Celebrating East African Writing!
I critiqued the work of a graphic designer at the communications agency where I work as a copywriter. The incensed man, after expressing his resentment in an ugly grimace I could see reflected on his monitor, spun around on his seat and cocked his eye up at me. He told me, in a condescendingly paternal tone, that I had no idea on technical things like graphic design. All I do – is write.
I got pissed. Writing is an art. What he does with his Z Tool, his A Tool and all those other ‘tools’ in ‘Illustrator’, I do in my head. He has a platform and lots of RAM to do tricks. I have grey matter. His remarks were stinging, no question, but the implication that writing is not important in comparison to other forms of art is sad reality in Kenya. Writing is not fun, writing is boring, there is no future in writing. These and more groans are prevalent in society. These people don’t read either, so you wonder how they got their unsound opinions.
In the first twelve years of our hopeless education system, there is a hefty series of compositions, essays, summaries and reports to write. Most students do this grudgingly, not taking time to extract, craft, draft and lay down their facts straight. This approach stays with them through life. They breeze through anything that needs writing. Corporate memos, emails and profiles are an eminent collection of the most inane use of grammar, punctuation and turn of phrase ever. In school, an essay assignment caused depression. Some guys just couldn’t see how they should come up with 900 words to describe the workings of a glacier. There are people who played hooky to avoid those ‘On my last holiday I…’ type compositions, a staple of primary schools countrywide. They were trying to help you, the teachers. Ignoramus.
Writing is an artistic skill which deserves the same, if not more respect as any other art form. In ancient cultures, the scribe, with his quill and papyrus, was the custodian of history, the transcriber of achievement, of triumph, of giant leaps in human development and of defeats. Life is defined by words. Words written by people like me. Road signs, nametags, directions for use – all important, all words. Because words are powerful, look at the Bible, a book that has held more than 33% of the world’s population in awed faith for more than two thousand years. Yes, words are powerful. And they come from the mind, they have to be thought up, arrange in order and put down where they last for ever.
Where would we be without writers? Without the craft of the word? There would be no intellectuals, there would be no record, no novels, no papers, no letters, no modern theatre, no movies, no internet – in fact, there would be nothing at all. So with no writers, how and on what platform, would my affronted colleague create his art?