During the just-concluded National Book Week organised by the National Book Development Council of Kenya (NBDCK), unpublished writers got a rare opportunity for recognition.
Moraa Gitaa won the overall prize in the Adult Fiction category with her piece, From Shifting Sands to Deeper Dimensions.
In the Junior category Beaten by Kaguithi Jared took the top prize, with A song of Life by Barasa Keya and Is it Fair? by Eric Odhiambo taking the second and third positions.
In the Children’s category, the winner was Philip Kaula who wrote a story titled The Village Hero.
Each of the winners took home cash prizes of Sh30,000, while the second and third positions won Sh15,000 and Sh10,000.
The move by the Book Development Council was seen by many as a positive one in developing writers who might otherwise remain unknown. Prof Chris Wanjala, who heads the board at the Council, said that their mandate is to nurture writers at the manuscript level.
“That way we help identify talent and therefore make work easy for publishers looking out for good manuscripts.” Already, the winning writers have been contacted by publishers who have expressed a willingness to publish their manuscripts.
And there was plenty of inspiration for the budding writers to draw from. NBDCK, through the American Embassy invited an American playwright Lynn Nottage, who gave a keynote address during the literary awards ceremony.
NBDCK also decided to appreciate the important role played by the media in the promotion of literature.
Yours truly received the award for promoting literature in the print media. Kobi Kihara of Royal Media won the TV category, while Evans Wanyoike and Iribe Mwangi of Regional Reach Media won the Radio category.
Prof Wanjala said the Council hopes to harness the synergy that comes from working together with the various stakeholders to promote the book industry.
Other members of NBDCK are Kenya Booksellers and Stationers Association, Kenya Library Association, Kenya National Library Services, Kenya Institute of Education, and the Department of Culture.
Prof Wanjala said the Council’s basket was full of goodies for writers. “We are planning a major literary awards ceremony in December and the awards will be more substantial,” he revealed. The awards are being organised in conjunction with Storymoja Publishers.
Mrs Ruth Odondi, the executive officer at NBDCK, said the synergy went a long way in making this year’s Book Week a success.
She singled out KPA who, through their chairperson Mrs Nancy Karimi, brought out the positive aspects of the synergy. Mrs Karimi, who is the managing director at Jomo Kenyatta Foundation, is also a board member at NBDCK.
“KPA hosted our literary awards at Sarit Centre during the Book Fair without charging us a cent, ” said Mrs Odondi.
Things have not always been this rosy between NBDCK and KPA. In fact in previous years, they had been operating at cross purposes.
Mr Lawrence Njagi, who headed the KPA’s committee on the Book Fair, said that the two bodies decided to iron out their differences and work together.
“That explains why we decided to hold joint events like the media briefing so as not to confuse book lovers,” said Mr Njagi.
With things working out well with their partners, Prof Wanjala is confident that the stage is now set for them to push for the implementation of a national book policy.
‘‘For a long time now, we have only talked about the need for a book policy, but nothing has come out of it,” he said. “It is high time we channelled our collective energies into ensuring that this noble goal is achieved.”
He said the policy would address issues like the adoption of a reading culture.
“We need to entrench a reading culture among our people, so that we do not just concentrate on academic reading at the expense of leisure reading,” said Prof Wanjala.
Already NBDCK is making efforts to promote a reading culture in the country. “Through the Children’s Reading Tents (CRT) we target children from disadvantaged parts of the country, by donating books which they use to form libraries,” said Mrs Odondi.
This year schools in Mwingi, Kitui and Kibera in Nairobi benefited from the CRT project. Most of the books used in the project have been donated by publishers.