Doctor and law student win in inaugural writing prize in Nyanza

Saturday September 3 2016

By ANITA CHEPKOECH
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Troy Onyango and Redscar Mc Odindo are the winners of the inaugural Nyanza Annual Literary Festival (Nalif), which went down last Saturday at Kisumu’s Kiboko Bay Resort.

The two were among the 55 applicants and 15 finalists who battled for the three awards in the categories of fiction, poetry and stage play at the much anticipated event.

Mr Onyango, 23, a law student at the University of Nairobi, scooped the Fiction Writer category award while Redscar, 26, emerged the best poet. Each earned Sh100,000 for their unpublished work.

The winners will also secure publishing contracts and opportunities to be mentored by established authors and film producers. Ms Jakki Kerubo, a US-based writer and founder of Nalif, said there was no winner in the class of stage play since it attracted less than five entries.

“I am really glad to have won this award. Nalif has presented me with an opportunity to share my work with a wider audience,” said Mr Onyango, a writer of two years.

Mr McOdindo, a doctor, has been composing poems for as long as he can remember. He posts his works on Facebook.

“I only started writing serious, publishable poems two years ago and I am willing to take it to any level possible now,” he said.

It was double luck for the poet who also won the Okot p’Bitek Award during a one-off continental poetry event that was held in Kampala, Uganda.

The soft-spoken poet has had his work published on the Sand journal, Mandala and Jalada among other publications.

Mr Onyango, who draws his writing inspiration from several writers including Virginia Wolf, has no book under his name yet, but some of his short stories have been published in several platforms including Afri-Diaspora, a Nigerian journal, while another piece is upcoming in the Harvard Transition Magazine.

Submissions for the Nalif award opened on March 1 and closed on June 30. It targeted authors between the ages of 18 to 35, with literary works that have not been published.

The theme of the contest was ‘The Metamorphosis,’ perhaps drawing inspiration from the 1915 novella by Franz Kafka.

Ms Kerubo said she initiated the award to encourage oneness among Kenyan writers and to give them a platform with a global audience.

“We did not want to impose our ideas on writers and replicate what we do in the US where we enjoy funding and support,” she told Saturday Nation during the event.

“We realise that communities here have different needs. We wanted to keep it simple and get to learn what would be ideal for them for a beginning and also to guide our long-term project,” she added.

Ms Baze Mpinja, Nalif board member and a judge, said the Kenyan art industry, unlike that of the US, receives little financial or moral support and has less in terms of variety.

“In the U.S, we have the luxury of variety and diversity. Here, you get categorised as an African writer whereas in the US, it’s more about your genre,” said Ms Mpinja.

Genres, she says, are subdivided further into more specific kind of art. Fiction, for instance, can be broken into thrillers or family stories.

“When Jakki first told me about the idea to start a competition for young East African writers, I thought it was a great idea because they have so much talent and creativity,” she said.

Ms Mpinja says there is a tendency by Kenyan and East African writers to compete and attempt to pull each other down.

Ms Kerubo, who will soon unveil her first novel titled The Rules of Shame, says she is encouraged by the turn-out of the first Nalif event.

“I didn’t have a number in mind, but nearly 60 people is great for an inaugural event. We hope to grow this organisation into one that nurtures writers over the long term, from alpha to publication, as well as build a thriving artist community in the region,” said the writer.

According to judges, the works submitted for stage play were fairly good and the participants for the category were enthusiastic. The Nalif founder said the playwrights underwent training that will see them submit better entries next year.

“I would like to encourage the writers that whether they won or not, they should remain committed to our art. It’s a solitary experience. We are here to encourage people to keep writing,” said Ms Kerubo.