Said A. Mohamed: I will write until my last day on this earth

Kiswahili scholar Prof Said A. Mohamed (left) with "Saturday Nation" writer Oumah Otienoh in Zanzibar. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • My love for creativity and writing started way back in lower primary school.
  • I later composed my maiden poem in upper primary school which was published and even aired on national radio.
  • In creative writing, you can’t tell when an idea will pop up in your head.

Prof Said A. Mohamed is a celebrated Kiswahili author. He has published a legion of popular books in Kiswahili such as Asali Chungu, Dunia Mti Mkavu, Pungwa, Amezidi, Kitumbua Kimeingia Mchanga and Nyuso za Mwanamke.

He has taught at Moi University and the University of Nairobi. He recently retired as a professor of African literature in African languages at Bayreuth University of Germany. 

He spoke to writer OUMAH OTIENOH in Zanzibar, about creative writing and publishing.

Oumah Otienoh: You are such a towering name in the literary field. When did the writing bug catch you?

Said A. Mohamed: My love for creativity and writing started way back in lower primary school. My maternal uncle did not go through the formal learning process but was a great poet.

He often recited poems and most stuck in my head. I later composed my maiden poem in upper primary school which was published and even aired on national radio. My teachers also encouraged me to continue writing and this gave me the impetus to sojourn in this field.

Speaking of creativity, how did you manage to pen such a thrilling first novel Asali Chungu way back in 1977?

In creative writing, you can’t tell when an idea will pop up in your head. When I was penning Asali Chungu, sometimes ideas could come to my mind in strange places and I could scribble them down. I could thereafter do some thorough research and once the manuscript was ready, I gave it to my spouse and friends to read and make necessary suggestions before taking it to the publishers. It was not easy those days to write since we didn’t have computers.

Still on writing, what was in your mind when you penned Amezidi as a number of literary pundits find the text a bit hard to understand?

If readers find it difficult to comprehend Amezidi, will they understand my latest play, Mashetani Wamerudi? Our young readers are always in a hurry to comprehend works of art without listening to the inner voice of the writer. The wretched state of most African countries several years after independence triggered me to pen Amezidi.

Has any of your works previously been rejected by the publishers?

I have penned over 55 books and, luckily, none of them has ever been rejected. I can candidly say that I have never forwarded a worthless manuscript to any publisher. We have in the past argued about book titles but most times, I always win this fight. I’m currently penning a novel, Wenye Meno, and the title is still an issue.

You have stayed longer in our classrooms with several of your texts such as Amezidi, Kitumbua Kimeingia Mchanga and Utengano having been studied in high schools. Should it be the opportune time to let other writers also get studied?

One point that you guys in the media miss is that I’ve never written to be studied in schools and colleges. I always write due to some inner inspiration to tell a story. You may not believe it but I have never bribed to make any of my works a class text.

When Utengano was selected as a compulsory text in Kenyan secondary schools, Mr Simon Sossion, then working with Longhorn Publishers, called to inform me of the selection. I can certainly say that it’s my works that always appeal to the selection panel.

Tumbo Lisiloshiba na Hadithi Nyingine has received much criticism from literary analysts to have been works of a few individuals and not some of the writers accredited to have written the short stories.

I’ll treat it as a mere allegation. I can confirm to you that the lead story in the anthology, Tumbo Lisiloshiba, is my work. Ken Walibora and I write well and maybe that’s the reason for the fistfights amongst our competitors.

I have on several occasions received requests from a number of publishers to sign writing contracts with them as some of the Kiswahili manuscripts they receive aren’t worth publishing.

What is the state of Kiswahili in Kenya since you left the University of Nairobi in the 90s?

Kenya has made great strides in Kiswahili. In the 80’s, not as many Kenyans spoke in Kiswahili as they do today. Within the East African region, most Kiswahili books are written by Kenyans such as Ken Walibora, Wallah Bin Wallah and Kyalo Wamitila.

What is in the kitchen for us?

I’m working on two novels, Hatusemi wala Hatucheki and Wenye Meno, which I had earlier told you about.

Still on your ongoing writings Ken Walibora, recently wrote his biography, Nasikia Sauti ya Mama. When are we reading yours?

It’s not an easy task to write one’s biography. Prof Walibora has always pushed me to do one but I’ve been a bit reluctant as I don’t want to tell lies. Most biographies penned are awash with self-praise, which is never my wish.

When are we expecting Said A. Mohamed to exit the literary scene?

Why should I stop writing? I’ll continue to write until I lose the last shred of breath. And if you’re referring to death, as a Muslim, it’s Allah who gives us the breath of life.


The writer is a literary critic and is a teacher at Ng’iya Girls’ High School in Siaya County who has written several high school revision books. [email protected]


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