The winners of the Text Book Center Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature 2017 were announced on September 30, 2017 as part of this year’s Nairobi International Book Fair.
The Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature a brainchild of the Kenya Publishers Association, established in the early 1970’s, is open to Kenyan writers whose work is published in Kenya. The award celebrated the best writing coming out of Kenya in the last two years in both English and Kiswahili for different age set from youth to adult. Previous winners of the prize include Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (2015), Henry Ole Kulet (2009, 2013), Yusuf Dawood (2011), Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye (2007), Stanley Gazemba (2003), Meja Mwangi (1974, 2001), Ngumi Kibera (1997), Margaret Ogola (1995), and Wahome Mutahi (1992).
This year the shortlists that were announced and they were a decent mix of new writers and the tried and tasted. They would be battling for the cash award as well as the honour of being the most respected writers in the country for the next two years.
The winners of the categories were;
Adult Category in English
The Elephant Dance by Henry Ole Kulet – Publishers– Longhorn Publishers
This is a story of contemporary business empires and an illumination of how some of them are built through money laundering, corrupt business deals and generally with disregard for morals. This text highlights how international syndicates connive with corrupt local individuals to rob local communities of their cultural heritage and wealth. Such individuals are driven by a selfish ambition to amass wealth at all costs. Indeed, they would not think twice even if the environment and the living things therein were decimated in a day. This novel represents Ole Kulet’s most sophisticated imagination about matters environment, on which he has been writing for decades. The Elephant Dance is an ode to the efforts of those who seek to tap into communal knowledge in the fight against animal poaching
Adult Category in Kiswahili
Mashetani wa Alepo by Tom Olali – Publishers– Jomo Kenyatta Foundation
A futuristic novel in which the writer dares to experiment with style and subject. The story is rendered in the form of fantasy to prophesy the doom of humankind as a consequence of moral degeneration, wanton destruction of nature and the selfish interests in technological experimentation. It cautions against capitalistic tendencies that are pegged on the pretence of economic development. This is a novel in which the author deliberately seeks to invite different audiences, through dexterous use of language, including code-mixing, to reflect on the most significant tragedy of modernity: man’s inhumanity. This novel is part of a new tendency in Kiswahili literature in Kenya to address itself to both the traditional Kiswahili literature reader and other interested readers of literature in Kiswahili.
Youth Category in Kiswahili
Majilio ya Mkombozi by Mwenda Mbatiah – Publishers– Moran Publishers
An interesting narrative that promises the rise of a new social order. The text grapples with realistic social issues and presents characters that are acceptable and identifiable. As a coming of age narrative, the story is laden with moral values of hard work, selflessness, and honesty. It also emphasises the need to appreciate women in nation-building and warns against the destructive forces of greed and corruption. Further, the story cautions against taking advantage of others. This is a classic example of good triumphs over evil sort of story.
Youth Category in English
Ghost and the Fortune Hunters by Goro wa Kamau –Publishers– Longhorn Publishers
A beautifully crafted story that grapples with the challenges of birth defects and the ignorance of some people towards albinism. It demonstrates the genesis of the problems of the youth and accords them the opportunity to mend their ways without unnecessarily victimising them further. This is a story of self-acceptance, hard work and resilience despite the circumstances.
Children Category in English
Koko Riko by Muthoni Muchemi –- Publishers– Storymoja
An interesting story that presents both animal and human characters. It strongly teaches children the virtues of saving for a rainy day without appearing to impose the theme. The illustrations are appropriate and indicate that the writer revisits the traditional fable mode to convey a moral lesson in a contemporary setting.