Katama Mkangi’s Walenisi

Katama Mkangi’s Walenisi, to be translated by Richard Prins’, is among the PEN America literary grant recipients 2023 announced on November 16, 2022.

PEN America’s Literary Translation Fund awards grants to promote the publication and reception of translated world literature in English. It is juried by panels of esteemed, award-winning writers, editors, translators, and critics who are committed to recognizing their contemporaries, these winning works-in-progress show the potential for lasting literary impact. The PEN/Heim Translation Grant was established by a gift from Priscilla and Michael Henry Heim in response to the dismayingly low number of literary translations appearing in English in 2003. Yarri Kamara received the grant for 2020.

The grants for 2023 were announced and one title will be of interest to Kenyan literary enthusiasts;

  • Richard Prins’ translation from the Swahili of Walenisi by Katama Mkangi

Prof. Katama Mkangi was a pro-democracy crusader in Kenya and contributor in the second liberation of the country. Some of his titles principally in Kiswahili were the novels Ukiwa (1974), Mafuta (1984), and Walenisi (1995).

The judges’ citation said, “A touchstone of Kenyan literature, Katama Mkangi’s Walenisi begins with a reimagination of events from the dictatorial Kenyatta and Moi regimes. The novel’s protagonist, sentenced to death for “talking too much,” miraculously escapes his fate by piloting the space ship intended as his grave to the utopian planet Walenisi, where a journey of self-discovery begins. Blending parable and science fiction, Mkangi, who was imprisoned for his pro-democracy advocacy, satirizes global capitalism and postcolonial authoritarianism while presenting a speculative vision of an egalitarian future. Richard Prins translates this thrilling ride with humor and verve — a rare chance for English-speakers to read an Africanfuturist work originally written in an indigenous African language.”