How To Know Kenya | 10 Best Kenyan Writers & Books

Before getting to know the 10 best Kenyan Writers, we will look at Kenya – an East African country that borders the Indian Ocean to the west. It includes low and highlands, the Great Rift Valley, and the spectacular Lakelands. Lions, elephants, and rhinoceroses are some of the fauna that call this place home.

Its strategic location is at the Great Lakes’ crossroads, the Horn of Africa. And the Indian Ocean makes it a hub for international trade and tourism in Africa. Kenya borders Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and northeast Somalia.

Kiswahili is the national language of Kenya alongside English, but Kenya is home to some 68 different languages.

Kenya is a technological frontrunner in many aspectsThe country started using mobile payments in 2007, way before Europe. People use their smartphones and tablets to connect to the internet and keep up with social media trends, which is all the rage there.

You can see signs of the digital age in public places like restaurants, parks, mini-buses or matatus (the most common form of public transportation), buses, trains, and planes.

Kenyan Writers

Kenyan Reading Habits

Due to upcoming technology, magazines, newspapers, and novels are less popular. The digital age led to a decline in the readership of physical books, newspapers, and magazines domestically and internationally. Despite Kenya the abundance of great Kenyan writers, many associate reading with school and not pleasure or self-development.

At the same time, Kenya does have one of Eastern Africa’s most educated populations. Even though the continent was one of the first to use writing and literacy, Kenyans often still see reading as a “foreign culture.”

Kenyan Writers | Politics & Novels

Despite this, a select few prominent figures have gone the extra mile to tell the world their often incredible “rags to riches” or “rags to power” stories. These figures are the protagonists of several books, including:

  • Facing Mount Kenya, written by the country’s first president
  • The Challenge of Nationhood, written by Tom Mboya
  • The Man Kenya Wanted to Forget, also written by the latter.

Journalists also write books like the seasoned Jeff Koinange’s Through my African Eyes, which complements the documentary.

In addition to the non-fiction section, Kenya is home to many well-known authors. Their works have inspired me, and I hope they will do the same for you.

1. Weep Not, Child by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Weep Not, Child on Amazon

The Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o (his real name is James Thiong’o Ngugi) is well-known worldwide. Ngugi went to school in Uganda and England. His book “Weep Not, Child” was the first important East African novel in the English language.

Weep Not, Child (1964) tells the story of a family caught up in the Kenyan independence war. It’s a powerful novel depicting how the events of the Mau Mau insurrection changed one family.

Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a trash pile and think about their futures. Njoroge will go to school, while Kamau will learn how to be a carpenter. Of course, they’re in Kenya, and history is working against them.

While the Mau Mau fights the white authorities in the woods, the two brothers and their families must choose sides. Kamau, the realist, has an easy time deciding. But Njoroge, the scholar, finds it difficult to give up his hope of improving himself via education.

As the author’s understanding of how colonialism hurt his people grew, he started using his traditional name. Then he started writing in the Bantu language of the Kikuyu people. His other works include plays and articles about literature, culture, and politics.

Kenyan Writers

2. Coming to Birth by Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye

Coming to Birth on Amazon

Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, a Kenyan author, is the winner of the prestigious Sinclair Prize. This author skillfully combined the story of a young woman’s difficult coming-of-age with the history of a country coming out of colonialism in this quietly stunning and delightfully entertaining novel.

At sixteen, Paulina and her new husband, Martin, move from a small town in western Kenya to the big city of Nairobi. Kenya is nearing the end of the “Emergency” that the British declared in 1956 to stop violent anti-colonial revolts.

But Paulina doesn’t know much about city life or marriage. And Martin’s clumsy attempts to control her only make their relationship tenser. Because she can’t have children, Paulina will soon have to give up the expected responsibilities of women. Paulina gets a form of independence when she takes a job that will force her to live apart from her husband and has an affair that leads to the birth of her first child. This happens at the same time as her country moves toward complete independence. But a tragedy and a new test of Paulina’s calm courage and determination will break her hard-won peace in Kenya’s volatile past.

Marjorie Macgoye’s sharp and caring eye shows Paulina’s patient fight to stay alive and find herself. This vision includes the whole country and the people who have left it.

3. Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Mathai

Kenyan Writers

Unbowed: A Memoir on Amazon

Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, writes about her incredible life in Unbowed. In 1977, Maathai started the Green Belt Movement. This is a crucial grassroots environmental movement for Africa’s impoverished that gave women more power over the continent.

Maathai never gave up on her campaign to protect Kenya’s forests and bring democracy back to her home country. Even though she had many run-ins with the Kenyan government, lost a lot of people close to her, was jailed and beaten many times, and had many problems with the law. Her autobiography is honest, open, and well-written.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of modern Africa because it tells an inspiring story about how people keep going even when things don’t go their way.

4. A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

A Grain of Wheat on Amazon

In A Grain of Wheat, a group of villagers whose lives have been changed by the Emergency from 1952 to 1960 is followed. The Emergency happened after the Mau Mau uprising and right before Kenya got its independence from Britain.

