BY THE BOOK: Melissa Wachia Kayanda

Melissa Wachia Kayanda exists between literary and audio spaces. PHOTO| COURTESY

Melissa Wachia Kayanda exists between literary and audio spaces. She is a resident blogger at where she reviews music, and spends moonless nights making wavy beats under the sheets.

Tell me the three books that excited you the most in 2017?

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, Freshwater by Akwaekwe Emezi. Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston – it’s based on interviews with Kudjoe Lewis, the last survivor of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade .

Which two books do you hold so dear that they can’t possibly be lent out?

I have to spread the joy around. But two books I would be stingy with for fear that they wouldn’t come back to me are: Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. And Oh! The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss.

Your favorite childhood books? Why?

Oh! The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss. Ever since I was a child, it always lifts me up  and makes me accepting of the past, conscious of the present, and hopeful for the future. It reminds me that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, like “Oh, maybe everything will be okay after all.”

I’d read an Enid Blyton book, and pretend I was following the characters on a mischievous adventure in the English countryside. I read a lot of Enid Blyton.

Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint. It tackles complex existential questions, simplified through the eyes of a child. I was too young to understand it then, but as an adult – I find it incredibly profound.

If you were to dine with three writers dead/alive, who would they be and why?

James Baldwin because he was the real life Morgan Freeman character.

Neil Gaiman because his style of fantasy is so enchanting, you just want to immerse yourself in his fictional universes. I bet his conversation game is out of this world.

Anais Nin. We would drink red wine and discuss why sensuality and soft femininity in a hyper-masculine world matters.

Most unforgettable character from a book? Why?

Tralala from Last Exit to Brooklyn. Her story tattooed this imagery of trauma that I have tried to but can’t erase from my mind, and I find myself thinking about it at the most random of times. It was pretty graphic.

Which book do you wish you had written and why?

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. The way she uses language it’s like she’s watering you with dew mist and fragrant flowers. I wish I lived in the pen that wrote it.

If you were sent off to Robben Island for a year, which three books would you take with you?

Infinite Jestby David Foster Wallace because I’ve procrastinated reading it for the longest time, and it should take me about a year to finish. It’s a fat book.

Oh! The Places You’ll Go. For obvious reasons.

And if I could collect poetry from different authors like Audre Lorde, Nayyirah Waheed, Allen Ginsberg and Malanda Jean-Claude, and stuff it into one thick volume – that would be great.

Do you think book festivals, literary prizes and writing workshops are important to a writer’s growth?

So important. You discover a lot about literature, and you find all these new authors who’ve been right under your nose and you didn’t even know, and maybe even stumble upon a couple of writing opportunities and collaborations.

You’ll just find yourself having an enlightening argument with someone you just met five minutes ago.

Tell me about the last book that made you cry?

Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Uweala. Children not being given the chance to be children. Having to grow up faster than they should in cruel and unforgiving conditions. That stuff is heartbreaking.

Among your contemporaries, who d you consider the most exciting newcomer in the writing world and why?

Jaaziyah Shiraz. I’ve just purchased her debut novel, Skeletons, and I’m really excited to start it.

Khadjia Abdalla Bajaber who just won the Graywolf Press Prize for Africa. Her book House of Rust will be published in 2022 and I’m excited to read a story by a female author from Mombasa. It’s where I’m from, so stories from there are close to my heart.

What are you currently writing?

Journal entries. When I’m not doing that, I’m musing over music, or scribbling round-about poetry and short stories which I’m not sure have an ending.


BY THE BOOK is a literary series that covers authors, bloggers, actors, academics and poets of note in the African continent. For comments or inquiries, e-mail: [email protected]