I approached some African writers (mostly Kenyan) , and asked them why they do what they do, and who they do it for. Honestly, I was not doing this for any other reason, other than to satisfy a nagging curiosity.
“Why Do You Write and For Whom?” was the question.
I asked for no more than 5 lines only, but you know writers and their vainglorious narcissistic tendencies. Some told tales (Hehehe), which is fine.
Turns out, a number of writers have answered this question before:
‘Just as a baker bakes because he is a baker, and a farmer farms because he is a farmer, a thief steals because he is a thief, a writer writes because he is a writer.’ – Author Meja Mwangi
‘I am not gifted in business and cannot make it in farming. My life is in writing.’ – John Kiriamiti
‘I tell stories to entertain – to laugh, to cry, to gasp, to wonder’ – Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
In descending alphabetical order of their names, this is what the rest of the recipients had to say:
Abigail Arunga (The Shy Narcissist): The thing is, I write because I must. I write because there is not much else I am good at. I write because something in me compels me to put letters to the feelings I feel – whether intense rage at the idiocy of policy that wants to stone gays, or overwhelming emotion towards the men who seem to delight in breaking my heart. I want people to read me and quote my name when they are asked about Kenyan poets. Of course, I write to pay my rent as well – but at least that’s not the only reason.
– Author, Akello
Alexander Ikawah: There once was a young writer from nowhere.
And his readers were questioning him somewhere.
When they asked, ‘Why do you write?’
He replied: ‘Why do you breathe?’ ‘Why do you kiss? Why do you scratch yourself down there?’”
– Writer, Jalada
Film Maker, Lightbox Films
Alex Nderitu: I suppose I write because I have an instinctual desire to tell stories. I used to tell stories verbally when I was a child. I also like to share discoveries, I have written on cloning, espionage, wars and many other topics. I write for anyone and everyone who likes reading.
-Digital Novelist, When The Whirlwind Passes
Aleya Kassam: I write to become a better writer. I write to try and make sense of humanity and the way the world works. I write to give order to, and understand my haphazard thoughts. I write to share the way I see the world. I write because I am a slave to beautiful language. I write as an attempt to and capture beauty in whatever form it takes. I write to share stories I find interesting. I write to offer an alternative perspective.
I write for myself. I write for those that read my writing, whoever they may be.
– Blogger, Chanyao- A Respite From The Sun
Writer Jalada, Bikozulu
Amol Awuor: Writing gives me the voice to speak about things I am passionate about such as history, politics, writing itself, my vanities and airs and almost everything I care about. Not only do I write to hear my innerself, but most importantly to a wider society. To pass across a message. To question. I write to a fucked up world. It’s defiance!
– Blogger, Siku Zijazo
Anne Moraa: It’s easier to say what happens when I don’t write. I get noticeably moodier, lost and confused. Depression increases in near direct proportion to the last time I wrote. Even if its horrendous writing, it keeps me sane. The more confident I have become in my writing, and the more regularity with which I do it, the more the world makes sense.
Who do I write for: First and foremost myself. The bulk of my writing no one has seen but me. I think about the reader during the edit – helps me know if something is worth publishing or performing or not.
– Writer Jalada, Kwani? and Zana Africa
Studies Creative Writing at The University of Edinburgh
Beverly Ochieng: Why do I write? Fiction is more interesting than life. To live through my words.
Who do I write for? People who (hopefully) enjoy reading what I’ll have written.
– Writer Kwani? 2014
FEMRITE Fellow 2014, Sweden Edition
Biko Jackson (bikozulu): I write because there is nothing else I would rather do. And I write for people who don’t take themselves too seriously.
– Columnist Nation Media Group and True Love Magazine
Brian Kiruga (Owaahh): I write because I cannot write. It is not an addiction or a lifestyle, it is just the way it has always been. There is a certain familiarity and calmness that comes any time I write, a certain sanity from the insanity of reality. Yet I write non-fiction, mostly, reflection. History pieces where I feel powerful, as if everytime I trap a historical figure in time, I am trapping him or her to that time and place, and committing them to a future they do not know of yet. I am here, in what was to them a future, writing about a past, that was to them a present.
I write for myself first, and for everyone later. If I do not enjoy writing it, I delete it. Even if it is a paid assignment, then I start again. Until I enjoy re-reading my own first draft, sans the obvious cringes at typos and mistakes, I do not consider myself a writer.
