How I fell in love with writing as a little girl

Friday April 20 2018

Dr Miriam Wangu Maranga-Musonye.

Dr Miriam Wangu Maranga-Musonye is an author and a literature lecturer at the University of Nairobi. PHOTO | EUGINIA GATHONI 

By EUGINIA GATHONI

Dr Miriam Wangu Maranga-Musonye, 49, is a university lecturer and an author who has written several fiction and academic books.

Growing up, did you ever think you would one day become an author?

Not really, although I started enjoying writing as early as when I was in lower primary school. I used to write rudimentary stories on scraps of paper and home-made note books.

Before I learnt to write, I loved to tell stories and was the family entertainer. What I consciously knew from about the age of eight was that I was going to study literature.

I can attribute this to two of my elder sisters because they would bring many novels home and I would read them diligently. I am the last born in a large family and my elder siblings inspired me.

What did you study in college?

While in high school, I was dazzled for some time by the idea of studying law. It was my first choice on the career form, but it was just a moment’s flirtation.

Literature called me back. So I studied Bachelor of Education — Literature and Linguistics. I also studied literature for my Masters and PhD.

How did you get into writing?

As a habit, I have always done creative writing for fun and as a form of self-expression. I write and file my writing — I call it ‘publishing under the pillow.’

Then one day my sister and my brother, both of whom have also published stories for children, challenged me to give one of my manuscripts to a publisher.  I did and it was accepted and published.

Later, I was requested to co-edit a poetry anthology by Daystar University. I did this and it was also an avenue to publish my poetry.

Have you studied writing?

I did a unit called ‘The Art of Writing’ as part of my undergraduate degree at Moi University. That’s all. It was not really enough to prepare one to be a writer. However, as a student of literature, one learns about writing by experiencing writing first hand. Later, as a university lecturer, I read widely about creative writing, not really with any intention of being a writer, but with the intention of being a better teacher of literature. I ended up teaching a course on creative writing at Daystar University and later script writing at the University of Nairobi.

What is your genre of writing?

I do a lot of children’s fiction and poetry.

What challenges do you face in the field of writing and how do you deal with them?

Lack of time. When I have many balls in the air such as family, work, writing and community, I find that the easiest to drop is writing. My family is my priority.

I try to organise my life around the family so I do my writing in my spare time.

The second one is lack of space. Creativity often requires total concentration. A basic requirement for concentration is simply the availability of physical space.

Every writer should have a room of her own. This is a challenge in this era of shared offices and cramped up urban living. I try to make workspace in my home a priority — a study, a desk, a computer — just the bare minimum.

How many books have you written so far?

In fiction — Flower of a Stump (2017) and A Close Shave (2009). In poetry — Heart to Heart: Reflective Poetry from Kenya co-edited with Dr Larry Ndivo. In the anthology there are a number of my poems. The African Drum forthcoming in 2018, co-edited with Tendai Maduwa. Critical works —

Images of Peace, Conflict and Displacement in Refugee Children’s Narratives: the Cases of Nairobi and Kakuma (Lap Lambert Academic Publishing, 2012). Narrating the Self in a Global Context: The Question of Identity in Refugee Children in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya (Lap Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011).

What do you usually wish to achieve once you write a book?

I want the book to be read. I want it to be enjoyable and edifying in that order. As a product of my intellect and my creativity, I want my writing to glorify God.

What do you think needs to be done to improve the writing industry?

Reading clubs. I strongly believe that writers are made out of readers. Mentorship for young writers. Online publishing. Ecommerce. Do more online marketing and sales.

What advice would you give a new author who wants to venture into this field?

Be observant because ideas for writing come from the life around you. Keep a writer’s journal or a notebook of some kind where you jot down ideas.

Read widely. You cannot write much of value unless you read widely. Write for the love of it, not to make money or to make a name.

Do you usually fund yourself to publish the books or how does it work?

No. I work with publishers who fund and market the books. I, however, have great respect for those who venture into self-publishing. The risks are much higher, I think, but then one has more control of the whole publishing process.

There’s a common myth that writers are mostly loners, is that true?

Not necessarily. However, every once in a while, a writer has to retreat to reflect and to write. Many writers do this without radically interrupting their daily rhythm, for example, they may choose to write in the dead of night.

But ideally, one needs a lot of time alone and this is what gives the perception that writers are loners.

What drives you?

My faith in God. I pray about all details of my life and draw strength from God. I also have a stubborn belief that I can do it. This may sound like a contradiction, but that is how it works for me.

Which author do you admire?

I will mention two: Buchi Emecheta (The Joys of Motherhood) and Margaret Laurence (The Stone Angel). The two novels deal with female protagonists whom the authors follow from birth to death.

In both novels the protagonists’ mothers die while giving birth to them. While the two protagonists are very different in terms of culture, historical context and temperament, they share in the trials and triumphs of motherhood and the constant contest of wills between mother and children.

What else do you do aside from writing?

I teach Literature at the University of Nairobi and I take care of my beautiful family. I am married. My husband is a mathematician. He tells his stories in numbers and I tell mine in words so we complement each other. We have three children (two young men aged 18 and a girl aged five).

Name one book that touches your soul.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It clearly captures domestic life by contrasting the authoritarian parenting employed by Papa and the firm and loving parenting employed by Auntie Ifeoma.

What do you usually do to unwind?

I take a walk or if possible sit somewhere and watch the sunset.

What is your biggest strength?

This is a difficult one. I really do not know; I think those who know me should answer this question. Let me try. May be the fact that I do not easily panic and I do not easily lose my cool.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

I read this somewhere, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the next best time is now!” This helps me in so many ways in my life in both small and big decisions.

Where do you see yourself in a few years to come?

In the next say five years, I hope my sons will have completed university and my “sundowner” will be about to finish primary school. I see myself as a better wife.

I hope to publish more. I am currently working on a book project on the dynamics of matatu transport system and I am hoping to complete it in the next few years.

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