Arts and Culture

Writers wanted

A good journalists told me recently the problem with the media is we have too many reporters and very few writers.

I have always disputed this because I used to think journalists and writers were interchangeable until recently.

I followed the whiff of the Somali storyteller Nuruddin Farah when he stopped by Nairobi recently to seek out the company of writers in their hiding places. Mr Farah was giving a talk at Cheche bookshop, nestled away from any roadside impulse buyer, that you have to trace the location with a treasure map on Google.

As we navigated the late evening towards the great writer NyarSindo gave me something to think about. She said journalists talk all about themselves and their editors and politicians in first person, about how we scooped exclusive stories and the endless industry gossip like market women.

I laugh at the accuracy of what I have witnessed myself whenever we are around non-journalists and what tends to happen is that we get carried away with our self-importance we isolate them. We can be awful company.

But are we also awful for the business as well.

We came in late as usual and found this collection of fascinated writers sitting at the feet of a master like attentive students, hoping to learn the wisdom of becoming a great writer, or at least the secret to becoming one.

Nuruddin is a fascinatingly brave, and his boldness strikes me as a man who has attained complete freedom, a man who has fully actualized. He says things as he sees them and boldly challenges writers to do so to.

That evening he told us to write whatever was aching to be told in us, if our biases are healthy, we should let them out as a breath of fresh air, even at the cost of being ostracized.

“There is a government waiting to censor you, the whole Somali community and they will criticize whatever you say,” he said.

“There is a Somali saying that a hunchback eventually learns how to leave with his discomfort,” he said.

As he spoke, Kamkunji member of parliament Yusuf Hassan tiptoed into the craven and sneaked round the eyes glued at the ageing writer’s defiant glint. It looked like everyone missed him like he was the invisible gorilla our tunnel vision peeled not to miss a moment of the lecture.

After the lecture while I awkwardly danced around the crowd of writers paying homage to the great ones like Onyango Obbo and John Sibi Okumu I overheard this kind lady ask Mr Obbo, “And who are you?”.

Clearly it is only among writers that authority loses its prestige, and fame is frowned upon and the only ideal is to attain Nuruddin level of frankness in our work.  

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