Just before going to the Writivism 2015 Workshop in Dar es Salaam, I wrote this post. At the end I said “Sometimes people talk about writing and get so academic. I just sit there, acting like I understand what they are saying. I hope those moments will be rare in Dar.”

This was the second workshop I have attended. The first one was Kwani?’s workshop in residency at Tafaria, held mid-2014, facilitated by Billy Kahora and NoViolet Bulawayo. Being a student of law, I had to play catch up at that workshop, because when a person like Alexander Ikawah began talking, he would get so technical about Literature, talking in lit jargon that invariably made me feel ignorant. So most of the time, when the sessions were over, I would walk over to him and ask him to translate whatever he was saying into English.

I longed for a time when we would talk matters legal so that I would also show off my Latin and katiba proficiency at him in retaliation. But that moment never materialized.

But that was not the case at the Writivism workshop, Dar edition.

Never for a single moment did I feel out of place, or lost. This is largely because of the manner in which our facilitator, Zukiswa Wanner, conducted the entire process. That and the fact that we only had 3 days to do the workshop, so nobody had the time to show off.

So this is how the cookie crumbled in Tanzania.

It was held at the CDEA Arts Space, and co-facilitated by our generous host Ayeta Wangusa. Other guests in attendance were members of Kenya’s literati corps; book critic James Murua, author Abigail Arunga and the Miles Morland 2014 laureate, Ndinda Kioko.

The first day was spent reading texts by other authors – short stories by Abubakar Adam, Igoni Barrett, Molara Wood, Tolu Ogunlesi and Ryan O’Neill. Most of us did not understand why this exercise was important until Zukiswa said, “Nobody can never teach you how to write. It is either you have it or you don’t. However, if you want to better your craft, then the best way to do that is by reading.”

For me, that was the highlight lesson of the workshop. Come to think of it, how many amazing singers do we know who do not listen to music? How many good actors do not watch movies? How many painters/pencil artists do not study the works of their peers? So if writing is an art like the rest, then it should not be any different. Right?

That evening, Zukiswa had a public reading from her book London-CapeTown-Joburg. I missed this session, unfortunately. The weariness from the 15 hour trip from Nairobi coupled with the Dar heat weighing down heavily on us took an unshakeable toll on me. I regret it for many reasons, but mostly because I missed the chance to hear the South African author say that the only time she is not writing is when she is having sex.

The second day was left solely to rewrites and edits. We read our submissions to the rest of the group. Critiques were offered, suggestions made, and then Zukiswa asked us to go rewrite our stories based on the views shared by the group. They were interesting stories. A truly eclectic collection touching on topics ranging from the curious case of cannibalism (Valerie Bah), crime fiction (mine), drama (Maimouna Jallow), albinism (Peter Ngila), mourning and loss (Sima Mittal and Jacqueline Kamau), to writer’s block (Wairimu Muriithi). Not all listed writers managed to attend the workshop. Out of eleven, seven made it.

Workshop writers met one on one with Zukiswa for more insight on how to better their stories. This was over lunch, or a bottle of Kilimanjaro or Serengeti at the CDEA bar- a lovely spot to replenish their creative juices.

To relax that evening, someone mentioned a shindig going down at Club 327, dubbed Lyricist’s Lounge. An open mic session. We said, “Why not?”

The first thing I noticed is the crowd. Odieros all over. And guys who look like they have been to those dangerous places in US (according to Hollywood) where jailbirds wear caps with flat tops, baggy trousers and oversized shirts, rapping about promises to kill someone whose wives they had bedded. All complete with that accent that is spoken with slurry tongues and blocked noses.

My single story expected them to speak or perform mostly in Swahili. You know, like Fatuma’s Voice.

None at all.  Mayie!

But. The poetry/spokenword/rap scene in Dar is amazing. Wueh! Emotional content and word play. Good. Stand-up comedy, original. No lame tribal jokes. And just imagine it’s Saturday night, yet the club is full of people who just come to listen to poetry. Never seen such a thing in Kenya.

Then a moment presented itself. Some Ugandan dude comes and plays Sura Yako from the saxophone. James Murua and I were the only ones who got excited and start dancing lipala. You should have seen the odieros look at us, wondering what kind of visa audition we were performing.


On the final day of the workshop, our facilitators decided to spice things up a little bit. We had our last workshop session at Mbalamwezi Beach. This is where things took an interesting turn. See, from the workshop, only five people could be selected to join the mentorship program. We were seven. We spent the first half of the workshop reading our edits to the group.

That was the easy part.

The hard part was the selection process into the Writivism 2015 mentorship program. Ayeta Wangusa, our host, was to make the coveted list of five successful mentees. She only managed four;

  • Magunga Williams (Kenya) – Shall I Have This Dance?
  • Valerie Bah (D.R.C) – Meat Market
  • Maimouna Jallow (Kenya) – The Cake Bake Club of Tailflower Lane
  • Sima Mittal (Tanzania) –Grieving for the Grave

The fifth person had to be voted in by the already chosen four mentees. I didn’t like this. At that moment, Ayeta reminded me of Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games where she says to the pool of potential tributes; “Wonderful! May the odds be ever in your favour!”

Maimouna says that I am political – that I shy away from giving critique because I do not want to offend writers, in case I tell hurt them with my honesty. I am guilty of this charge. That is why I felt uneasy about being subjected to a ballot to choose the person whose story I liked best. I mean, it’s always good when people just do their work, donge? Ensures the world peace of mind.

Anyway. The fifth person, getting two out of four votes, was Peter Ngila from Kenya with his story on albinism, Coloured Love.

On that Sunday evening, as we felt the last of Dar’s coastal breeze on our exposed skin, we sunk our feet into Mbalamwezi Beach sand and let toes wriggle in celebration underneath. We took selfies and made other scribes on social media jealous. At that moment I thought of those who did not make it to the workshop and felt sorry for them; Emma Kimani, Robert Munuku, Regina Asinde and Sarah Bonareri. I wondered why they couldn’t come.

Maybe it was because of the cost of travelling to a foreign country and being financially incapable. Which makes sense because this is January, and it has 40 days and 50 nights, and its money was eaten by the December revelry. Perhaps it was because they had work commitments so demanding, couldn’t leave Nairobi.

I hope that the Writivism team thinks about this and considers having a workshop in Nairobi next year. Or better yet, at least finds a way to cater for transport and/or accommodation for workshop attendees. I have no idea how it is organized, so this is a mere prayer for manna from heaven. The Kenyan way of doing things; ignoring the much you have been given already, and asking for more.

But a man can dream right? Dream that Writivism gets rich very quickly so that they can even pay airplane tickets for workshop attendees, donge?

Until last night I had, above all, prayed for a kick ass mentor. So that someday, I can also talk hard lit English like Ikawah.

Then I got Tope Folarin. Caine Prize winner, 2013.

It’s a miracle!

PHOTO: Mbalamwezi Beach Club

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  1. Pingback: Writivism Workshops 2015: Dar es Salaam 23-25 January (Images) | James Murua's Literature Blog

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