BY THE BOOK: Clifford Chianga Oluoch

Clifford Chianga Oluoch considers himself a teacher first, then a writer. PHOTO| COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Naturally, children love stories and hence will love books if they see the connection to reality.
  • First, discuss characters with the children and then let them read the books.

Clifford Chianga Oluoch considers himself a teacher first, then a writer. He is currently scouting, nurturing and grooming the next great writers from Kenya, and maybe Africa.

He's deeply passionate about students, reading, writing, libraries and books because he believes education starts and ends with the reading of quality books. Oluoch has authored a series titled The Eastlanders about growing up in Eastlands in the 70s and 80s.

He has also written Mathematics school text books and is still writing more books and training local teachers who are interested in making an impact in creative writing and reading.

Oluoch has penned the Write Like a Writer 8 book creative writing series because he intends to be part of the solution to the problem of Kenya not having a creative writing curriculum at the primary level. He spoke to about his literary favourites.

How is it, writing for young adults in Kenya?

Challenging, given that their world is fast changing while mine is stagnant at some point.

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

First, let me say that I do not cling on to books. Once I have read them, I give them out.

But Bryce Courtenay’s The Power Of One and Tandia are my top two. I am not embarrassed to say that from the time I read The Power Of One in 1994, I make a point of re-reading it every four or five years. So, I have re-read the two books five times!  And each time they look fresher.

As one who always works with children, what do you think is the best way to get them to like books?

Naturally, children love stories and hence will love books if they see the connection to reality. First, discuss characters with the children and then let them read the books.

Plus, children, without realising, are just characters in their own way.  The stunts they pull on a daily basis is great fodder for reading and writing.  Hence books with crazy characters like Captain Underpants, Horrid Henry, Moses tend to excite kids.

Tell us a little about your published books.

For fiction, I have The Eastlander Series, which are semi-autobiographical about my growing up in Eastlands in the 70s and 80s with the characters bearing people I grew up with.

I also have a few scattered short stories in anthologies. About non-fiction, I have written School text books. Eight Maths books, and now a Creative Writing one titled Write Like A Writer(to be published in a month or two).

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

First there is Bryce Courtenay who wrote effectively about apartheid South Africa while battling personal family issues (his son was diagnosed with AIDS).

He later admitted that he sometimes regretted spending less time with his ailing son at the expense of completing his book projects.

Writers are human. Secondly, I’d say Binyavanga Wainaina.We have dined a couple of times and his is an interesting and dynamic mind that challenges one to go deeper into writing. He leaves you

feeling quite inadequate. Thirdly, my grandfather Alphayo Mango Karan, though not a writer but a translator for the colonial governments hence earning the name Karan.  I would love to pick his brains and be in his shoes for only a day.

Most unforgettable character from a book?

PK, The Power of One:  “First with the head, then with the heart.”

What’s the most important writing lesson you have learnt in your years of writing?

Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.   


Do you think book festivals, literary prizes and writing workshops are important?

Yes, networking in whatever form is very important.  For the rookie writer who is looking for a breakthrough to the seasoned writers who just want to see what is there in the market.  Add the positive energy generated by just meeting like-minded people.

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

I like Magunga Williams’ style and stories.  That at such a young age he is able to spin real stories and link them with his personal life is just amazing.  His humour, as well, is fresh.

What are you currently writing?

Odijo – The Life Of A Kenyan Teacher.  My memoirs, which link my life as an educator, a ‘broke’ philanthropist, and a family man.  This is a book about the people who have ‘made’ me and more also about the people I am ‘making’. Cyclic? I am also compiling Set Me Free, an anthology of 12 short stories.

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

The Bible; The Quran; The Bhagad Gita.


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]