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Sabbath Day – Kenya

April 14, 2016

“Why, when all odds  are against our thriving, do we move with so much resolution?”

Binyavanga Wainaina, Kenya


This sentence glows, in an essay of glowing prose by award winning African writer Binyavanga Wainaina (pictured above). The essay is an extract from his award winning book Discovering Home that appears in The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing. Wainaina is the editor of Kwani, a Nairobi-based literary magazine at the heart of the the Kenyan literary scene, and Discovering Home charts the authors literary and physical journey toward place.

In another essay in the anthology, Ngūgī wa Thiong’o (pictured below) described the birthday celebration of the fictional(?) dictator of a fictional African nation. In folkloric fashion, various advisors undergo european plastic surgery to exaggerate parts of their bodies to better serve the dictator: one get unusually large eyes to better “see” the needs of the people [or the ruler]; another get “ears like rabbit” to better “hear” the truth [and potential dissent from the ruler’s rule]. This is from the first new work by Thiong’o in more than 20 years. Thiong’o has won numerous awards, including the Man Booker Prize, for his writing and has been considered a likely candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. As a result of his controversial approach to theater, he spent a year incarcerated as a prison of conscience in 1977 and was subsequently exiled.

Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o

The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry contains eleven poems by six Kenyan poets, including another prison of conscience, Maina wa Kinyatti. Kinyatti (pictured below), is the winner of the PEN Freedom to Write award in 1988, having spent six and a half years as a prisoner of conscience in 1983. Like so much Kenyan literature, including the authors above, Kinyatti’s poetry is shaped by the post-colonial struggles in general and the dictatorship of Daniel Arap Moi in particular.


Micere Githae Mugo (also below), another contributor the Penguin Anthology, was detained and exiled in 1982 by Moi. She has previously co-authored a play with Thiong’o, and has subsequently been named among the 100 most influential people in both century Kenyan history.


I was not familiar with any of these authors, and was unlikely to read them but for my commitment to use my Sabbath Days to read multi-national literature. I am grateful for each serendipity and surprise this commitment has brought, as well as the broadening of my sense of history, geography, and social justice.

This is my second post today. I slept in today, and read Yemeni poetry with my first cups of coffee before writing my first post.. The second half of this Sabbath day was spent with my son, who was home sick from school. We spent time playing quietly, invented board games, read folklore, ate pasta, wrestled and watched a movie.



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