Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye was born in Southampton, England and moved to Kenya in 1954 to run the CMS bookshop at Church House in Nairobi.
Since landing on these shores the Brit integrated into Kenyan life marrying D.G.W. Macgoye, a medical doctor in 1960.
Whilst doing her job at the CMS bookshop she organised readings which were attended by, among others, Okot P’Bitek, the author of Song of Lawino, and Jonathan Kariara.
She also started doing her own literary work. In 1971, an anthology entitled Poems from East Africa included her acclaimed poem “A Freedom Song”. Her debut novel was her 1972 novel Murder in Majengo and she went on to write other books like a poetry collection Song of Nyarloka and Other Poems in 1977.
In the 1980s she had a rich vein of work with her 1986 novel Coming to Birth winning that year’s Sinclair Prize for fiction. It has gone on to be used as a set book in Kenyan high schools with 2006 the most recent year used.
She went to write novels, poetry collections and children’s books only 13 of which were published earning her the unenviable title of “mother of Kenyan literature”. Her body of work included;
- 1972: Murder in Majengo
- 1977: Song of Nyarloka and Other Poems
- 1986: Coming to Birth
- 1987: Street Life
- 1987: The Present Moment
- 1994: Homing In
- 1997: Chira
- 2005: A Farm Called Kishinev (winner: Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature)
- 2009: The Composition of Poetry
Our literary matriarch died at her Ngara home in Nairobi on December 1. There were many tributes to the passed on the author;
“Her work had this capacity to drink deep from the hidden streams of Kenya and its otherworlds, which she rendered with simplicity and beauty for her readers. She trod through life with a curious twinkle in her gaze and a tangible love for those she met, who expressed joy at her work. Her deep and true passion for her country Kenya, warts and all, were for me, a call to remember, to always hope, no matter how heavy the shadows that hovered over our best dreams of being here. Her way of seeing, her love for beauty, her use of words, her way with them, her capacity to turn moments into intense story moments! May her soaring soul now find a home in the place where all stories begin.”
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, author of Dust
Thank you for your great writing #ComingToBirth —>Author Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye dies https://t.co/un8Vx6RfDF via @TheStarKenya
— Victor Oduor (@Victorodu) December 3, 2015
In the #ComingToBirth, I remember the young marriage of Paulina & Martin Were. So symbolic it was
— Makamu wa Rais (@Lmakamu) December 2, 2015
RIP Marjorie…. u surely did complicate my life in h.sch #comingtobirth
— larry koech (@larrykoech) December 2, 2015
RIP Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye #ComingToBirth…Big loss to our nation.We need streets named after such legends..Anyway its Kenya,not yet born
— Gilbert Kaisha okeke (@obagah) December 2, 2015
Marjorie Oludhe MacGoye, such a great writer. i luv #comingtobirth
— dani Kinoti (@danidank7) December 2, 2015
The theme of disillusionment that runs through #ComingToBirth is still a sad reality for many Kenyans today. #RipMarjorie
— Josiah Mugo Mosby (@mosbyJmugo) December 2, 2015
The gift you left us with is still as fresh as a mothers milk #RIP Oludhe #ComingToBirth
— Nelson Omondi (@NelsonOmondiDon) December 2, 2015
There was a church service for her at the All Saints Cathedral yesterday afternoon attended by family and friends. She will be buried in Bondo on Saturday.