Celebrating East African Writing!
Urban: of, relating to, characteristic of, or constituting a city
Urban fiction: a literary genre set, as the name implies, in a city landscape; however, the genre is as much defined by the race and culture of its characters as the urban setting.
The premise of this genre of writing is based on the fact that anyone outside of the culture depicted cannot accurately describe the people, settings, and events experienced by people in that culture.
In the case of Kenya, my description of the little town I grew up in (not so little now), will tend to be a lot more accurate than the description done by someone who visited it once on a holiday weekend. I know a bit more of the history of the town, more intimate with the landscape, understand a little more the motivations, concerns and hopes of the people who live there.
In the same way, having passed through Langata Road, and peering over the tin roof tops of the largest slum in East Africa, hardly qualifies me to write urban fiction based in Kibera. I’d have to be more connected to Kibera, to know what it’s like to walk home along a path lighted up alternatively by tin korobois and yellow bulbs lit up by badly connected power lines, to know what it’s like to wake up to the sounds of my neighbours getting ready to go to work, to know what it’s like to live, to love and to laugh surrounded by what everyone else on the outside describes as poverty and misery, but which to me; is my life.
But urban fiction is not limited to the dark, the poor and the ugly. The people dominating the urban culture today are young, trying to get set up in their jobs, negotiate a fast changing social scene, find life mates and build families, and that is a whole minefield of stories.
In the US, urban fiction was born out of the need to describe the life of African Americans in hard gritty urban settings. Those stories tended to be very dark and hardly shy; sex, violence and crime would likely be described in detail.
Over the years, however, the genre has evolved, allowing for more latitude, so the writer can include the changing scene of African American life. More and more African-Americans are going into the corporate world, succeeding in science and so on, but they are still in a way linked to the culture that raised the original urban fiction.
I had a look at what is available out there in terms of urban fiction. I came across a few stories of worth.
You might be familiar with this one. My Life in Crime by John Kiriamiti – this 1980 Kenyan thriller kept many glued to the pages.
The Chance She Took by Kole Black published 2007 is a more recent and quite amazing story about a young woman who becomes the first in her family to get a college education. Unfortunately a few crazy chances she took in her youth threaten to destroy her success, end her relationship with a man she loves and bring a tragic end to her life.
The Coldest Winter Ever by Sistah Souljah, an author who became quite a favourite with young Kenyan women in the past few years, is another urban story. It is the story of Winter Santiaga (aptly named because she was born during one of New York’s worst snowstorms), the rebellious, pampered teenage daughter of a notorious drug dealer.
Ricky Santiaga, Winter’s father, has attained substantial wealth through his illegal drug empire and lavishes his wife, Winter, and Winter’s three younger sisters, Porsche, Lexus, and Mercedes, with the best things money can (and cannot) buy. Unknown to her father, Winter uses his hustling tricks to get whatever she wants. Winter’s world is turned upside down on her 16th birthday, when her father suddenly decides to relocate his family and his growing business to Long Island, then her mother is shot and her father arrested. Her sisters end up in foster care but she manages to escape this and instead goes to live with a man. Well, you can see where the story is going….
The Tale of Kasaya by Eva Kasaya would also qualify as urban fiction.
“Tales of Kasaya by Eva Kasaya invites the reader to see poverty as the author experienced it. Her vantage point, an insider looking out, is utterly different from any sort of poverty literature that circulates in the press or academia. She asks the reader to accompany her through her youth, first as a girl growing up in Kerongo and later as an oft-abused house help in Nairobi.” [Review by Andrew Doughman in East African Standard]
Next week, we will have a look at short urban fiction and the rules to making it work.
Now, let’s have a look at what you submitted this week.
Read, vote and comment about how much these stories fit into the urban fiction category. Have fun while you are at it!
|Next Week, the genre I will be looking for is Kenyan Romance. Not in the way of Mills & Boon and Harlequin. Not High School Romance. Capture one moment, difficult moments, happy moments, and weird moments in the cycle of the Kenyan dating scene. You decide how mushy or how real it will be. Word Limit 1600 words. Send in to firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday 16th January 2010 at 4pm. This is a bit short notice, so if you find that you cannot make it in time, try and send in one of your other pieces that is closest to the topic. No Prizes this month due to the short notice. But you never know, I might just be able to buy you airtime from my pocket if you impress me!|
Have a great week!