Margaret Muthee is a trained journalist and Freelance writer living in Nairobi, Kenya. She is keen on developing her creative writing skills, and has published poetry in Fresh Paint: Literary Vignettes by Kenyan Women. “The Escape” was written during the 2015 Writivism Programme with the assistance of mentor Richard Ali, and is her first work of fiction.
Geosi Gyasi: You’re a trained journalist and freelance writer living in Nairobi, Kenya. Could you describe your work as a journalist?
Margaret Muthee: I graduated from Daystar University in the year 2013. I currently do not work under any media house full time. I am more of a freelance journalist. I do lifestyle stories for different publications including The Star Newspaper, Healthy Woman and Healthy Child Magazines.
Geosi Gyasi: Was it by choice that you decided to become a journalist?
Margaret Muthee: Yes it was by choice. I have always been curious and interested in stories. I chose to join to Daystar University because I knew for a fact that is the best school of Journalism in the country.
Geosi Gyasi: What does it take to practice journalism in the streets of Nairobi, Kenya?
Margaret Muthee: I’d say it is pretty much the same as in any other place. Some people are open to interviews while others will pretty much start running when you show them a recorder or when you start rolling a camera. At times it is tough out there and you have to develop a thick skin if you want to succeed.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you do primarily as a freelance writer?
Margaret Muthee: I work for a company called Web Partner Group; basically developing content for their sites. I also write for The Star Newspaper weekend section, as well as Healthy Woman and Healthy Child Magazines.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you describe the literary scene in Kenya?
Margaret Muthee: The literary scene in Kenya is definitely vibrant. There is so much going on in terms of literary events and workshops. Festivals and major events like Storymoja Hay Festival as well as Kwani’s Sunday Salon have been attracting more and more people, both local and international. These events bring together both established and aspiring writers to one space where they share and learn from each other. I cannot begin to count the number of writers that I met at Storymoja Hay Festival last year. Additionally, platforms like Jalada, Amka and others have come up, giving writers alternative spaces to publish their work.
Additionally, well established writers like Yvonne Owuor, Binyavanga Wainaina, Billy Kahora, Muthoni Garland and others have given birth to a whole new generation of young writers who are now receiving international recognition. Okwiri Oduor won the Caine Prize, Clifton Gachagua was chosen for the the inaugural Sillerman First book Prize, Ngwatilo Mawiyoo was shortlisted for the Brunel University African Poetry Prize, Ndinda Kioko got the Miles Morland fellowship and Alexander Ikawah got shortlisted for the Common wealth prize. These are all young Kenyans, personally known to me, and I so proud to be writing at this time.
Geosi Gyasi: Are there enough writers in Kenya?
Margaret Muthee: I would not say that. Each and every one of us has a story to tell and so saying that there are enough writers would be like saying all these stories have been told.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest impact the 2015 Writivism Programme had on you as a writer?
Margaret Muthee: During a Kwani Trust Workshop facilitated by Billy and Noviolet Bulawayo, I realized that I did not know much about craft. In fact after giving me feedback on one of the stories, NoViolet adviced me to first master my craft. This has been a journey for me and The Writivism Workshop was definitely a step in the right direction.
Geosi Gyasi: Having been under the mentorship of writer, Richard Ali, could you tell us something about him and his works?
Margaret Muthee: Richard Ali is a brilliant novelist, poet editor, lawyer, publisher and so much more. He is a charming and easy going person with so much energy which he diffuses even to people miles away. Even though he claims to be shy, I feel you can have a conversation about anything on this great earth. For this reason I have found it easy to ask all the questions I have on literature, and they keep coming.
I have interacted with his work through the internet mostly. His novel City of Memories is an intriguing tale of love amidst ethnic, religious and political differences. I love the use of language descriptions in the book which is available on Amazon. Some of his poetry and essays are also published on Jalada.org a pan African writer’s collective. A Nation in Labour a poetry collection by Harriet Anena of Uganda was edited by Richard Ali, and is doing quite well in the region. I also read a lot from what he shares on social media.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspires you to write?
