“Lots of Little Kenyas” — a conversation with Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

The novelist Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor was kind enough to stop by Africa is a Country HQ while she was in New York for the PEN festival. Over tea and hibiscus-flavoured doughnuts, we talked about all sorts of things: from reimagining the Indian Ocean, to the mini-bus ride she took with Binyavanga Wainaina during post-electoral violence, to the new generation of creative talent coming up in Nairobi right now

Thanks to Yvonne for the many rich insights she shared. I hope you enjoy.

Here’s what Julianne Okot Bitek had to say about “Dust” as she put it forward for our Book Recommendations of 2014:

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor wrote Dust for me. For once, I’m a perfect reader; both my creative and academic curiosities are satisfied. Dust tackles some big questions inside the story of a family tragedy — a man is killed right at the beginning of the novel and his sister wants to know why. What does Kenya mean? How do English, Swahili, Silence and Memory serve as national languages? Ah, but the beauty of the novel lies in Owuor’s excellent ear. She uses Luo, Kikuyu, Swahili, Turkana among other Kenyan languages liberally and nails local accents so beautifully it makes me want to cry. Msee, and I can hear it. Mzee, and I know that it’s someone else and where he or she is from. If Kenya is a colonial construct, it’s also a collection of myths. “You can’t live in the songs of people who do not know your name,” is a cynical refrain, but perhaps, some day we can. For those who need verbs to temper the lyrical prose, be assured that I found three: see, feel, hear. It’s a very good novel. Read it.

We’ve been mainly text-based up to now on AIAC, but we’re going more and more multimedia: check out our regular podcast (a mixture of talk and music MC’d by our very own Chief Boima) and also Africa is a Country TV. Look out for more original audio interviews on literature, politics, arts, and music — right here!

Elliot Ross

Elliot Ross is on the Editorial Board of Africa is a Country. He tweets at @africasacountry and @futbolsacountry

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