A Sentence I Wish I Wrote; African Writers Confess

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Sometimes I find myself reading stories from books, blogs, social media posts, newspapers, poems (not as much) etc and feeling jealous of the people who wrote them. I read lines and wish I am the one who came up with them.  Most of the time this happens when reading anything by Junot Diaz, bikozulu, Dambudzo Marechera or Aleya Kassam. Writers of colour, these ones are.  I thought I was alone in this until I asked a few African writers in my contact list and it turns out, this is a universal thing. It is perfectly normal for writers to envy other writers. What’s that they say, game recognizes game?

So what I did was simple. I asked a few African writers to share their favourite lines from books, stories, poems, plays, Facebook, Twitter etc. Sentences they read, paused, then read again just so that they could taste the flavor in the arrangement of those words one more time.

The problem with these writers, especially the Kenyan ones like Moses Kilolo, Abigail Arunga, Alexander Ikawah and Kiprop Kimutai,  is that when you ask them to send a line, they send a paragraph. Or they send five lines by five authors, and then ask you to choose one. As if you are supposed to know their favourite. That is how people fail exams – but then again artists were born to break rules.

Anyway. Here are the responses I got. Enjoy.


Zukiswa Wanner
‘We are living in a matriarchy that poses as a patriarchy to make the lads happy.’
Man and Boy, Tony Parsons

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
‘Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.’
 – One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

Ukamaka Olisakwe
‘To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else’s heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her
Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez

Troy Onyango
‘She only stopped screaming when she died. It was then that he started to scream.’
– (opening line) Kane and Abel, Jeffrey Archer.

Sima Mittal
‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.’
– (poem) Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost.

Saddiq Dzukogi
‘I want to kiss you in a public toilet/ and places that are not as pretty as the beach.’
– (poem) Dirty LoveLinda Ashok

RixPoet (Eric Onyango Otieno)
‘Time wasted is poison.’
Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton

Richard Oduor Oduku
‘Our dreams of life will end as dreams do end, abruptly and completely, when the sun rises, when the light comes. And we will think, All that fear and all that grief were about nothing. But that cannot be true. I can’t believe we will forget our sorrows altogether.’
Gilead, Marylynne Robinson

Richard Ali
And all the woe that moved him so
That he gave that bitter cry
And the wild regrets and the bloody sweats
None knew so well as I
For he who lives more lives than one more deaths than one must die.
Ballad of Reading Jail, Oscar Wilde

Ras Mengesha
‘On the third day of refusing to eat, I began to leave the world. Everything became distant. I willed myself away, wanting to leave, singing the song of departures that only my spirit companions can render with the peculiar beauty of flutes over desolate mountains.’
The Famished Road, Ben Okri

the Magunga

the black béret, Ben Okri

Peter Kagayi
‘I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees.’
– (poem) Every Day You Play, Pablo Neruda

Pa Ikhide
‘Even in those days he was not a man of many words. He just carried her into his bed and in the darkness began to feel around her waist for the loose end of her cloth.’
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe


‘We shall all live. We pray for life, children, a good harvest and happiness. You will have what is good for you and I will have what is good for me. Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break.’
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

Oyunga Pala
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.’
A Tale of Two Cities, Chapter 1 (The Period), Charles Dickens

Olubunmi Familoni
‘And what do I do? I boil my tears in a twisted spoon
And dance like an angel on the point of a needle.’
– (poem)The Violent Space, Etheridge Knight

Oduor Jagero
‘At this altitude, only the most boisterous clouds succeed in rising high enough to drift over the city.’
I Didn’t Do It For You, Michela Wrong

Ngartia J. Bryan
‘People talk too much. Humans aren’t descended from monkeys. They come from parrots.’
The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Ndinda Kioko
‘Kenya’s official languages: English, Kiswahili and silence, but there was also memory’
Dust, Yvonne Owuor

Mukoma wa Ngugi
‘Death holds us closer than hate,
Feeding us mortality in such small portions.’
– In The Restaurant by Gerald Barrax

Morris Kiruga (Owaahh)
‘The waitress brought me another drink. She wanted to light my hurricane lamp again. I wouldn’t let her. “Can you see anything in the dark, with your sunglasses on?” she asked me. “The big show is inside my head,” I said.’
Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut

Moses Kilolo
‘You always knew where you stood with India and you never had the slightest notion with Scarlet. That was enough to drive a man to distraction, but it had its charm.’
Gone with the WindMargaret Mitchell

