A Trip to Kenya: Kenyan Literature

Random Facts about Kenya

Kenya is known for a lot of things. One of them is athletics. No lie, that is our forte in the Olympics. It’s the only sport that I watch during the competitions. I can’t run to save my life but I do love the fact that it is one thing that Kenyans are known for. Well that and rugby of course. We are not so good in football though. Let us not even discuss that.


Kenya is also known for it’s tourist attractions. The wildlife that we have continues to attract local and foreign tourists to our game reserves and national parks.  Have you ever heard about the wildebeest migration? We also have a few mountains such as Mt. Kenya Longonot and Mt. Elgon. The great Rift Valley is also one of the most scenic parts of the country. We are also known for the idyllic beaches in our island towns like Mombasa and Lamu. Kenya is also home to the Maasais, one of the most popular cultures in the world.



This is what the wildebeest migration looks like. I liked this article by Dominic Chadbon about How the Wildebeest Migration Works. Check it out.

A number of famous people around the world have Kenyan roots such as; former US president, Barrack Obama, whose biological father was Kenyan. Hollywood also has had some famous Kenyans including Oscar award actress, Lupita Nyongo and Edi Gathegi. Ajuma Nasenya has also made a name for herself in the world of fashion as a Kenyan international supermodel. Recently, a Kenyan-born woman, Lucy Gichuhi became the first African-descent senator in Australia.

Those are some of the things that we are known for. Of course, we are also known for some not so good stuff which I will not mention here because international media already got that covered lol.


Art by xtraterestial

The words mean ‘ Proudly Kenyan‘. They are written in Swahili which is Kenya’s national language. I know y’all know Hakuna Matata from Lion King and Moto Moto from Madagascar lol that is Swahili. Our official language is English. Kenya has 42 ethnic tribes and each of them speaks their own language. So basically, most(if not all) Kenyans speak three languages sometimes all in the same sentence. Mother tongue(the ethnic language) is one of the first languages learned by kids, English and Swahili are taught in school although they are the common languages spoken in the cities. In my case, I think in English though I speak Swahili most of the times(not pure Swahili but all mixed up with other languages). I tend to speak the other two languages when I am nervous,angry/emotional.English usually fails me in those moments. Sometimes I worry about my reviews and whether I express myself well enough since English is my ‘third’ language.

Kenyan Literature by Kenyan Authors

I grew up reading Kenyan literature. The first novel that I ever read was The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiongo. Although fiction, Ngugi’s book helped me learn about the history of Kenya and my own ethnic tribe, The Agikuyu. I have since read so many other books by the author which is why; he is first on my list.

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

ngugi wa thiongo

I don’t think there is an author who writes about Kenya like Ngugi does. His stories especially about Kenya under colonial rule are very captivating. In addition, he has written a memoir about growing up during the colonial era. Ngugi has not only written books in English but also in Kikuyu. This author has been imprisoned because of some of the books that he has written.

With so many successful books being sold around the world, it is now wonder that Ngugi has been nominated for the Nobel Literature prize. Some of his books include, The River Between, The Wizard of the Crow, Weep Not Child, A Grain of Wheat and Matigari.

Binyavanga Wainaina


In 2014, Time Magazine named Binyavanga Wainaina as one of the most influential people in the world. His popular books include One Day I will Write about this place and How to Write About Africa. One of his most popular articles that dominated news headlines in Africa was I am a homosexual, mum /. I encourage you to read it.  Binya came out through the article and I don’t want to go into details but let me just say that, that is not an easy thing to do in Africa.

Nobel Laurette, Wangari Maathai


Wangari Maathai is best known for her work in environmental conservancy. Her advocacy works have led her into serious issues with the government. Her book, Unbowed talks about her political and personal problems and her she rose above that.  It is one of the most inspiring books that I have ever read.

Margaret Ogola

river and the source


One of the most memorable books that I have ever read is The River and The Source. I read this book when I was sixteen which was sixteen years ago. However, I still remember it. I still recall the character that chocked on a fish-bone and died and for that reason, I don’t really like fish. I remember the unique words that the author used in the books. How well she represented the Dholuo culture in the book. This was a masterpiece.  It has been translated into Lithuanian, Spanish and Italian.


Meja Mwangi

Meja is another iconic writer of Kenyan literature. He published 24 titles between 1979 and 2015.  The above are some of his most popular books. Most of his titles have been translated to French, German and Spanish. In filmography, Meja is known for his works in iconic Hollywood movies, The Kitchen Toto and Out of Africa.