– History enthusiast and Writer, Owaah Blog
Dalle Abraham: To tame my possessed being. I see too much, hear too many voices, they keep playing in my mind, imprisoning those words to pages has become a way for me to live with my noisy reality. With continued listening and witnessing all the diversity of life comes the overbearing urge to tell stories. I am an active witness. How else do you explain a Class 4 kid writing thus about his father, in bad grammar and poor handwriting “my father chews miraa with Mwalim Malik and Mwalim Guleid” However, I don’t write with anyone in Mind.
– Writer, Kwani? 2014
Diana Gitau: I write because I enjoy doing it. I always have a story going on in my mind and if i don’t put it down on paper, it will just keep going and going, not sure if that makes sense. I publish short stories just for myself.
– Writer, Virtue Magazine
Eric Otieno (Rix poet): I write because it makes me live. There are too many experiences in the human life that cannot go without being penned down. I write for everyone; to spark emotions, thoughts, discussions, awakenings and motivation. Writing assures me that I am talking to the world, simply by sharing what my heart and mind have to say, even though it is never a simple endeavour.
– Spoken Word artist/ Poet, Fatuma’s Voice
Euticus Mola: I write because it’s my therapy. It gives me purpose and helps me clear my mind. I write for anyone who might be going through the same situation as I am: depression, denial, rejection, happiness, love, fulfillment etc
– Blogger, Thinking Out Loud
Gufy Poet: Writing is a thirst only ink can quench. The depth it gives is what I try to sustain. The feeling of being read and bashing critiques thereafter is the epitome of this quest. More so, the habit of curving letters to words originates from my late father who loved literature. I write to continue the legacy, make him smile among angels and brag to the Apostles of his son.
– Spoken Word Artist
Co-founder, Upgrade Poetry
Ian Arunga: I write because I feel it is my way of keeping in touch with the world around me. Writing is the only way I can document all the crazy things happening around me and to me! I write to dish out hope. Reading about other people’s misfortune reminds us all that there is someone going through was worse than ourselves…I am that someone!
I write for big girls.
– Blogger, Dear Doris
Columnist, Couture Magazine
James Murua: I write for a living and for fun. That’s it, really.
-Columnist, The Star Newspaper
Blogger, James Murua and Nairobi Living
Judyannette Muchiri : Often when things wear me down and the days are dark, I turn to books-stories- to bring me back home to myself. I write therefore with the hope that my words will, on a dark tearful day, bring someone home to themselves. I write for myself because, in the dead of the night when I write, there’s no inhibition, nobody looking over my shoulder. I can tell myself any story and believe it. And what is ‘myself’ here other than ‘the self’ which is ‘you’.
– Contributor, theMagunga
Juliet Maruru: I have no choice but to write out my stories, my thoughts, my journeys. My stories are firstly mine – for me, my sanity. But I do love to spin a story that a teenager will love, so I do that, and sometimes it pays, in monetary terms :). For rent and bills, I also write for people who have ideas but need help articulating them.
– Coordinator, Storymoja Hay Festival
Kate Hampton: Who I write for depends largely on what I’m writing, and sometimes I just write for myself or for a loved one or for a political cause, but I try to make it appeal to a broad audience when that can be done without jeopardizing the integrity of the piece. For instance, when I wrote a long form piece on khat bases for Kwani? 08 I kept in mind khat chewers and threw some jokes in there that I suspected only they would appreciate, but I also tried to make it accessible for people curious about khat who know nothing about it, while maintaining the story above all. It’s a juggling act. That piece was definitely for Kenyans as its first audience–if I were to rewrite it for Americans, it would be quite different.
I write because I love writing, and to save little pieces of my mind, of moments and feelings, and because you can connect with people–complete strangers and those close to you–through art in ways you can’t in everyday life.
– Poet and Editor, Kwani?
Linda Musita (Ivory Punk): I see and hear things that I need to tell everyone else about. Things that they probably ignore or can’t see. I also write because I hate talking. I write for people who love a genuine story.
– Storymoja Fellow
Linda Wairegi:I write because I have the ability to do so plus I write because there’s something that I need to convey, something disturbing me, something funny, something informative and my mouth just isn’t enough. It’s too slow.
I write for myself, first. Secondly, I write for whoever wants to read my work whether it’s a stranger, a friend, etc
Macharia Mwangi: I write because I love reading and also because I am lazy. I believe that if all we did was read and read and no one writes, then, of course, one day there will be nothing more to read. Now, as you know, I am very bad at 8am-5pm. Writing gives me a chance to be free. Lastly, nothing comes close to the task of weaving words into each other until an argument holds water. So that’s 5 lines?