Mehul Gohil
“But you have to stand on a platform and see it coming or you can’t know the feeling a writer gets, how the number 5 train comes roaring down the rat alleys and slams out of the tunnel, going whop–pop onto the high tracks, and suddenly there it is, Moonman riding the sky in the heart of the Bronx, over the whole burnt and rusted country, and this is the art of the backstreets talking, all the way from Bird, and you can’t NOT see us anymore, you can’t NOT know who we are, we got total notoriety now, Momzo Tops and Rimester and me, we’re getting fame, we ain’t ashame, and the train go rattling over the garbagy streets and past the dead-eye windows of all those empty tenements that have people living there even if you don’t see them, but you have to see our tags and cartoon figures and bright and rhyming poems, this is the art that can’t stand still, it climbs across your eyeballs night and day, the flickery jumping art of the slums and dumpsters, flashing those colors in your face–like I’m your movie, motherfucker.”
Underworld, Don Delillo

Martin Maitha
‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.’
Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

Magunga Williams
‘The rain came down in little liquid rocks which broke on their heads with a gentleness too rapid to be anything other than overbearing.’
The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera

Linda Musita
‘You were not expecting the native medicine man to be a young t-shirt wearer, so when he introduces himself you almost cannot swallow your surprise; you have to clamp your lips together and avert your eyes by looking at the toes sitting outside the hole in his sneakers.’
Smithereens of Death, Olubunmi Familoni

the Magunga

Olubunmi Familoni – Author, Smithereens of Death

Kiprop Kimutai
‘And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ‘cause they don’t love that either.’
BelovedToni Morrison

Karanja Nzisa
‘A wounded soul becomes the source of its own affliction; it cannot nurse itself directly.’
We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, Philip Gourevitch


‘On went the shades, up went the ass, out went the belleza. Oscar’s erection following her like a dowser’s wand.’
The Brief And Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

Judyannet Muchiri
‘I start to cry because this place is insane and if I am here I must be insane too.’
– ImpulseEllen Hopkins

Jackson Biko
‘I got it on a whim — and a whiff. Rolls-Royces have a particular smell. It’s not the scent of a new car, but the leathery, woody smell of a car that was born old.’
The Sunday Times, A.A Gill.

Ian Sketch Arunga
‘All at once we were madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add, because that frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of each other’s soul and flesh; but there we were, unable even to mate as slum children would have so easily found an opportunity to do.’
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Dami Ajayi
‘Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty – three
(which was rather late for me)-
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP’
– (poem)Annus Mirabilis, Philip Larkin

Clifton Gachagua
‘I’d put Stones’ ‘She’s a Rainbow’ or ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ and she wouldn’t take it the wrong way, a rainbow being where the man gets period in his mouth and the girl gets cum in hers and they kiss.’
Apples, Richard Milward

Ciku Kimeria
‘I was wandering the derelict car park of your heart looking for a ride home.’
– (poem) 34 Excuses For Why We Failed At Love, Warsan Shire

the Magunga

the beautiful Warsan Shire

Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigere
‘You are terrifying and strange and beautiful, someone not everyone knows how to love.’
For Women Who Are Difficult To Love, Warsan Shire

Binyavanga Wainaina
‘This April morning, with the clouds still undecided, she took her certainty along by stooping under everything: stooping under her own history of the head and heart, stooping under the stares in Mamprobi, and stooping under her own lowering world.’
 Search Sweet Country, Kojo Laing.

Beverly Akoyo
‘Maria tells him that the person who stays behind suffers even more than the one who goes away. Because of all the familiar places.’
The Counterlife, Philip Roth.

AnneKen Eboso
‘Our husbands would really forget our existence if we didn’t nag at them from time to time, just to remind them we have a perfect legal right to do so.’
– Lady Windermere’s Fan, Oscar Wilde

Amol Awuor
‘Over the patched and mended balconies odd washlines still hung like the rigging of ghost ships, and frayed trousers dangled in the sun like a signal for help.’
In the Fog of the Season’s End, Alex La Guma

Aleya Kassam
‘A home is a decision, not really a place.’
#ThisIsMyKenya: Secrets of the Jade SeaOwaahh (Morris Kiruga)

Alexander Ikawah
‘Long before you knew what death was you were wishing it on someone else.’
The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury

Afope Ojo
‘Some women are candles; will weep under the heat of the fire, and then wax cold. Some women crack at the head, break open, and bleed a tidy trail of madness.’
– Olisa Tv, Eloghosa Osunde

Adeola Opeyemi
‘I think of my life as a kind of music, not always good music but still having form and melody’
East of Eden, John Steinbeck

Abigail Arunga
‘The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.’
Poem, The Lady and the Highwayman, Alfred Noyes



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  1. Excellent!!!

    I will just add my own line

    “In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learnt about life : It goes on” …. Robert Frost

  2. Phanis Obwaya on

    ”Am too scared to ask God why, lest he asks me why not and I fail to answer.” Magunga Williams.
    This line sings in my head everyday from the first time I read it. I remember it and I smile and go on.

  3. Guess I too ought to add some mesome… “The problem with English is this: you can’t open your mouth and it comes out just like that… First you have to think what you want to say. Then you have to find the words. Then you have to carefully arrange those words in your head. Then you have to say the words quietly to yourself, to make sure you got them okay. And finally, the last last step, which is to say the words out loud and have them sound just right…” WE NEED NEW NAMES by NoViolet Bulawayo…. Long but TOO ARTSY… Love IT!!!!

