerely admit that speaking to younger readers wasn’t an impediment to me since besides working as a writer and editor, I’m also a practicing schoolteacher. Each new day, I interact very well with my students and this way, I learn from them as much as they also learn from me. Majority of them are aged between thirteen and nineteen years. Anyway, the bottom-line is that it was uncomplicated for me to maneuver in wonderland. As I was writing and editing When Children Dare to Dream, I particularly learned to value children’s thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, abilities, fantasies and dreams. It’s exhilarating that the child in me had to be re-awakened.
PP: You are widely published, dabbling in radio plays, children’s literature, and poetry. Where exactly is your writing anchored? What stories are you telling or hoping to tell?
KwN: Oh, it’s humbling to realize that the world is appreciating! Thank you very much. I believe my writing is anchored in the poetic form. After all, Poetry is the mother of all genres of Literature. I trust that my short stories, radio plays, film and Television drama scripts are great due to blending poetry in them. What stories do I tell or hope to tell? My motive is to tell stories that will astutely challenge, edify, offer solace, entertain, inspire and most significantly liberate minds.
PP: What period of your life, past, present or future, informs your current writing?
KwN: I tend to think that this question can be answered best by my readers and critics whom I believe append meaning to my literary creations. But now that you’ve posed it, I’d like to assert that my current writing is informed by the past, the present and the future. All the same, it’s imperative to note that the past, present and future that I am articulating here is not necessarily mine, but that of our civilizations and socio-politics.
PP: For the most part of this year, Kenya has been undergoing an interesting political period. Where does literature feature in the current political landscape? Are Kenyan writers responding to the current political situation?
KwN: Oh, Cry, our Beloved Country! It’s quite ill-timed that my much-loved native land is at present facing political quandary. There is a lot of ethnic rivalry and aggression stemming from being affiliated to this or that political party. This is very absurd! We’re irrefutably living in hard political and economic times! In fact, I beseech Mother Africa to intercede for us. Although Things haven’t totally Fallen Apart, we’re No Longer at Ease! The gods are to Blame, We the People, are to blame too! That aside, writers here have apparently been inspired to write these interesting political situations. By the way, they’ve beforehand written about it. They’re presently writing about it. And if tomorrow will come, they’ll document this experience. Nevertheless, when all is said and done, the diverse dimensions of writing taken up by different writers are fundamentally making the current political landscape an interesting field. All in all, let’s embrace peace, love, unity and of course political tolerance. Kenya has gone through a lot. She will stand strong, again. She is God’s.
PP: How much does African writing feature in the decolonizing and healing project geared towards Africa? Who are the writers, that you have read, that are actively working towards that cause?
KwN: In my opinion, the eminent professor, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, one of the foremost authors is a key literary legend whose ideologies are much-admired world over. I not only revere him but also share his ideologies. He is a great honour to African writing. Other prolific writers actively involved in decolonising and healing of Africa include Wole Soyinka, Niyi Osundare, Jack Mapanje, Ben Okri, Micere Githae‒Mugo, Ama Ata Aidoo, Susan N. Kiguli, Mbizo Chirasha, and even those who’re no longer physically around like Ken-Saro Wiwa, Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Sembene Ousmane, Mazisi Kunene, Francis Imbuga, goodness me, the list is inexhaustible!
PP: There seems to be a vibrant renaissance sweeping across the African literary landscape, with more and more African owned publishing houses publishing more and more of our stories. What does the African story look like from where you are standing?
KwN: Wow! This is a very exciting literary trend! How I wish this vibrancy in writing and publishing would continue! After all, I believe the intent is to ensure that Africa tells her story. The African story is still a developing story so I believe there’re countless stories from Africa yet to be plotted. Interestingly, I think this ‘new’ renaissance will somehow frustrate the efforts of African writers who’d wish to be published in the West thus seemingly getting literary approval from the West. But surely, must the West commission African writing? Remember for the longest time, any thriving work of art emerging from Africa had to be endorsed by the West and as a consequence be published in the West. The whites could thus approve of African stories for publishing. In fact, in one way or the other, they could interfere with the authenticity of African stories. And before Africans set up stable publishing houses, majority of African writers could actually craft African stories for western eyes in order for their works to meet the cut. Anyway, I believe this is a thing of the past. I’m very pleased that African writers are now writing for Africans and are being published on the continent, and the great thing is that Africans are gladly purchasing and reading books authored by Africans. As we speak, the African story is more authentic and appealing thus attracting a wide readership on the continent and beyond. Good work, folks! Way to go!
PP: What Kenyan book or author would you encourage the world to read?
KwN: While there’re countless great books authored by Kenyans of different ages and backgrounds, I believe Ngugi wa Thiong’o is that author one must read. I’d like to encourage the world to interact with his works especially the novel Wizard of the Crow. Ah! This one is a classic! It’s one of the most expansive satirical allegories I have ever read from Africa!
PP: After all the published work, radio drama productions, accolades, awards, and recognition you have received, what is the next move? Where is this path leading you?
KwN: Well, I can’t assure you much about tomorrow, but I believe the future is bright. It’s an honour to have contributed a substantial amount of work in the literary spheres. It’s a joy to behold. Nonetheless, I trust that this is just the genesis. I intend to publish my own collection of poetry someday, that is, once I get a fair publisher preferably in Africa. I haven’t found one yet. Lastly but not the least, I set out to immerse myself in poetry and pen more pieces. I’m not about to become complacent.
PP: Thank you so much for taking time out to chat with us. Is there anything you would love to leave our readers with?
KwN: Oh, reading is such an evocative experience! So dear ones, read, learn, enjoy and trust me, with lots of reading, you’ll certainly be inspired to write your own work. After all, everyone has a beautiful story to tell and if you don’t tell it, no one else will. Otherwise, I’m deeply indebted to Poetry Potion for reaching me for a conversation.