Pushing the boat out for women writers

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Irene Njoroge

Women are like tea bags; you never know how strong they are until they’re in hot water. Those were words from Eleanor Roosevelt, a wife to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the US, from 1933 to 1945.

The truthfulness of this statement resonates well with women writers, for who many do not realise just how tenacious and strong they are until they read what they have to say – in literature.

The continent is blessed with writers whose works have had an influence on Africans as well as people from other races across the globe. The late Nigerian author Chinua Achebe and Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o are apt examples.

There are, however, other Kenyans whose works are just as incredible and widely used in various learning institutions. A group of writers back in 1992, for instance, did something for a journal of the writers Association of Kenya, The Writers’ Forum. It contains fascinating short stories, critical essays, interviews, poems, profiles and even reviews. Among the writers are current Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, the late Magayu K. Magayu – first Editor-in-chief of The Star Newspaper and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi – together with many others, among them women authors Justa Wawira, Ciarunji Chesaina, Caroline Biegon and Wanjira Muthoni.

When it comes to writing, women in Kenya are pioneers in regard to success linked with literary work. I talk of the success of women in literature by recognizing the likes of the late Margret Ogola of the award-winning, The River and the Source, Grace Ogot, Yvonne Adhiambo, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye – winner of the prestigious Sinclair Prize Micere Githae, Muthoni Likimani, Rebeka Njau, Miriam Were, Charity Waciuma, Cristina Odone and Emily Mukomunene, among many others. The richness in their work and contribution to the society is splendid!

Emily Mukomunene, for instance, is one whose work plays an important role on matters health. She has strongly come out to sensitize people on cancer and many other diseases in her books. She has written useful content on prostate and oesophagus cancer as well as the cervix and cervical cancer, which are some of the biggest killers currently.

“Writing is a passion to me, I do it with the aim of saving lives”, says Emily. Like it is evident in her books, her dream of a united Africa is pre-requisite to a continent free of disease and poverty. “It is difficult to educate a sick, hungry and impoverished individual,” she says. She has shown great effort in uniting Kenyans and helping them lead healthy lives.

She says marketing of her books has not been easy since it takes time to get them displayed on the bookshops, and one has to put an extra effort to ensure they’re in easy-to-spot places. She once struggled to get in touch with the Nairobi County administration in her effort to reach a large number of people within the county, to earn wide readership of her healthy life style books especially, Handy Tips on Cancer, Forward Kenya and The Doctor Must be crazy.

“Writing is a passion and business all at once. Just like other businesses, there may be losses when the money used in publication of the books doesn’t come back but as a writer, you cannot sleep hungry”, she said Emily on an interview with KBC.

Coincidentally, her book Forward Kenya, predicted the current political situation in Kenya unveiled through a chapter written back in 2005. In a morning interview at K24 last month, the author spoke about her vision for Kenya.

“God gives us a vision, men fight and destroy it. We fought together with our pioneer leaders and destroyed the vision God had for the country but God is helping us gather the pieces after calling back on him,” Emily says. “If we are able to empower the people with knowledge, most Kenyans will live comfortably and we can take this country to the next level.”

According to her, the glory of writers, more so women, and the contribution they have had, will be felt and transmitted to generations forever. She knows no limit in her life and that is what makes her favourite quote, ‘The sky is the beginning’

Through Emily and other women authors like her, we get insights into how women writers transform life.^

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