The book’s main action occurs in the four days leading up to Kenya’s independence in 1963. Still, there are a few flashbacks to events that happened before that, some of which go as far back as the 1920s.

When Mugo is finally released from prison, he plans to move to the village of Thabai and live a quiet life. But the Movement, a group of Kenyan freedom fighters and patriots who want to get rid of the British colonialists, pulls him against his will into their cause. Even in Kenya’s rural areas, people expect the Movement to arise, but no one knows when or how it will start.

5. The River and the Source by Margaret A. Ogola

The River and the Source on Amazon

This epic story of three generations of Kenyan women and their children spans over a century from a small town in Western Kenya in the late 1800s to a suburb of Nairobi at the turn of the 21st century.

Follow the Akoko family as they deal with changes in their culture. For instance, the arrival of Catholicism and the spread of AIDS, using the strength and restraint that their ancestor gave them. The River and the Source are about more than just one family. It goes deep into the minds of Kenyan women all over the world.

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6. Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani

Kenyan Writers
Read Dance of the Jakaranda on Amazon

Dance of the Jakaranda is a reimagining of the unique circumstances that brought together black and white men to build the railroad that announced the birth of Kenya. The story sets against the backdrop of the country’s independence from Great Britain.

The story is about the lives and loves of three men: the preacher Richard Turnbull, the colonial administrator Ian McDonald, and the Indian technician Babu Salim. Their paths cross when they are all involved in the troubled birth of a child. In the following years, Rajan, Babu’s grandson, who makes a living singing Babu’s epic stories about building the railway, accidentally kisses a mysterious stranger in a shady nightclub. This event is the spark that finally brings light to the three men’s dark past.

Dance of the Jakaranda could be a globalization story. Not only it has an interesting cast of people of different races and cultures, but it also makes many literary references. The book’s vocabulary is a mix of dreamy, high-minded, and down-to-earth words that create new ways to identify people and a valuable metaphor for race in modern Africa.

7. Nairobi Heat by Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ

Nairobi Heat on Amazon

In the United States, a young, beautiful white woman is killed. Joshua, a former Rwandan school principal who saved innocent people during the genocide in his country, is the main suspect.

Ishmael, an African-American private investigator, must look into Joshua’s past to solve the case. He flies to Kenya, where Joshua had lived before as a refugee, to find out what happened. Kenyan author Mukoma wa Ngugi’s first book is a tight, hard-hitting detective story that looks at race, identity, and social class.

8. Three Days on the Cross by Wahome Mutahi

Three Days on the Cross on Amazon

The story takes place in an unnamed African country ruled by a paranoid dictator called the Illustrious One. The author is a well-known Kenyan journalist and a former prisoner. To satisfy his demands that dissidents be put in jail, the head of the special police must arrest and hold people.

Policemen took a bank teller and a reporter into custody as suspects. As the men explore the dungeons and torture chambers hidden under a capital city that pretends to be a civilized society, a Kafka-like horror story comes to life. When the book came out in Kenya, it was a big hit right away, and it’s still a best-seller there.

9. Through my African Eyes by Jeff Koinange

Kenyan Writers

Through my African Eyes
on Goodreads

This brief story covers the important protagonists in 20th-century African politics. Award-winning journalist and former CNN correspondent Jeff Koinange wrote it. Well-known Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiongo wrote the foreword, and former South African president Thabo Mbeki wrote the introduction.

The book provides a wealth of information about the mental and emotional background of numerous historical events on the continent. Learn more about Koinange’s acclaimed journalistic technique through his subjects’ (warlords, soldiers, victims, and politicians).

Journalist Jeff Koinange, host of KTN’s flagship talk show “Jeff Koinange Live,” provides insightful descriptions of knotty global problems. By appealing to people’s baser instincts, he analyzes how skewed media coverage causes African countries to fall apart. The story of Koinange’s political career conceals personal information. He talks openly about his family, who provide a link between colonialism’s beginning and its eventual end. Jeff Koinange has been honored with the Emmy and the George Foster Peabody for his work.

10. Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Dust on Amazon

A stunning new talent writes this book about a broken family in Kenya. It has a lot of mystery, betrayal, love that doesn’t return, and the cost of survival and sacrifice.

Odidi Oganda was killed by gunfire as he ran for his life through the streets of Nairobi. His father took his body back to their run-down house in the Kenyan drylands, hoping that his grieving sister Ajany, who had just returned from Brazil, would find comfort there. But the murder brought back long-forgotten memories and set off a chain of unplanned events: Odidi and Ajany’s angry mother leaves in a huff, a young Englishman comes to the Ogandas’ house looking for his missing father, a tough policeman who has seen horrible things reopens a cold case, and a trader whose name is unknown plans to take long-overdue revenge.

Scenes like the violent upheaval of modern Kenya, a shocking political murder in 1969, and the Mau Mau uprisings against British colonial rule in the 1950s show what this dry landscape has been hiding. These secrets are buried deep in the family and national histories. This book tells the story of a brother and sister who are separated and how legends are made, history is written, and the scars of war never go away.

Kenyan Writers

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