Mukoma Wa Ngugi closed out the third day of Afrolit Sans Frontières on Instagram Live from Ithaca, New York, USA, on March 25, 2020.
Afrolit Sans Frontières is an initiative from writers of African origin curated by Zukiswa Wanner. Sixteen writers from 10 African countries are sharing their work from 15 different cities in English, French, Lingala, and Portuguese to a global virtual audience online over eight days. The first day of the festival had Richard Ali Mutu in Kinshasa before crime fiction writer Leye Adenle engaged from his London base. The second day started with Rémy Ngamije talking about his work from his Windhoek, Namibia base with Hawa Jande Golakai closing proceedings from Monrovia, Liberia.
On Wednesday, the two featured writers were Maaza Mengiste, who was lovely, before the singing and reading Mukoma Wa Ngugi took the mantle in the evening. The writer who was doing his session from Ithaca, New York started by playing the guitar and singing Malaika, the famous love song by Kenyan musical legend Fadhili Williams, and a bit of a song by Kenny Rodgers. He ended the performance section by reading his first poem on the Covid pandemic.
He followed the singing and poem by reading a few pieces of work from books that are currently available to readers as well as a work-in-progress entitled Unbury our Dead With Song, forthcoming from Cassava Republic Press, as well as We The Scarred forthcoming from Paivapo Publishers.
In the half-hour that followed, he dealt with several issues that were close to his heart with prompting from those who were assembled. He mentioned that all the male characters in his books were extremely bad in bed and needed to do better. The characters he wrote were vulnerable and their vulnerability he reasoned, would also show in bed.
An issue that we suspect he thought about quite a bit came up when a question about him being Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s son came up. He is aware of it whenever any of his books came out; it is who he is and there is nothing he could do nothing about it. He used the example of him watching Bob Marley’s sons perform and an image of their father would always come up.
He spoke a bit about his forthcoming book Unbury our Dead With Song which references the Ethiopian form of music called “Tizita” which he first heard in the early 2000s. He was in the East African country and he saw how important the music to the people from the country in the past year. He even gave the viewers and extra treat of playing his own version of the Tizita genre.
Now that he lives in the US a question came up on whether he represented all African writing or if he saw himself as an individual writer. His answer to that was as a scholar he did but as an individual writer, he does not. He also spoke about the problem with African writing where some say that it started with Achebe and ended with Adichie which he found problematic. African writing, he said, could be traced back many centuries across different parts of the continent.
The fun question had to be who would win in a literary arm-wrestling match between Kenyans and Nigerians; he went with Kenyans for the more artistic offering although he stated that there were many amazing Nigerian writers.