In 5 questions, she discusses everything from her journey into storytelling, her literary inspirations and the importance of shining a light on the impact of sexual assault, abortion and homelessness on women on the continent of Africa and across the world.
When did you realise that you wanted to be a storyteller?
The realisation that I could tell stories was a coincidence. Traumatised by my father’s death and suffocated by unresolved issues, screaming to the world just how horrendous my father was seemed like my only option.
But, I quickly learnt that screaming doesn’t work past releasing pent up anger and that people find it rather annoying.
At my laptop, I wrote that my father was a horrible man. I then realised that I had to go beyond simply stating this and present evidence to the world as to why my father was a horrid man. This made me realise just how little I knew about my father and it became apparent that I needed to do research in order to continue writing my first book, a memoir Through The Leopard’s Gaze.
Through this process, I narrated the story in conjunction with the construction of a one woman show. People told me how they’d been affected by my story and even then I hadn’t realised I could tell stories. I nonetheless really enjoyed writing and felt I had a lot more to say.
After my memoir was written I kept writing and found it amazing playing god and being in control of my character's destiny. I was getting amazing feedback about my writing and it has been great to hear that my stories resonate with people.
What has the experience of storytelling taught you about how you see the world, and how does it make you feel?
Being the narrator of my destiny is a privilege not awarded to my mother and grandmother living under colonialism.
I am lucky to have a voice and a platform. Being a storyteller puts you in the driver's seat rather that others speaking for you. In colonial days Kenyans were not allowed a voice and any petitions to the governments had to be via missionaries, who had their own agenda.
The need to tell my story has highlighted the privilege of 'voice'.
I’m saddened by the fact that my family went through so much agony in the dying days of the British reign in Kenya. A state of emergency turned Kenya into a frightening police state but my family were unable to share their stories with the world.
I feel it’s the duty of younger generations to be the narrators of their history and narrative.
Rinsing Mũkami's Soul is your debut fiction novel, and second book, how have you found the experience of writing fiction, compared to nonfiction?
Writing fiction is way harder because one must create a narrative that is believable and authentic.
In fiction one is playing God creating a world that breathes, lives and feels. It's about making the lives of characters realistic whereas writing a memoir you’re just communicating events that happened. They say truth is stranger than fiction.
The world of make believe is harder because people have pre-set ideas of what is believable or not. There’s less scrutiny and expectation in real life because no matter how insane the narrative, people believe it whereas in fiction people may see it as far-fetched.
Who are the writers that have inspired your journey and what writer is speaking most to your present self?
There’s not a single author but a collection of many. I wanted the world not only to hear about Mũkami but to understand her culture in the context of wider events.
I felt it was necessary for the world to understand that missionaries didn’t bring religion to Africa but they actually gagged African believes masking them with the western version of beliefs. That we had culture and civilisation which colonisers destroyed because imperialism is about destruction.
I love the grounded voices of Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o whose been telling the Gĩkũyũ stories in real time for over 60 years and at pivotal moments in history.
This is pretty much echoed by Chinua Achebe, narrating the corrosive events on the fabric of the people that now make up modern Nigeria. Abdulrazak Gurnah also through his writing, tells the world what colonialism was in Tanzania and its effects on the people.
I love narratives from far away places that teach me a history I would never find in education curriculum like Haruki Murakami, Mark Mathabane, Abi Dare, Nadifa Mohamed and Anna Burns.
What are your hopes for Rinsing M ũkami’s Soul as it connects with readers?
I’d like to relay the universality of the issues confronting Mũkami sexual assault, homelessness, abortion, communities under threat. These issues transcend race, economic status and are not only confined in Africa.
Sexual assault is global. Homelessness afflicts million in Britain, America and across the West. Abortion is a global point of reckoning as deep-rooted patriarchal ideals and feminism are on a collision course.
Rinsing Mũkami's Soul is coming 22 February, you can preorder your copy here!