Celebrating East African Writing!
How did I get to attend the Hay Festival in Wales this year? I work for a publishing company in Nairobi called Storymoja (this is a Swahili term meaning ‘one story’). The company has been in operation in Nairobi since 2006, mainly publishing children’s books that aim to teach life skills to the next generation of Kenyans. We have also published books for adults in leadership development, poetry and life skills training, among other genres. There exists an annual Hay Festival in Nairobi, which runs for 4 days every September. Each year, a member of the Storymoja family is sent to experience the ‘parent’ event and that is how I got here.
The Storymoja Hay Festival is a four day international celebration of ideas, stories, writing and culture through books, live discussions, storytelling, skits, music, demonstrations, workshops, open-mic sessions, debates, exhibitions, live performances and competitions. This year’s festival will be the fifth event of its kind, and will be held at the Nairobi National Museum from the 19th to the 22nd of September. Feel free to join us if you will be in Nairobi.
Over the years, the Storymoja Hay Festival has grown from 500 visitors in 2008, (as the Nyama Choma Fiesta), to over 5000 attendees in 2012 – a diverse mix of young professionals, upper and middle class families, school children and university students. The festival has proudly featured over 300 international and local talents including:
Pulitzer Prize winning Poet – Yusef Komunyakaa
Booker Prize winning author from Nigeria – Ben Okri
Renowned conservationist Dr. Paula Kahumbu
Director of UNEP – Achim Stein
But these statistics pale in comparison to what I have seen at the Hay Festival over the past few days. The UK festival is held in Wales in a small town called Hay-on-Wye; nowhere near the capital city. The festival runs for 10 days and features over 500 events at the festival site and many others in other locations around the small town. It’s exciting to see the whole town come alive with colour and cheer during the festival period. The Hay Festival features world-renowned authors who travel from far and wide to come give a 45 minute or one hour talk accompanied with long queues of book signing. Among the authors who have attended the festival this year are Quentin Blake, John Snow, Carl Bernstein, Michael Vaughan, Andy McNabb, Sophie McKenzie, and AC Grayling. Last year, the festival had approximately 100,000 guests attending and sold over 205,000 tickets for their events. It is a massive literature and arts festival compared to the one in Nairobi.
To put the two festivals in perspective, it’s worth mentioning that the UK Hay Festival is holding its 26th event this year. Therefore, we at Storymoja look forward to continual growth as the UK festival portrays the magnitude to which we are able to grow in the near future.