Margaret Muthee: I just want to tell stories in every way that I can. The people around me and the things that happen every day also inspire me. It is also great to meet brilliant writers.
Geosi Gyasi: Which of your poems appeared in Fresh Paint: Literary Vignettes from Kenyan women?
Margaret Muthee: – She rocks! Fatherly Love? and Phobia.
Geosi Gyasi: Where did the idea to write, “The Escape” come from?
Margaret Muthee: A story in the news about Nyumba ya Wazee; a home for the elderly, sparked my interest. I thought about how old people must feel being left behind by their relatives especially in Kenya and the African context where some people feel it is some form of abandonment.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you hear about One Throne Magazine?
Margaret Muthee: I actually hadn’t heard about One Throne Magazine until Bwesygie Bwa Mwesigire informed me that they were interested in publishing my story. Through its literary network, Writivism was to provide a list of publishers who would pick out different stories. One Throne Literary Magazine has a whole wealth of writers that I am glad to have discovered. George Filipovic is also a wonderful and great editor; and I would love to work with him again.
Geosi Gyasi: In your view, what is the difference between poetry and fiction?
Margaret Muthee: There are several differences but the most obvious one is that length constrains you with the poem. Your thoughts and ideas have to be condensed into lines and paragraphs as opposed to sentences in fiction.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind sharing some of your experiences at Kwani Trust working as an editorial intern?
Margaret Muthee: I love working with Kwani Trust. The first time I attended a Kwani event, Binyavanga Wainana’s book launch, I knew that I wanted to work there. Kwani Trust has opened up my mind and given me a fresh pair of eyes in terms of my view of the literary scene and writing in general.
During my Internship I got to read a lot. I went through most of the submissions and projects and assisted in event organization. The events – from school readings to book launches, gave me a chance to interact with different writers local and international.
The major events I worked on include Chimamanda Adichie’s as well as Yvonne Owuor’s book launch. The turnout was really huge. Then there was the Kwani Manuscript Prize award made me realize that one can gain recognition for their work; no matter how small one began. Having attended numerous Amka writers’ forum sessions at Goethe Institute with Kiprop Kimutai, it was great to watch him win third prize in the manuscript project. Then there was Sunday Salon. Basically all events were a time of learning and interacting with writers for me.
Most recently Kwani gave me a chance to manage a workshop which was facilitated by Billy Kahora and No violet Bulawayo. Although I was working, I also got to learn a lot. Sunday salon was another major event I got to be part of. By the end of it, having interacted with various writers from the continent and beyond, I developed this hunger; I still have it actually; to read as much as I can in order to write better.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you become a news anchor/reporter at Shine Fm?
Margaret Muthee: Shine FM is a student radio in Daystar University where I did my degree. It is here that I nurtured my broadcast as well as writing skills. The radio station is totally manned by the students and so when I heard a call for applications, I sent in mine and got accepted. Here I did news and also co-hosted an Arts Show.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the difference between reporting for radio and writing for newspaper?
Margaret Muthee: While the story may be the same, there is whole load of difference between the structure, writing style and presentation. News reporting is more timely but much shorter in terms of content delivered. You also have to get it right as it goes on air and that is it. A newspaper story on the other hand is more detailed in giving a background to stories, and one can always go back and look through it again.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any fond memories about your days as a student at Daystar University?
Margaret Muthee: I love Daystar University. My fondest memories are working at the radio station and Involvement Newspaper where I was Features editor. I also enjoyed my literature classes as they gave me a chance to interact with African, American and even Caribbean Literature, thanks to Dr. Wandia Njoya.
Geosi Gyasi: What are your future literary ambitions?
Margaret Muthee: Currently my focus is on fiction. I hope to write more and better stories and to get more published.