BY THE BOOK: Abdulrahman ‘Abu Amirah’ Ndegwa

Adulrahman ‘Abu Amirah’ Ndegwa is a Mombasa-based writer. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

Adulrahman ‘Abu Amirah’ Ndegwa is a Mombasa-based writer whose story was shortlisted for the Writivism Short Story Prize in 2016 with others appearing on Kalahari eview and Munyori Journal. He is the founding editor of Hekaya Initiative, a publishing platform for prose, poetry and

portraiture from the East African Coast.

He spoke to about his literary fauvorites.

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

Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday, Abubakar Ibrahim’s Blossoms of the Savannah and John Medina’s Brain Rules.

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

I have no qualms lending out my books provided they are returned in one piece. Two books I hold dear would be Anatomy of a Girl Gang by Ashley

Little and Brick Lane by Monica Ali. I’m a bit hesitant lending out the later, though as it’s a powerful read.

Your fauvorite childhood books? Why?

Mum made sure I read all titles in the Hardy Boys series, so I kind of fell in love with them. Fragments from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are still etched in my memory and I recall how Tom filled us with an aching to be as adventurous and kiss our own Becky Thatchers!

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

Only three? I have a list of twenty! Okay, the first one would be JD Salinger mainly because I totally love TheCatcher in the Rye, a book so full of twists and surprises. As a student of psychology, I find his life fascinating too, with his choice to live in recluse.

Ray Bradburry would be the second one. His book Zen on The Art of Writing has influenced my writing immensely. Three, Yewande Omotoso.

I’ll be forever grateful for her inspiration during the Writivism online mentoring program last year. She’s a wonderful soul. Four…can I add a fourth to balance the dead-alive equation? Abubakr Adam Ibrahim.

I missed the chance to meet him at Story Moja last year. I think he is an incredible writer.

Most unforgettable character from a book?

Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. I think Salinger gave a lot to this character and I find him very hilarious. He is youngish, this Holden chap, but lives like someone way much older. Another thing that makes him unforgettable is his close resemblance to the author.

Which book do you wish you had written and why?

Warsan shire’s Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth because, truth be told, she has a way with words, my goodness. Picture this: ‘…his cheek a swollen drumlin, a vine scar dragging itself across his mouth…’.The first time I read it I felt I wasn’t doing much as a writer. Warsan will do that to you. She is gifted!

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

First, the thought of prison scares the hell out of me, but if I ever was to find myself in Robben Island, I’d probably want to have Shire’s Teaching My Mother To Give Birth, Naked by David Sedaris (I think it would be a hilarious read in a place where one cannot run naked across the yard) and You are a dog by Terry Bain, probably because Robben Island is a depressing place and seeing life through the eyes of man’s best friend would be refreshing.

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

Yes they are. For me, I developed a new perspective from Writivism Fest after meeting all these amazing African writers like Chuma Nwokolo, Summaya Lee, Panashe and others.

Emerging writers also get terrific exposure. Workshops are a good place to hone one’s writing skills and you just become better after every workshop.

Literary prizes are a good thing too though I wouldn’t encourage anyone to write for prizes: write because you can and if you get awarded for that be grateful and keep up the hard work.

I do believe that no amount of money or prizes can fully compensate a writer but this acknowledgement in form of prizes is a huge inspiration.

Plus, money earned from something you are passionate about is singular in its sweetness!

Tell me about the last book that made you cry?

Boy Interrupted by Saah Millimono almost made me cry. The narrative is so poignant.

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

Thomas Mlanda  is a promising literary theorist who brings on board a refreshing, insightful way of looking at literature. I learn something every time we meet.

Dr Acan Immaculate is another promising writer I’d love to read more from. She helped me work the medical problem of a character in my novel in progress.

Idza Luhumyo is a gifted writer too, one of my favorite writers whom I readily mention in conversations with other writers from Mombasa. Farrah Stoner is another amazing new comer. Her writing is, as we termed it in the 2015 Kwani? workshop, unexpected! Her style closely resembles JD Salinger’s.

What are you currently writing?

Between editing for Hekaya Initiative and working a demanding day job, I’m also reworking my short story anthology after which I’ll proceed with a novel I started late last year. I’ll also resume my weekly column, ‘Swahilific: Diary Of A Campus Girl on Jamila El-Jabry’s blog


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]