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Kwani? 06 - The Kenya I live in
Kwani Trust

We launched a short story competition in July 2009 and received over 500 submissions from all over Kenya. Winners were announced in February 2010. Here is a snippet of what the process of "The Kenya I Live In"  Short Story competition has been. Congratulations once again to all those who participated in the competition and we hope for closer relations in the future beyond Kwani? 06.

JUDGES' ON COMPETITION ENTRIES...
What we found in the rest of the 15 stories was that they achieved what they set out to do, a successful story. The stories worked well on multiple levels of character development, style, and plot. They dealt with themes about what Kenya is in an original way. We could see ourselves and our circumstances afresh. Each captured the voice of an individual while telling the national story.

There were many other promising stories. The need for training is clear on basic craft skills, but creativity is evident. Overall, we have regained hope for the Kenyan writing scene and Kenyan literature - the writers are there and are talented. They must be nurtured and Kwani is on the right path.

Winning Story : Farah Aideed to Gulf War
''The most complex story on many levels. A love story on the surface of it, but really the love-hate relationship between the tribes of Kenya. A larger issue grappled with and seen through the prism of two young people's thwarted love. The story also juxtaposes and yet at the same time unifies the varied neighbourhoods of Nairobi, with their sharp class differences. The language is superb, and every sentence a surprise. - Doreen Baingana

A complex, thoughtful and beautifully written story that strips away the tensions of inter-racial relationships between Kenyan Indians and indigenous Africans, this narrative is a cultural iconoclasm that breaks verbal taboos to articulate the awkwardness and embarrassment of identity and crossing over. Raunchy and rasping as it travels across time and space, it still maintains a rare humour in its suggestively invented local idioms. - Kwamchetsi Makoha.

1st Runner-Up : All in the family
A very strong voice. Irony. It was quite different from the many stories showcasing issues of poverty. This one dealt with the very same issues but turned them up side down, exposing personal lives of the type of people who are the cause of this poverty, MPs, etc. It explores how corruption, like charity, begins at home. And the corrupt do not escape scott -free, they and their families are ravaged by it. - Doreen Baingana

What makes this story a tour de force is its innovative use of voice to deliver a brutally shocking account of life in our times using a diary. Although the language does not sparkle beyond the ordinary, the writer's perceptiveness delivers a multi-layered story that lays bare the intricacies of the charmed life. - Kwamchetsi Makoha

2nd Runner-Up : The Activist
Many of the entrants tried to write this type of story about the 'class struggle', riots in the city, rural poverty, etc. but fell into cliché. This writer rose above all that and created living and breathing individuals grappling with these issues. One family's tragic rise from poverty to wealth to poverty again. The story of any successful businesswoman climbing painfully up the ladder. A cruel twist of fate thrown in that adds beautiful symmetry to the plot. The language is eloquent, memorable, vivid. This writer was in total command of the page. - Doreen Baingana.

3rd Runner-Up : Brave New Worlds
Easily an ambitious literary project delivered through detailed descriptions of scenes and episodes, this story comes closest to capturing the complexity of Kenyan society in a realistic portrait. Some scenes do not work as well as others, but on the whole, the language has beauty, the imagination has depth and the story has movement.

4th Runner-Up : Chicken
A well-told story, in the tradition of 'animal farm,' using a non-human if anthropormophic perspective to explore existential questions of fate, life and death, power and mysticism. As told from the point of view of a chicken with every dinner hanging as a threat over its head. Surprisingly profound ending. - Wambui Mwangi

Judges' overall report
Kwamchetsi Makokha  : A great deal of the entries in the final shortlist for "The Kenya I Live In Kwani" short story competition are both ambitious and original in their vision of society. Many have distinctive voices that create empathy and draw the reader into the narratives, the characters and their situations. They offer detailed and textured portraits of Kenyan society in a manner at once fresh and audacious. With very few exceptions, the short stories are often a showcase of personalised idiom in elaborate and dexterous use. They are a testament to the hard work, creativity and literary talent that abounds in Kenya.

The stories often hang together in episodes and convincing plots but are sometimes undermined by flaws resulting from inexperience or insufficient revision. On the surface, there are significant language lapses at the level of spelling, grammar and diction, which are only redeemed by the writers' determination to have their say. The clarity of the writers' vision glazes over these minor infractions.

Few stories embrace a broad view, limiting what the majority offer to the reader to a claustrophobic snapshot of Kenyan society. Not all the stories are on the same philosophical plane, which means that the underdeveloped ones are easily a triumph of style over substance. In such cases, the verbiage is alluring and seductive by the narrative arc is incomplete and the story therefore not satisfying. Those that invest in thought and word are persuasive testimonies that deserve wider currency so their beauty is not hidden as a lamp under a bed. 

Doreen Baingana : Judging the Kwani Short Story Competition was an eye-opening experience. It is clear that there is a new crop of Kenyan writers (almost) ready to take the baton from an earlier generation. There were a fair number of writers with promise and talent, and the competition was a great way of spotting them. The stories showed a deep concern for the political, social and economic issues prevailing in Kenya right now: Corruption, rural and urban poverty, unemployment, and political, tribal and racial strife. The stories that stood out dealt with these issues in intelligent and original ways, avoiding cliché. The winning stories followed the fate of individual characters rather than presenting the issues above in a generalised manner. I was pleased to read entries from all across Kenya.

As judges, we evaluated the stories by asking whether each one achieved what it set out to do, and weighed how well each story worked in terms of craft: character development, style, plot and narrative voice. Also, we choose stories that tackled contemporary Kenyan circumstances in fresh and revealing new ways. Each of us five judges brought different perspectives and interests to the table, but agreed on criteria that led us to choose the stories that excelled. As a Ugandan, I brought an outsider's perspective and distance that, I think, contributed positively to the decision-making process.

Now that a pool of talented young writers has been identified, what next? Many stories revealed that writers must add skill to talent. They need training on the craft of writing; they need a deeper understanding of how language works, sentence by sentence, to form whole works of art; they need to read much more literary work; they need a writing community that would push them to excel; they need more publishing avenues.

I am extremely pleased that Kwani? intends to provide some of this. It has been a real privilege for me to contribute to this process of identifying and rewarding new talent. Thank you. 

We look forward to hosting some great talent in the much anticipated, December 2010 launch of Kwani? 06!

Click here to read the Editorial from Kwani? 06

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