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Caine Prize winner launches book about growing up in Kenya

posted 4 Jun 2012, 04:56 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 4 Jun 2012, 04:58 ]

Winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, Binyavanga Wainaina, launches a book that documents his life, from childhood days of growing up during Kenya's first days as an independent nation all the way to his adult life as an essayist and critical thinker.

Binyavanga Wainaina - winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing and founding editor of Kwani?, a Kenyan based literary network - launched the East African edition of his memoir "One Day I Will Write About This Place," on Friday (June 01) in Nairobi.
The book documents his childhood growing up during Kenya's early days of independence all the way into his adult life as a writer.

"One Day I Will Write About This Place" has received global attention since its release in the US last year. The book was a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice Selection in October 2011, a New York Times '100 most notable books of 2011' and Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2011. The book also made it into Oprah's Book Club.

During the book launch, Wainaina read excerpts from the memoir which depicted, through the eyes of a young boy, his early days of devouring all kinds of novels and attempting to grasp the national complexities of Kenya's start as an independent nation.

"I'm a language person - I like to play with words, I like to create atmosphere - I like to kind of feel I am colonizing the language. So I wanted to just do something really beautiful and kind of atmospheric in a very kind of unique voice and in an experimental style - in memoir, in present tense, about home," says Binyavanga Wainaina, about his new book.

Wainaina won the Caine Prize for African writing in 2002 for his short story "Discovering Home." Shortly thereafter, Wainaina founded the Kenyan literary journal "Kwani?" which went on to launch the careers of several other African writers including Billy Kahora, who was nominated for the Caine Prize in 2012.

Wainaina's other publications include "An Affair to Dismember", "Beyond the River of Yei: Life the Land Where Sleeping is Disease", "In Gikuyu, for Gikuyu, of Gikuyu", and "How to Write About Africa."

The latter work is a satirical essay which gained worldwide attention a few years ago after a video of actor Djimon Hounsou reading the essay was posted on the Web.

Ellah Allfrey, the deputy editor of Granta, a literary journal based in London, was at the launch and had an on-stage discussion with Wainaina about his latest work.

Among the topics of conversation was why the book was first released in the US, and not in Kenya Wainaina's home. The author explained that the book was due to appear in Kenya in April 2011 but a series of events including a personal health scare, the passing of his father and a plummeting Kenyan shilling, prevented this from happening.

The discussion also ventured to how Wainaina pulls the reader in to the workings of his mind through the use of language.

"I think what sets this book apart from any other memoir, really, is the way that Binyavanga is so ambitious in the way that he experiments with language and the book develops from a very sort of specialized language, and we are seeing things from a child's point of view and almost imperceptibly the language grows up as he grows up and I think I admire that ambition hugely, and it's very rare that you find at the end of the book you feel the ausstem.scripts.thor has realized his ambition, and I think he did," says Ellah Allfrey, the deputy editor of Granta Magazine, the international literary magazine, which published Binyavanga's viral essay, "How to Write About Africa."

Local writers point to a larger problem with Kenyan book market which is still dominated by international publications. Books by Kenyan authors, even those most celebrated, tend to be hard to get and expensive.

"We just need to build this market, and I think he, in keeping the rights for the rest of Africa, he protected us and protected this space and protected the ability of this book to get to us, because if we were buying the American version I mean it would be twice, thrice the price. But you know here we have a local publisher that's able to make it affordable for us," says Ngwatilo Mawiyoo, a Kenyan poet and performance artist.

After the literary events of Binyavanga's book launch, local electro-pop group, Just A Band, played a DJ set, and award winning singer Eric Wainaina performed.

While Africa's music industry is learning to appreciate its own, literature remains steps behind.

Critics say most African writers find it easier to win recognition outside their countries than they do at home.

The state of the publishing industry may be one of the reasons why books are still a luxury for all but a few on the continent and literacy rates in some countries are below 50 percent.