Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Collins Mwai
Meeting famous and celebrate writers leaves amateur writers with mixed feelings. It shakes the ground they stand on. It is like standing next to roaring fire on a cold night. The fire shields you from the reality of the cold night. But once you step away from the fire, reality awaits. Harsh and cold reality.
Listening to accomplished writers is humbling. You feel tiny at the feet of the masters of art. You feel undeserving to take up their time. It’s probably because of the way they express ideas. Its probably because of their use of words. It is probably because of the way they choose to see things. It is probably because of how they tell stories. It is probably because You have lots of questions, few chances to ask them.
After listening to Dinaw Mengistu, you understand why no one can say boo about his hairstyle, not even those who sign his cheques. His afro just like his art is somewhat raw and unadulterated. It is unrestricted too. He can play god with words anyhow he pleases and still emerge on the ‘top 20 under 40 writers’. He is unafraid to take up pages only in description. He is unafraid to paint images with words. He is unafraid to be a writer. He lets creativity ooze out of him like water from a fountain. Mostly he doesn’t plan on what’s going to be on the next page. He just writes. He lets art speak for itself through him. Amateurs have a lesson to take to the bank from Dinaw, when they have great ideas but can barely write a paragraph of it.
Precious Williams stands at almost six feet tall and her skills stand taller. She is a tower in her own right. Precious can generate ideas and stories from almost anything. She seems to hold on to everything she does, sees or experiences. She later grinds them into a fine story. Her experiences in writing show the heights one should to climb to get to her level. Too bad if you are afraid of heights. You should also be ready to climb down any day you want to get a story from the trenches. Stories are always around you, you just have to breathe life into them.
Lemn Sissay is a man who has been through much but he doesn’t walk around with sad eyes looking for sympathy. He rarely talks about his past and when he does, he smiles through it. Lemn is loud, expressive, funny and at the same time contained. His poetry is like a language that everybody can understand. He comes off like a poetry ambassador. He draws close those captivated by poetry and those yet to be; he speaks to everyone. His works motivate, inspire, teach, challenge, mock and entertain. He makes poetry walk. Almost everything about Lemn is a lesson. From his fearlessness to his ambition to his enthusiasm. He gives a million reasons to write.
Lola Shoneyin does not write during her free time, she writes all the time. She is wholly consumed by a desire to write and share. Her life revolves around writing. No wonder she is the fine writer she is. No wonder her works are master pieces.
You choke on the writers’ humility. After getting to the heights they have, they are willing to stand in front of a room of hungry amateurs giving tips and answering unending questions.
Best of all is that you get to see they are human too. They tire, get bored, have insecurities and words are uncooperative to them too at times. More times than you would think. You realize they might not be the gods you imagined them to be. But it is by persistence, patience and constantly knocking at the door that they were let in. By not giving up when their articles weren’t the master pieces they thought them to be. Because of their love for words they are the fine masters they are today. By making it, they proved it is possible for anyone as long as you are willing to pay the price.