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BY THE BOOK: Jephtha Malelah

Monday October 14 2019

Jephtha Malelah is a Kenyan artist, social worker and author of a poetry collection titled Pieces of My African Soul. PHOTO| COURTESY

Jephtha Malelah is a Kenyan artist, social worker and author of a poetry collection titled Pieces of My African Soul. PHOTO| COURTESY 


Jephtha Malelah is a Kenyan artist, social worker and author of a poetry collection titled Pieces of My African Soul. He also has poems featured in Best New African Poets 2017 and 2018 anthologies, Fatuma’s Voice, Storymoja Festival and Street Poetry.

He currently runs a book project with Homa Bay Children’s Home, an initiative that has collected over a thousand books from organisations and well-wishers. He believes that art is the consciousness of society, which makes an artist the guardian. He currently volunteers with Peer Servants as a Global facilitator for its Youth Empowerment Programmes. He blogs at


What are the three most memorable books you have read so far, and what makes them so?

The first one is Weep Not Child by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. I value this novel for it sheds light on Mau Mau uprising, the clash between our culture and that of colonialists.

The second isAnecdotes of the Great by J. Maurus. Never have I seen a book that caught so much wisdom from the daily lives of the greatest humans who ever lived.


The third isRobert Frost: Selected Poems. Frost is definitely one of my favourite poets. His voice is so authentic and captivating that he interacts with nature in a paranormal way. I could read this book over and over again, and never tire.


How many books on average do you read in a year, and do you have a favourite spot where you read them from?

I read at least 30 books. When I am in Homa Bay, my lovely home town, my favourite spot is the front veranda overlooking trees and the dining room overlooking Asego hill. I also love reading while travelling. Unless I have no choice, I love reading in quiet places.


Which is your most favourite genre of books? Any reason?

I love historical fiction. I love exploring how civilisations came to be, the debates around the origin of life, birth and growth of cultures. 


What is the size of your book collection as of now? Where do you get them from and what motivates you to?

As much as my siblings continue to reduce my collection, I am still a proud owner of about 44 books. I buy most of them but friends also gift me books and I am thankful.


Which are your two most treasured books and why? Do you normally lend them out?

I’d go for Robert Frost: Selected Poems, obviously because I am in love with Frost’s poetry and this is the only collection I own. In fact, I am yet to lend it out… 

My second pick isThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I relate so much to this book because I hate injustice and I relate to black oppression because it has affected me and my ancestors. I recently lent out The Hate U Give because I want as many people to be informed about the importance of human rights, the reality of injustice especially against black people.


If you were to become a poem, which one would you choose and why?

I would definitely become “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. My revelation of this poem is that it communicates the struggle of an artist and how society alienates artists. It isn’t easy being an artist. That poem is me.


If you had an opportunity to meet three great poets, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

Chinua Achebe. I would love to ask him how he managed to be so bold at a time when he faced so much adversity, and how his writing was so simple yet so sophisticated.

Robert Frost. I would ask him if he found nature divine because of the way he wrote about it. It is beyond poetry.

Minda Magero. I would ask her what it takes to love until one writes a whole book about it.


If you were to recommend three books to a 10-year-old, which ones would they be and why?

Diary of A Wimpy Kid(the whole series) by Jeff Kinney, Madulo & Co by Dabilo Mokobi and Sauna and The Drug Peddlers by Dan Fulani. These three books artistically spark and build one’s imagination. For sure, nothing is more precious than that.


Have you ever had a bad commentary about your writing? What did it say and how did you deal with it?

Yes, some people say that I am too radical especially in writing about matter faith and politics. I explained to them the reason and then kept writing. Another one told me that I did not have a voice as a poet, so I had to do soul-searching and work tirelessly to specify my voice.


What are your thoughts on the appreciation of poetry in Kenya?

It is not yet where I would love to see it as a poet, but I see growth everyday especially with increased poetry events, prizes, festivals and even viral posts on social media. Kenyans are learning to embrace poetry.


E-books versus hard copies, what is your preference and why?

Hard copies. I prefer having something I can hold, touch, feel and put a wooden bookmark in. It makes me want to read.


Page poetry or spoken word, what is your preference and why?

Page poetry. It allows me to create a whole world of imagination, on my mind and in silence. I can do both but I believe I am a better writer than a speaker.


What was your last poetry book that you read and how did you find it?

It is titled String of Miracles by Minda Magero, a whole anthology about love. It gave me a chance to explore the thoughts of a woman who loves deeply. I found it eye-opening, raw and honest. What is life without love?


What do you think schools, colleges, universities and educators can do to encourage students to enjoy poetry?

I would encourage them to make poetry a subject beyond classwork and test papers, make it a school club, an event, a fun activity and a life skill.


If you weren’t a poet, what would you be?

I would be a social worker. Developing communities and campaigning for human rights is so fulfilling.


What piece of advice would you wish all aspiring poets to keep in mind?

A dreamer, an artist, a poet can never be faint-hearted. For we love truly, we feel deeply and we think extensively, and those are hard things to do in a world full of blended criticism, differing philosophy, clashing opinions and relativism. The end is worth it.