For decades the indomitable British-Kenyan intellectual Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye dominated Kenya’s writing world, earning herself the title ‘mother of Kenyan Literature’.
On Friday, Google celebrated Macgoye’s life and birthday with a doodle on its search engine—a mixed-medium artwork picturing Macgoye surrounded by books, birds and a birds nest, and a silhouette of an African woman and child.
Macgoye, who died on December 1, 2015 in Nairobi at the age of 87, would have been 94 years old today.
Macgoye remains one of Africa’s most prolific writers of novels, short stories and children’s books.
Most of works revolve around the struggles of Kenya during the post-colonial era such as Coming To Birth, which has been used as a set book in Kenyan secondary schools.
The winner of Sinclair Prize for Fiction, Macgoye was academically gifted from an early age. Her mother was a teacher in Southampton, United Kingdom, who kept a close eye on her studies.
With her outstanding academic prowess from a very early age, she received several scholarships including to study at Royal Holloway College in the UK. It was here that she caught the writing bug through the many letters she wrote to her parents. Macgoye then pursued her Master’s degree in English at the Birkbeck College where she specialised in poetry.
Shortly after graduating, she moved to Kenya, a British colony at the time and became a citizen in 1954.
At the time, there was political tension and colonial conflict in Kenya.
Macgoye often supported literary projects that helped women learn how to read and write, and was also involved in social activism.
In 1970 she switched her focus to writing, penning her first novel Growing Up at Lina School (1971).
Her most notable works include Murder in Majengo (1972), ostensibly a detective mystery cum political thriller which exposes the plight of poor young girls in urban centres of newly independent Kenya. It was republished with its sequel Victoria in 1993.
The novel Coming to Birth, which won the Sinclair prize, is about the life of Paulina, a peasant girl and her journey to becoming a mature, self-reliant woman with the evolution of the Kenyan nation through the painful experiences of the state of emergency, days of independence, and subsequent power struggle and political violence.
Macgoye married a medical officer Daniel Oludhe-Macgoye in June 1960 and together had three children.