Wahome Mutahi

wahome mutahi


Wahome Mutahi best known as ‘Whispers’ was a humor columnist in the Kenyan newspapers. When I was growing up, I used to religiously read all his articles. Wahome also published a few books including The Devil on the Cross, How to be a Kenyan and The Jail Bug.



Yussuf K. Dawood

Dawood is best known for his column in Sunday Nation newspaper, The Surgeon’s Dairy. He is a surgeon by profession and has written many stories about his work. Dawood has also published a number of books such as The Last Word, Return to Paradise.


Grace Ogot


The late Grace Ogot is one of the pioneer female writers from Kenya. She is said to be the first female African writer to publish a novel in English. Her most popular titles include Land without thunder, The Strange Bride and The Promised Land.


Kinyanjui Kombani

kinanjui kombani

I discovered Kinyanjui’s books though our library and I have been hooked to his writing since then. Kinyanjui writes fiction based on reality. For instance, in his book, The Last Villains of Molo, he wrote about post-election violence in Molo. Den of Inequities is about extrajudicial killings. This author also writes children fiction.


John Kiriamiti

I just love Mr. Kiriamiti and his books. I think this is one author who every Kenyan has read. Even non-readers know Kiriamiti.  Before becoming an author, Kiriamiti was a bank robber. It is said that some of his earlier works were actually handwritten in his prison cell on tissue paper before being typed after his release. His books are about a bank robber (but of-course) terrorizing Nairobi and other cities in Kenya. The most popular one is My Life in Crime. Other include, Son of Fate, My Life with a Criminal: Milly’s Story and My Life in Prison. I don’t know if it is his writing, the addictive nature of his stories or just the thrill of it all but this is one of the most popular Kenyan authors.

Of course, these are only eleven authors but there are many more who I didn’t list here. They include; Auma Obama(sister to Barrack Obama), Jeff Koinange( You can read a review of Through My African Eyes here), Mwangi Ruheni, Al Kags, Ali Mazrui, Ken Walibora and Yvonne Awuor.

Next Sunday, I will be discussing books set in Kenya but written by non-Kenyan authors.

Have you read any Kenyan Literature? What do you know about Kenya?

kenya this one


“Most people write me off when they see me.
They do not know my story.
They say I am just an African.
They judge me before they get to know me.
What they do not know is
The pride I have in the blood that runs through my veins;
The pride I have in my rich culture and the history of my people;
The pride I have in my strong family ties and the deep connection to my community;
The pride I have in the African music, African art, and African dance…

Idowu Koyenikan, Wealth for All Africans: How Every African Can Live the Life of Their Dreams



22 thoughts on “A Trip to Kenya: Kenyan Literature

  1. Great post! I had no idea there was such a culture of literature in Kenya – you’ve opened my eyes. I shall pick one or two of these as part of my reading Around the World challenge – I think Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Grace Ogot appeal most. Are they good choices, do you think? I’m always looking for someone who says something about the culture or politics of the country as well as telling a good story…

    1. They are good choices.I reccomend Ngugi since I’ve read almost all his books and they are great.He mostly writes about Kenya under colonial rule though he has done some satirical fiction like Wizard of the Crow.A Grain of Wheat or his memoir,Dreams at a time of War are good for a start.Thank you. 🙂

  2. 🙂 Amazing post, I know nothing aabout Kenya but every time I see a film or a book set there, I tell you 😛

    And I love Lupita!!!

    1. Our last conversation about Constant Gardener is what inspired me to do this post. Thought I would do one about Kenyan authors and a second post about books/movies set in Kenya 🙂

      Thank you and yaas, Lupita is amazing 🙂

  3. I love the quote at the end because I think Westerners DO make a lot of assumptions about Africa. Actually, it’s not just Westerners. Even Gandhi was racist about Africans. It reminds me of the Hollywood movie Congo, which came out in 1995. A white American named Richard is waiting outside with an African man named Claude. I’ll give you the dialogue:

    Richard: So, what’s your name again?
    Claude: Claude.
    Richard: Oh. Well, that’s a very odd name for someone from… uh… where are you from again?
    Claude: Mombasa.
    Richard: Yeah, that’s a very odd name for someone from Mombasa.
    Claude: Have you ever been to Mombasa?
    Richard: Um, no.
    Claude: Then what do you know about it?

