When Charles Mangua’s classic novel Son of Woman came off the press in 1971, urban fiction was a new genre in Kenya’s literary scene.
It was a time when ‘rural’ literature dominated the literary platforms. Big names such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ngugi wa Mirii, Taban Lo Liyong, Grace Ogot and Micere Mugo were on top in the East African literary map. However, this was a generation that mostly based its themes on Africa’s experience from its dalliance with colonialism for almost a century. Their works mostly revolved on the rural life, the effects of settlers’ interaction with African workers and the quest for political freedom in newly independent African states. They rarely touched on urban life.
This is the gap that gave rise to a generation of urban and pop fiction writers. This generation comprised Mangua, Meja Mwangi, Mwangi Gicheru, Mwangi Ruheni, David Maillu, Sam Kahiga, among others.
Their writings tackled themes like crime, sex, poverty and joblessness. In an effort to survive in already congested urban centres after failing to secure jobs, most resulted to cheap life in slums and other informal settlements. It’s here that Mangua’s famous, witty and hilariously written novel Son of Woman was birthed.
In eulogising Mangua , author David Maillu says that by venturing into pop literature, their generation was greatly misunderstood. “We never wrote for intellectuals. We touched on crime and sex— very sensitive subjects at the time. We were misunderstood for this. However, our works were celebrated because the subjects resonated with what the society was transitioning through,” he says.
Speaking to the Saturday Nation, Maillu says what mattered most to them is passing information.
After Son of Woman in Mombasa, Mangua penned other hilarious works such as A Tail in the Mouth (1988), Kanina and I (1994) and Kenyatta Jiggers (2000). Written in his usual irreverent and humorous style, all capture the struggle of the common man.
Mangua is credited for greatly contributing to what is referred as ‘Kenya’s golden literary era’ —1970s, 80s and early 1990s.
The late author was born at Mutwewathi village, Mukurwe-ini, in 1939. He died last Saturday, aged 82, after a short illness.
He worked at African Development Bank, where he doubled up as a creative writer.
Mangua had nine children but one of them is deceased. He was buried on Thursday at the Lang’ata Cemetery, Nairobi.