The concept of fieldwork among students of literature in this country revolves around taking one’s camera and tape recorder and going to interview traditional storytellers in the countryside.
But who says rural villages are the only reservoirs of traditional wisdom? And is that wisdom readily available on some silver platter?
There are scholars in the urban centres who are crying to pass their wisdom on to the young generation.
We are interested in their ideas but do we create time to visit them and spend time with them?
If I want to find out how it feels like to be a woman writer, I must talk to Grace Ogot, Muthoni Likimani and Asenath Odaga.
There is a thesis that Kenyans do not read for pleasure. They read for examinations.
Literature students who graduate from universities celebrate their completion of their literary studies by setting their books on fire. Or they simply auction them at throw-away prices.
Members of PEN Kenya paid a visit to Marjorie Oludhe-Macgoye on Madaraka Day.
You may be interested in knowing that I first met Marjorie when she was a bookshop manager at the University of Dar es Salaam in 1973.
I went to Dar to interview Tanzanian writers for my doctoral research.
Tanzania was then an ideological haven for Kenyan writers and intellectuals who had run away from the one-party dictatorship at home.
Marjorie was in Tanzania to promote a reading culture. I went there armed with questions about the writer and his audience. What is a bookseller? What is the literacy rate of Tanzania?
What is the subscription rate for journals published in socialist countries like Cuba and the USSR?
How is the country promoting the reading culture of her people? Did Tanzania have a book policy? How is Tanzania treating writers critical of Mwalimu’s policy of Ujamaa?
But on Madaraka Day, I had different questions for Marjorie. She has written essays on moral issues, published in Nairobi by Uzima Press.
The essays criticise the obsession with “home in the rural village” among Kenya’s middle class.
The essays are written from a Christian perspective. They show how many Kenyans who work in towns are so divided between their settlement in the city and their rural homes in which they build projects which are largely white elephants because they never actually live in the countryside. Their rural homes are, at their best, mere burial grounds.
I was happy to know that despite the fact that she was born in England, her literary career started in Kenya when she and Pheroze Nowrojee published their debut poems in Ghala, the literary supplement of the East Africa Journal.
She has since written on Kenyan literature in overseas periodicals.
There is a way in which Marjorie’s books address the burning historical issues of Kenya that endears her to all Kenyans.
Just the previous week, students from the College of Education and External Studies of the University of Nairobi had performed Atieno yo, the poem that made Marjorie famous across the school and university curricula.
Its simplicity and directness of appeal comes from Marjorie’s intimacy with the Luo folklore.
She is the most unacknowledged, but greatest living writer, ever to have chronicled Kenya’s contemporary history.