BY THE BOOK: ‘Literary Gangster’ Tony Mochama - Daily Nation

BY THE BOOK: ‘Literary Gangster’ Tony Mochama

Tuesday October 24 2017

Tony Mochama is a media practitioner, poet and

Tony Mochama is a media practitioner, poet and writer, currently celebrating the publication of his tenth book in ten years as a professional author. PHOTO| COURTESY 

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Tony Mochama is a media practitioner, poet and writer, currently celebrating the publication of his tenth book in ten years as a professional author.

He has won local (Sanaa Arts), regional (Burt Prizes), continental (the Morland Miles’Scholarship) and an international (Leapfrog Press Award) accolades for his writing.

He spoke to about his literary favourites and fantasies.

Which one book do you hold so dear that it can’t possibly be lent out?

The book I can never lend out is Another Life, the memoir of the great Simon-&-Schuster publisher, Michael Korda. In it he writes delightfully of his life – and the very many outrageous to eccentric literary figures he interacted with, and published, across four frenetic decades.

Your childhood favourite book?

Just William is my fauvorite childhood book (though Tom Sawyer comes a close second). I totally identified with William Brown, a well-meaning schoolboy scoundrel whose dad thinks is insane.

William is the original ‘LOL’, with all the mishaps he gets into.

Who is your literary crush? (Not a book character but a real person you admire in the lit world).

My literary man crush, now best known (and paid) for his adaptations of Game of Thrones is writer David Benioff.  He has written the best collection of short stories I’ve ever read (When the Nines Roll Over), but chose top TV-Series dollar over literature. Perhaps as he gets older, he’ll reconsider.

What’s your greatest fear?

Fear of failure – whether it is failure in life, or failure of a liver, or leaving life as a fallen leaf. JFK said ‘we have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ But isn’t that enough?

Most embarrassing writing mistake ever?

My most embarrassing writing ‘fail’ happened on Tuesday, the March 8, 2005 – when I left the Caine writing workshop in Crater Lake to go watch Chelsea versus Barcelona in town, without permission, and wasn’t allowed back in.

It may have cost me my shot at the Caine Prize for African Writing (I had this fantastic story, ‘1955,’ a contender), but at least Chelsea won the game 4 to 2.

If you were to dine with three writers, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

The three writers I’d love to have a drink with are Ernest Hemingway, Miles Morland and Derek Walcott. Actually, I did have a drink with the late Derek in Montreal in the April of 2006 – and the Nobel laureate made me pay for it plus his coffee, saying: ‘You have per diems!

Most unforgettable character from a book?

Ammu from Arundhathi’s book, The God of Small Things.  Occasionally, when Ammu listened to songs on the radio that she liked … she walked out of the world like a witch.

Which book do you wish you had written and why?

The book I wish I’d written is Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

This ‘contemporary classic’ captures rural ‘Africa’ at the cusp of Independence, in all its unawareness of its infinite possibilities and inevitable tragedies, in a way that even post-colonial champions like Ngugi wa Thiong’o have never even begun to imagine.

Greatest craft sin you have committed?

My greatest craft sin is Procraftsination – my made-up word about avoiding hard literary work! People think because I’m now on book ten in ten years, I never procraftsinate, but I do! If I didn’t, I’d have twice, or even thrice, the number of books I have published by now.

If you were sent off to Robben Island for a year, which three books would you take with you?

The three books I’d carry are Another Life because one can re-read Korda over and again, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections because it is big, and Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom because, how cool, and ironic, to read that on Robben Island?

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

In another life, I’d be a lawyer – probably a litigator – because that’s the only thing I’m professionally qualified in. And every living thing must eat. Me-self included.

Any other fun and interesting thing you’ve always wanted to tell readers?

I wake up between3 and 3.30pm, every weekday, to write. That’s the fun bit. The interesting bit is that I do it automatically, the waking, not writing, like those folks in horror movies who wake up when the digital clock glows 3:13 am.



BY THE BOOK is a literary series that covers authors, bloggers, actors, academics and poets of note in the African continent. For comments or inquiries, e-mail: [email protected]