What you need to know:
- Writer urges book publishers to back young fiction writers in the country
Ngugi wa Thiong’o wants writers, especially young ones, to publicise their works as widely as possible, even if it means resorting to self-publishing.
“A book is of no use to the writer if it is not accessible to the reading public,” he says.
They should embrace Internet technology. “If it means that it will reach a wider audience that way, then by all means go for it,” says Ngugi, who was in Nairobi recently to launch his latest book, a memoir; Dreams in a Time of War.
Ngugi, who spoke to Saturday Nation, says it is the publishers’ job to nurture young writers.
He regrets, however, that local publishers do not produce many creative works, although he acknowledges that the publishers need to make money, hence their preoccupation with textbooks.
“Publishers need to survive, and this can only be done through school textbooks,” he says. “Fiction does not always bring in money.”
But fiction is not such a waste of time and resources. Ngugi notes that creative works, as opposed to textbooks, take longer to mature.
“Although textbooks guarantee lots of money for a publisher, they have shorter life in the market,” he says.
“Fiction, on the other hand, can last in the market for many years.” An example is his book The River Between that was published in 1965 and is now a set book for secondary schools in Kenya, assuring him and the publisher a tidy sum of cash.
In this regard, Ngugi urges publishers not to give up on fiction.
“There are enough young writers today,” he insists. “We might not see a lot of their works at the moment, but I believe they are working on something.”
Saying that writing is a long process, Ngugi gives his own experience as a young writer. “For a very long time, I was referred to as a promising author,” he says with a smile. “Never mind that I had written a number of novels. I don’t know at what time I became an established writer in the eyes of those people.”
Ngugi singles out The Kwani? group as an example of young writers who are keeping the local literary flame burning. He, however, says The Kwani? journal needs to emulate what Transition Magazine did for writers of Ngugi’s generation.
Transition was launched in Kampala by Rajat Neogy, a young Ugandan of Indian origin in 1961. Even as he cautions that it is very difficult for a literary journal to survive without funding, he says the magazine published Julius Nyerere, Chinua Achebe, Nadine Gordimer, James Baldwin, among others.
Wole Soyinka was Transition editor when it moved to West Africa in the 1970s.
Ngugi’s memoir, which was launched here on August 19, is a study of resilience under difficult circumstances.
“In this book, I am reaching out to young readers and telling them not to give up even when life seems to be giving them a rough time,” he says. “It is about rising up again when down, and not giving up their dreams.”
Ngugi adds that in his career as a writer, he really savours that moment when a reader gets back to him and tells him that his writing has influenced their lives for the better. “I hope that this book will achieve that,” he says.
He is happy that more prominent personalities are writing their memoirs. “The more people write their stories, the better for the country as different people have different eye witness accounts of history,” he says.
On the recent referendum, Ngugi has nothing but praise for Kenyans: “This is the first constitution-making process that Kenyans have participated in, as they did not vote for the Lancaster Constitution.”