East Africa’s biggest literary festival christened Storymoja Festival, will be returning for the tenth year at The National Museum of Kenya in the country’s capital Nairobi, on September 27.
The 5-day festival will be showcasing the strides made to ensure the East African region embraces a reading and creative writing culture. The theme for this year’s festival is ‘Black Peace’
“We envisioned this theme accommodating conversations in Literature, to panel discussions such as The Big Conservation Lie, The State of Piracy in the Kenyan Literary Scene and Disability: Law & Right” said Anne Eboso, the Storymoja Festival Producer.
The festival comes ten years after the disputed 2007 general elections which led to loss of thousands of lives in Kenya. Coincidentally, the 2017 Storymoja Festival is being held at the backdrop of another disputed General Election, which has witnessed sharp differences, a petition filed at the country’s Supreme Court to challenge the elections and later a historic ruling nullifying an African incumbent’s win, a ruling which puts Kenya at the same level as the few democratically mature states in the world. Following the historic judgment, that edifies the independence of the judiciary, political temperatures have been heightened even further as the citizens prepare to go back to the polls in 60 days.
“Our wish as citizens of Kenya and Africa is that we can carry out justice and democracy in our own governance and electoral processes. It is only understandable and hardly surprising when peace is shaken if it seems that the tenets of justice and democracy have been shaken. At this point in time we continue to hope that things will be resolved so we can continue working as a nation.” The festival producer says.
Storymoja Festival is also a celebration of culture Top Kenyan artist Eric Wainaina performs at Storymoja, Courtesy: Storymoja
The festival was first held in 2008 on December 2 as a Nyama Choma Storytelling Festival. ‘Nyama choma’ is a popular pastime culture of roasting meat in Kenya. After the success of the first event, the organizers decided to partner with The Hay Festival – a 10-day UK arts and literature festival.
From 2009 to 2013, the Storymoja Hay Festival would host several book fairs in Nairobi featuring various renowned writers including Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri, Vikram Seth, Michela Wrong and Kofi Awoonor, Ghana’s famous poet, writer and diplomat. Awoonor, who was one of the invited writers at the 2013 fair, would tragically meet his death during the Kenyan Westgate Mall attack of September 2013 that ended the lives of 67 people. In honor of Kofi Awoonor, the following year’s Storymoja Festival-now detached from the Hay Festival-was held together with the Westgate memorial celebration. In 2016, Kofi Awoonor’s son, Afesti Awoonor decided to bring the Festival to Ghana, the home of the fallen literary Giant.
Nigerian author Wole Soyinka attends 2014 Storymoja Festival in Nairobi, Photo Courtesy: Storymoja
The 2017 calendar doesn’t digress from the Storymoja tradition with book discussions, public lectures, master classes & workshops, art & theatre shows, concerts, schools, children’s, and family programs.
“To celebrate one of Africa's most celebrated poet and the first African woman Nobel Laureate, we will continue with tradition and host two public lectures; the Kofi Awoonor Memorial Lecture and the Wangari Maathai Memorial Lecture.” Ann Eboso outlined the plans. The ‘Black Peace’ theme will be central to the lectures by various people.
The festival has also planned an interactive Schools Program targeting children and teenagers aged between 6-18 years which will see the demographic interact with celebrated storytellers such as; Mike Lockett from (US), Mara Menzies (UK), Joan Ball Burgess, Kenyan top comedian Daniel 'Churchill' Ndambuki, Iman Verjee and Edna Gicovi, among others.
Attendees at the 2014 Storymoja Festival, Thousands of school children at 2013 Storymoja Hay Festival, Photo Courtesy, Storymoja
Other notable guests set to grace the event include; Caine Prize Winner Bushra Al Fadil, Nigeria Prize for Literature Winner Abubakar Ibrahim, Kenya's Kinyanjui Kombani, Kari Mutu and Boniface Mwangi, South Africa's Barbara Adair, Uganda's Beverly Barton, Norwegian Ingrid Storholmen and Somaliland's Dr. Jama Muse.
Storymoja Festival is a brainchild of Storymoja Publishers- a collective that was started by Muthoni Garland, a celebrated Kenyan writer who has so far published over ten titles-most of them children books. She also doubles up as the CEO and Brand Ambassador of Storymoja.
Storymoja’s other initiatives include Careerpedia, offering mentorship programs to young people. Start-a-library, an initiative meant to increase the number of libraries in Kenya and the National Read-a-Aloud day, that aims to encourage story readership among young people.
The festival ends on October 1.