What you need to know:
- Fiction writers tend to be a fun-loving lot and the best of them are self-effacing so they are always great for a joke.
- The last reason is why I will be attending the Kwani Litfest from the December 1 to 6 next week. You see, I have six unsigned copies of different novels by Naruddin Farah. I have not fully given up on the possibility that we will set up an African equivalent of the Nobel, call it a Dangote, and when that happens, Farah will hopefully be a winner and my library will be something to behold.
A few weeks ago in a thinly veiled criticism in these pages, a contributor opined that, perhaps, instead of complaining about the failures of literary festivals attended, I should talk about how attendance to them has improved my writing.
Alas. I shall have to disappoint. Because the truth of the matter is, I do not know any writers whose writing has been improved by attending literary festivals. Or perhaps they never told me. I certainly have not improved my writing from literary festivals. I have, however, learnt and also shared my knowledge of other things and, perhaps, this I can share.
One of the things that I have learnt is bonding with the merry tribe of writers. If you have not hung out with writers yet, you have not lived. There is a belief that writers are a serious lot because they write books. Maybe this is true of academic writers.
Fiction writers tend to be a fun-loving lot and the best of them are self-effacing so they are always great for a joke.
In a conversation with Ugandan filmmaker and writer, Dilman Dila as we made our way to the Ake Festival last week, he informed me how he prefers literary to film festivals. When I asked why, his response was that the literary world tends to be more egalitarian.
That writers, no matter how long they have been on the market, are often willing to talk to other writers as equals and give advice on pitfalls to avoid, while the film making industry appears (to him at least) to be a hierarchy where the established filmmakers tend to shun association with the new. Distribution into new markets, royalty percentages, what not to accept in contracts and which publishers or agents are worth signing with and which not to bother with are some of the lessons one learns at literary festivals.
But never writing.
Because no writer worth their weight in words would condescend to tell anyone the correct way to write as many are aware that writing is a solo art and everyone does it differently. Some writers have a word count daily and will write during working hours until the book is finished while others, like me, can spend months only writing weekly columns and reading lots of books and then sit down over a short space of time, say three weeks to a month, and get everything out in a first draft.
Others, as the annual publication of the Ake Festival, The Ake Review showed, take time out to go to a quiet village to write so that there is no disturbance while others fail to get inspiration where there is no hustle and bustle of the city.
These are things that cannot be taught to anyone and certainly not at any literary festival. Most of all, though, literary festivals are a chance for readers to interact with writers they respect and have their copies of those authors’ books signed.
The last reason is why I will be attending the Kwani Litfest from the December 1 to 6 next week. You see, I have six unsigned copies of different novels by Naruddin Farah. I have not fully given up on the possibility that we will set up an African equivalent of the Nobel, call it a Dangote, and when that happens, Farah will hopefully be a winner and my library will be something to behold.
Of course there are other good reasons to attend the Kwani Litfest. The proponents of writing in African languages will appreciate the keynote address on language on the first day of the festival.
It is during this festival, too, where the winners of the Mabati-Cornell Prize will be presented with cheques at a gala dinner. The year-end edition of the Kwani Open Mic will happen then, so one looks forward to seeing some of Kenya’s best poets with their dusted dashikis and headscarves taking to the stage.
If one is thinking of writing and hopes they will learn how to write a better manuscript than the compositions that got them Cs in high school, I am afraid this may not be the platform.
That said, as I understand my friend Mukoma Ngugi will be one of the other writers in attendance at the festival, I hope brother Tee Ngugi can join us for a drink. He will realise the truth of my assertions. There are many lessons at literary festivals — but never writing. And maybe I can even convince him to sign my copy of his short story collection, Seasons of Love and Despair.