    Okay, so confession: one of the reasons I almost never read African fiction is because I am so intimidated. English is your THIRD language. In the United States most of us will only ever speak English. Some of us will try to learn a second language and totally fail because no one else around us speaks it (and so we lose practice), and some others feel that American shouldn’t learn any other languages because it’s “downright unAmerican!” *sigh* So, the idea of reading a book set in a place I don’t know anything about that has unique and nuanced cultural customs that I don’t recognize makes me feel too stupid to read such books. What do I need to know about A) Kenya, and then B) what do I need to know about specific tribes in Kenya in order to C) read a book written by a Kenyan?

    1. I think it will take time before perceptions about Africa change. It is 2017 and we still get questions about whether we live on trees, have electricity and own lions(or some other wildlife). Most people still think Africa is a country. I have heard of stories from people abroad who have had conversations that go like this….

      Oh so you are from Africa?
      Yes, I am from Kenya
      Great, do you know Kwame? Very nice guy, I think he is from Nigeria

      When I read that quote that I shared on my post, I recalled something that I heard about the genocide in Rwanda. When UN was evacuating foreigners from different countries, there are Rwandese people who asked for help to be moved to safer countries. A UN soldier told Paul Rusesabagina(A Hutu hotel manager) “When will you people know that the West doesn’t care about you….You are not even Negros..you are worse than that…you are just Africans”. The quote is featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda about the genocide. It has always stuck with me though personally, I have never really experienced such prejudice.

      The dialogue that you shared is really interesting, kinda funny though I know that is something that happens often. Mombasa is a Kenyan town so I am curious about the movie. Is it any good?

      I think reading is one of the best ways of experiencing and learn other people’s cultures. I have always been interested in different cultures around the world.I remember you asked me about WWI/II books and why I like to read them. I always learn something that I didn’t know. I read a lot of stuff about African-Americans and their history for the same reason. I want to know so that I can try to understand things that happened. For instance, I want to know why the N word is wrong so I read to find out. And usually, when I read books that have historical facts, I google more about what I have found out to better understand the issues. Thanks to books and documentaries, I know things that I would otherwise know nothing about since its not something we learn in school. We learn Kenyan history and a bit about Africa but everything I know about America is from a book. I got to learn about MLK,Malcom X, Rosa Parks just from a book and then this sparked my interest to know more and so I read more books and learned more and the rest I googled 🙂

      Its the same with African literature. Each country in Africa has totally different cultures/customs. So, I get to learn about new stuff through books. I get to learn about the West Africans and their beliefs in the supernatural. The North Africans who are mainly Muslims o other East Africans like me who just come from a different place. I don’t know if it makes sense. But books is how we get to know about other people. Then you can research more about things that you have read or if its things that you don’t understand. So you don’t need to know about Kenya to read Kenyan literature but you can get to know Kenya through these books. I hope that this makes sense.

      Thank you so much for the conversation. I don’t know how to explain it but I feel like people shy away from these conversations though I wish they didn’t 🙂

      1. Your mini conversation about Kwame had me laughing because it’s just so stupid! The part that really made me laugh was “he’s from Nigeria.” That’s just….that’s not even close. I always loved the movie Congo, but it’s not really about Africa. It’s about a American scientist who taught a gorilla sign language, but the gorilla starts signing that she wants to go home to Africa. They get caught up with a guy looking for treasure in the Congo because he thinks the gorilla knows where a lost city full of diamonds is.

        As for reading, I think what I might do for starters is read books by Africans but not review them. I’m scared that I would write, “Oh, so-and-so did this thing that isn’t appropriate” in my eyes and it turns out it’s normal somewhere else. Basically, I have no frame of reference to even dive into such literature, though I totally agree with you that books are the best way to learn.

        1. Lol interestingly,a popular Kenyan blogger currently in Spain has shared a similar story.Though this time,the stranger asked if he was fluent in Yoruba.I guess its not unusual though since I also don’t know all the countries too.Perhaps I’d ask such questions too 🙂

          I get what you mean about African Lit.I shared a review about a book that had a polygamous protagonist and one person’s comment was so harsh.She was talking about barbaric cultures.I think she was just shocked and didn’t know how to react so I do understand what you mean.

  4. I have a question for you: at the top of the post you say that Kenyans are best known for athletics at the Olympics. I think I know what you mean, but in America, we would call those “track and field” or “running events.” Athletics (in our lingo) is a very broad category – all Olympic events are athletic events, for example.

    Do Kenyans use the word “athletics” to mean specifically running competitions?

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