Author and political analyst, Nanjala Nyabola, believes in writing what she knows. ‘I’ve found that if you put aside the desire to be seen and just write from an authentic place of wanting to tell stories you know and that you think the world might profit from hearing, it will take you a long way, even in nonfiction.’
Our questions are italicized.
What books or kinds of books did you read growing up?
I was a precocious reader and have always loved fiction. The novel to me is one of the most powerful forms of artistic expression, especially when in the hands of someone who values a good story as much as they value the craft of writing.
I read my first ‘grown-up’ novel when I was seven, battling through the complete and unabridged version of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett over several weeks. That got me hooked on classics. But I also devoured African literature.
Looking back, given how voraciously I consumed the Pacesetters series, I think my life as a pan-Africanist was almost inevitable. I read books like the Moses series by Barbara Kimenye, and Pamela the Student Nurse by Cynthia Hunter.
During my childhood, I was completely spoilt for choice with African and non-African young adult literature which I read until I finished primary school—then I pivoted to more general literary fiction.
Rather than home, my love for books came from libraries which were the only social space that I was allowed to access alone and unsupervised for many years.
I was a ten-year-old walking six kilometres during the school holidays to read the Encyclopaedia Brittanica at the main public library. The library at my school as well as the two main public libraries in Nairobi came to represent freedom because I didn’t need to explain myself to anyone.
When my school built a large new chapel, they turned the old chapel into a library, so it was this magnificent room surrounded by hundreds of books and stained-glass windows. It was magical. Sometimes the school would keep the library open late for me so I had about an hour after school alone to just sit in this amazing room and read.
How could I not love books after that?
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