–Writer, Kwani? 2014
Magunga Williams: I write because I have a story to tell; and I write for anyone who cares enough to listen.
Martin Maitha: I guess it’s because it’s terribly easy for me, it’s like introducing a fish to water or Lionel Messi to a football. It’s all so natural: the ease, the child-like exuberance that follows as I bag up those keys noisily on my beloved Red (my laptop) high on caffeine and whatever other legal drug. It’s the truest form of expression, the purest attempt at catharsis: I write when I’m too happy to care or when I’m too sad and need a pick up that mindless sex and boozing can’t cure.
I write. Therefore I am.
-Blogger, DeMaitha’s Blog
Michael Onsando: I write because there is need for writing. Just as there is need for reading, living, breathing, loving, eating, working. There is need for writing. As long as this need exists I’ll write.
-Author, Something Quite Unlike Myself
Moses Kilolo: Other than it is the one things I can’t live without doing, I just can’t pin a pretty phrase into why I do it. I don’t even think WHY I write, just as I don’t think why I breathe. But when it comes to what I expect of my product, it is that a reader somewhere will find a new insight into life from my little creation.
– Writer, Jalada
Muthoni Gitau (Msooh): I can create anything I have ever imagined give or take anything. I am in control, and I live to write and write to live.
– Spoken Word artist
Otiato Guguyu: I write because it comes to me and I cannot hold it, like fart. Or because something queer has made me tick either in a good way or revulsion. I also write because of the belief that as writers we owe our society the responsibility of self assessment. Or because it gives my routine days a sense of purpose beyond the fixation of meaningless days.
I write what’s in my head, a visual form of the thoughts in me. So probably I write so my stories can speak for themselves.
Writer, Nation Media Group
Obinna Udenwe: I write because I want my voice heard on issues that intrigues me the most. I write for anyone out there who is eager to learn more about the world.
-Novelist, Satans & Shaitans
Nigerian Writer, Brittle Paper
Oduor Jagero: The pen is my golf stick and ball. The pen is also my cigar and drink. Instead of playing football, I go for what is easier for me; writing. I write because it’s my job, my past time and my life.
-Author, True Citizen
Poet and playwright
Olivia Kidula: There are so many untold stories bubbling inside of me and I’m not very good at verbalising. I normally panic and have anxiety when I have to voice out a strong opinion, so I learnt how to master my written skills. Writing is also a form of therapy. There are times I don’t even know I was stressed/emotional until it is reflected in my work and it’s like a burden is lifted. I write because I love how even though there are hundreds of better writers out there it’s not really a competition on who’s good or bad, but rather which narrative grabs you by the shirt.
-Writer/Blogger, My Brain Is In My Bra
Oyunga Pala: I write because I must. I write to grow, to learn and to share life’s insights. Most importantly it pays my rent. I pen for he dailies and anywhere else where you can trade words for cash.
– Columnist, Standard Newspaper (Crazy Monday)
Blogger, Oyunga Pala
Philip Etemesi: I write to entertain, to inform, to troll and to keep the ladies jamming my inbox and phone. I don’t want my legend story to be ‘the best writer ever’. I want my legend story to be one of the greatest individuals to ever walk the earth (billionaire, writer, playboy, Mr. Controversy, Mr. Zero chills) Writing is my primary passion. Second is business. I look up to billionaires rather than top writers. I don’t intend to follow another writer’s path at all. I am creating my own. I write for everyone with a liberal mind, not just a few intellectuals.
– Blogger, Mwalii & IzVipi
Richard Ogutu (Richie Maccs): I write because I have something to say. Writing to me, is an extension of my thoughts, my voice. It’s a continuation of conversations I have with myself. I write to improve how to articulate ideas.
– Poet, Hisia Zangu
Veon Ngugi: I write to keep my insanity in check and document my life and thoughts. Writing is an escape, my escape. I write for myself, primarily. I write for my lecturers because my curriculum demands it of me, my friends and strangers that stumble upon my writing.
–Poet/Spoken Word Artist
Vickie Zosi: I write to unclog my brain. It’s relaxing and at times therapeutic. I write a lot for myself and for the small audience I have grown. I’m not really looking to be a HUGE ASS LITERARY BIG WIG. I’m happy to write just for the fun of it. I bet this is why the content flow is not regular…it comes in spurts.
I’m growing as a writer though and beginning to share my stories here and there. Low key of course. I’m not proud of anything I write. I don’t think I write well.
-Blogger, Msichana Mdogo
If you are reading this now, and you are a writer, share why you write.
However, if you are a reader, riddle me this; “Why Do You Read?”