The Kwani Trust turned ten years old this year and the trust that built its name as the new face of Kenyan literature hosted several events to celebrate this fact.
I was one of the many Nairobi folks that filled the University of Nairobi 8-4-4 hall on Friday last week. The crowd was full and they were here to listen to Chimamanda ‘s memorial lecture. The list I can think off from memory was impressive on its own. Muthoni Garland. Aleya Kassam. Terry Hirst. Millicent Muthoni. Naliaka Wafula. Mwenda Wa Micheni. Joseph Ngunjiri aka Mbugua Ngunjiri. Khainga O’Okwemba. Beth Nduta. Fred Mbogo. Neo Musangi. Njeri Wangari aka The Kenyan Poet. Kingwa Kimencu. If they have been a part of the creative business you were probably here and you were joined by many students of the university and fans of the Nigerian writer.
The event went like most university events happen in Kenya. Performances by a group, in this case, the university travelling troupe. Very good. Poetry by Phyllis Muthoni. Decent. Speeches by several folks. Binyavanga Wainaina spoke about the awesomeness of Adichie. Prof Wanjiku Kaberia was hilarious in her usual understated manner. The Principal of the School of humanities Prof. Njeru Enos H. Nthia was even more hilarious as he read the Vice Chancellor’s speech.
After the preamble which took quite a while, the reason we were all here was upon us. Chimamanda came on the stage and started talking. Hers was a chat about her journey as a writer from the University of Nsukka in Nigeria to moving to the US and all the way to where she currently was. She had planned on being a doctor but moved to being a communications person and eventually started writing and she never stopped.
At this time she told us about Binyananga Wainaina and how they had met online and how and their journey together. She also gave tribute to the job that the Kwani Trust had been doing over the last decade. It was quite an endorsement from the highly decorated writer.
The talk was quite good but what happened after was even more interesting. The questions being fielded by Chimamanda were not the interrogative ones that you would expect from the battle hardened journo. These were tributes by fans being given the author disguised as questions to just say they spoke to their hero. They mostly started their enquiries with “By the way Chimamanda I’m your number one fan/biggest fan.” There was a breathless quality to their questions; like they could not believe that they were in the same room with the person that wrote Half of a Yellow Sun/Purple Hibiscus. One even gave a tearful tale about her using all her money to buy Half of a Yellow Sun and having to call for fare from her mum. It was touching.
Once the talk ended it became even more interesting. Chimamanda was mobbed by fans needing autographs. I have been covering the arts for a while and I am familiar with rabid fans; in music, acting and sports. I saw the madness when P-square, Shaggy and Usain Bolt came to Kenya but I have never for the life of me seen people almost injuring a writer for their autograph.
Do Nairobians love Chimamanda Adichie? Hell yeah. Now if only we can get the same from a local writer. Seriously.