Kikete F.M is a written and spoken word artist. He finds creative writing and performance a seductive sanctuary; a means to forget his failures, heartbreak, cares; and a means to think through the absurdity of life.
He hopes to challenge and inspire minds with his work, but has no grand illusions about his art; he simply expresses himself and leaves the rest to the authors of his eulogy. He has contributed to Contemporary African Literature (CALi): Poetry, and has performed at the Storymoja Festival, Nairobi Poetry Café (as a featured poet), MufasaInConcert and various other stages.
His short-story and poetry collection Slices and Crumbs; Thoughts for Breakfast, is currently on track for publication. He is the reigning Kenya Poetry Slam Champion, and will be Kenya’s representative at this year’s Africa Cup of Slam Poetry in N’Djamena, Chad, in November.
What was the last book you read?
The Tender Barby J.R. Moehringer. It’s a meticulously written memoir, tracing the life of a boy born into a dysfunctional family and is practically raised in the local bar. He struggles with addiction and self-discovery but in the end finds the fortitude to choose to be refined and not simply defined by his upbringing. I learned from it the value of choosing to own one’s story, learn from history – not wallow in it.
Which book do you feel has inspired you?
I’m generally sceptical about “self-help” books but found Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules of Life not exactly inspirational, but practical as a general guide to living.
What three books have excited you this year?
Best of Whispers: Politics, Family and Society– It has been exciting to revisit Wahome Mutahi’s unique brand of humour and social commentary in book form. I finally read Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor; it was quite an intriguing experience. And I picked up Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes from a street vendor – the book is a moving story of the author’s childhood adversity, and how they conquer bitterness with compassion.
Your favourite childhood book and why?
There was this series of books by Barbara Kimenye – the Moses Series. I was a little naughty in my childhood, probably still am, so the schemes the boys cooked up in those books hit home – and I too always got caught!
Which two books do you hold so dear you can’t lend out?
Handbook of Revolutionary Warfareby Kwame Nkrumah and Soledad Brother by George Jackson.
If you were to dine with three writers (dead or alive), who would they be and why?
Maya Angelou, for her wisdom and sharp wit, socio-political consciousness and that grandmotherly voice that captivates in storytelling. Noam Chomsky, because I’ve always had an interest in the workings of imperialism and the systems devised to control the masses. And Frantz Fanon, for inspiration to keep up the fight for social justice.
Most unforgettable character from a book?
There’s a character from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath in the very last scene of the book – Rose of Sharon. She helps a man on the verge of death by starvation suckle on her breast. That book is about the erosion of human dignity by economic hardship, and Rose’s action shows that ultimately our species survives on our humanity.
Which book do you wish you had written?
1984by George Orwell. I always fancied having the gift of clairvoyance and that book is in many ways a prophesy of a reality we’re presently living.
If you were sent off to a remote island with no internet, which three books would you take with you?
Probably a map book on how to get out of there. If not, a collection of Robert Frost’s poetry would be one – I love how he disguises complexity in simplicity and his imagery is very precise. Tao Te Ching, for sunset meditation and something funny but intelligent like Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle to keep the yawns at bay.
Do you think book festivals, literary prizes and writing workshops are important in a writer’s growth?
Workshops, definitely – especially when they’re designed more as a sharing of experiences and not merely a lecture by the facilitators. Festivals are great for networking and discovery as many writers don’t have the marketing machinery to promote their work otherwise. I know I’d love to win one of those major prizes, but it’s not my primary motivation for writing – still, we write so our ideas are recognised, and a prize is the highest honour in that regard.
Tell me about the last book that made you cry.
Caroline Elkins’ Britain’s Gulag. It made me realise how sanitised the history of our struggle to end colonialism is. The Mau Mau story has been so romanticised, and the truth of the savagery of the British attempts to quell the uprising concealed. It troubles me to this day that after all they sacrificed, many of our freedom fighters remain poor, landless and disillusioned.
Who do you consider the most exciting newcomer in the writing world?
Of the home-grown writers I’d say Alexander Ikawah. There’s quirkiness to his writing that I admire, and he has range. He writes science fiction, man on the street stories, human psychology explorations and even scripts for film.
What are you currently writing?
I am working on a series of poems for a theatrical production, loosely based on the redemption story of the apostle Paul from the Bible. I have also just completed a series of poems in preparation for a music and poetry showcase at the Goethe Institute on September 29.