  4. Awesome, I will add mine which aptly describes my thoughts most days….
    “The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn’t real. I know that, and I also know that if I’m careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.” – Stephen King

  5. GENIUS initiative Magunga! Let me add one sentence (okay, two) here:

    “IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

    However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”

    Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice

    • Charity Murigi on

      One of my favorite lines for sure! I have read all her books. Let me add mine as well

      “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid”
      Jane Austen

    • Charity Murigi on

      The joy I have at finding this blog post today is indescribable. Bliss! Pure Bliss! #2016readinglist

      “Anyone who is in love is making love the whole time, even when they’re not. When two bodies meet, it is just the cup overflowing. They can stay together for hours, even days. They begin the dance one day and finish it the next, or–such is the pleasure they experience–they may never finish it. No eleven minutes for them.”
      ― Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes

  6. This is a brilliant idea Magunga, as an individual who gave up writing for reading, am already adding books whose lines have been written here in my list 🙂

  7. Allow me to also add a line I like;

    ” Should humans conquer the mountain or should they wish for the mountain to possess them?’

    Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss.

  8. And here’s mine….
    “We aren’t who we want to be. We are what society demands. We are what our parents choose. We don’t want to disappoint anyone; we have a great need to be loved. So we smother the best in us. Gradually, the light of our dreams turns into the monster of our nightmares. They become things not done, possibilities not lived.”
    ― Paulo Coelho, Adultery

  9. I’ll have to add my favorite verse from Shakespeare’s /The Phoenix and the Turtle/..

    35. So between them love did shine,
    That the turtle saw his right
    Flaming in the phoenix’ sight;
    Either was the other’s mine.

  10. George now you know your literary medicinal concoction, from the excerpts above one can only say a statement. “I have learnt to unlearn and relearn” The beauty with language is that it keeps on evolving and and there is no SI Unit for it.

  11. I was going to add the Fault in Our Stars sentence and then I figured, let me add the latest one from a book I didn’t even like that much.

    “It has to do with that spark between us, that attraction. Either we crush it or we do something about it. And I’m thinking that while the latter might be more enjoyable, it will create complications neither of us needs.”

    Sabaa Tahir – An Ember in the Ashes

    I guess that says a lot about me. Oh well. 🙂

  12. Madness is walking up a good street downtown and seeing a woman dress up in the latest fashion and wanting to go straight up to her and grab her bag, knowing that it’s not the bag or the money that we want so much, but the scream, when she see that you jump right into her pretty-up face and you could slap the happy right out of her mouth and punch the joy right out of her eye and kill her right there and rape her before or after you kill her because that is what rudeboys like we do to decent women like her. Madness that make you follow a man in a suit down King Street, where poor people never go and watch him throw away a sandwich, chicken, you smell it and wonder how people can be so rich that they use chicken for just to put between so-so bread, and you pass the garbage and see it, still in the foil, and still fresh, not brown with the other garbage and no fly on it yet and you think maybe, and you think yes and you think you have to, just to see what chicken taste like with no bone. But you say you not no madman, and the madness in you is not crazy people madness but angry madness, because you know the man throw it away because he want you to see.

    -Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killngs

  13. I have so many fave sentences. Where to begin?

    “Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.” Rumi

    “He looked good, like sin in a suit.” -Melissa Marr (Wicked lovey)

    “My alone feels so good, I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude” Warsan Shire

    “If curiosity killed the cat, it was satisfaction that brought it back.” Holly Black (Tithe)

    “In a perfect world, you could fuck people without giving them a piece of your heart. And every glittering kiss and every touch of flesh is another shard of heart you’ll never see again.” Neil Gaiman (Fragile things)

    “Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom. Think of love as a state of grace, not the means to anything, but the alpha and omega. An end in itself.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Love in the time of Cholera)

    “I will hurt you for this. I don’t know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.” George R R Martin (A Clash of Kings)

  14. There was no room for God to act directly or interact with the people as a group or individually as a personal being. They lived in a holistic world where the spirit world merged with the physical world through the mystical world.
    (Religious conflict on the Jos plateau..Prof Umar Habila Dadem Danfulani)

  15. A Judge may not fail to carry out the Law because the society is imperfect. If the Law is the law of a society that some feel to be unfair, it is the Law and the society that must be changed.

    >>>>Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton<<<<

  16. I wanted to write you a letter
    my love,
    that would recall the days in our haunts
    our nights lost in the long grass
    that would recall the shade falling on us from
    the plum
    the moon filtering the endless palm trees
    that would recall the madness
    of our passion
    and the bitterness
    of our separation… ANTONIO JACINTO , letter from a contract worker

  17. “What did Brutus say of Caesar’s vanity? Offer him garlands, and praise him as if he were a god, and that will be his downfall”~ Jeffrey Archer, Sins of a father

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