• Her literary and intellectual heritage was the focus of a readathon on July 14-15
The celebrations surrounding the life and work of Prof Micere Mugo continue on both sides of the Atlantic. The late writer and public intellectual touched many hearts with her words and actions in the world. It is a tribute galore as her colleagues, students and fans continue organising events in her honour.
Micere wore many hats all at a go. She was a mother to a bountiful offspring that goes beyond her uterine children and immediate family. Not less than seven prominent scholars in the diaspora, both in the United States and the Caribbean, carry her name Micere as their own. Her families in New York and in Kenya are organising the finer details of her funeral ceremonies.
Micere was a teacher, too. The University of Nairobi was her primary seat of knowledge and pedagogy for years before her forced exile. A major public celebration to be held here is impending. After the UoN years, she taught many at the University of Zimbabwe in their nascent years of Independence.
Professor played a crucial role in bolstering their curriculum content in philological domains of their education system. Micere is celebrated there to this day as a matriarch of literary decolonisation.
Moreover, Micere was a committed rights champion and social justice activist. When politician and author Koigi wa Wamwere was being persecuted by the Kenyan state in the 1990s in the Second Liberation, Micere, together with Paul Muite and many others, walked hand in hand with him until justice prevailed.
Hers is a life that embodied the humanist philosophy of Utu as a deterrent and detergent against postcolonial ills and colonial viruses decaying the gains of our African struggles. To this end, celebrations have been happening since her demise, organised by the rights groups both abroad and here to highlight her solid contribution to freedoms we enjoy in the democratic Kenya of today.
For instance, public homage have been made to the fallen sage, ring-fencing her legacies in pan-African quests for total liberation. Among those penning tributes in print and electronic media are Chief Justice emeritus Dr Willy Mutunga, senior counsel Pheroze Nowrojee and Micere’s comrade of decades, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
Micere was a poet and a playwright, too. She wrote two books of poetry and two plays (one with Ngugi). In the latter play, a revolutionary masterpiece, she acted out the crucial role of the Mau Mau woman many times when it was publicly staged in Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Great Britain and yonder.
In her authorial positionality as a public intellectual for more than five decades, Micere released powerful seminal essays on sustainable liberties in the postcolonial context of gender, politics and culture. She is remembered on both banks of the Atlantic as one of the perspicacious philosophers of pan-Africanism.
It is this literary and intellectual heritage that was the focus of a wonderful international readathon that was held on July 14-15 last week in her honour. Micere’s artistic and philosophical output spanning half a century was made the subject of a transnational reading event organised virtually.
Kenyatta University partnered with the Kenya Literature Association caucus of 400 academic authors and the Creative Writers Association of Kenya to honour Prof Micere thus.
Her 1970s ex-student Prof Oluoch Obura and I, her poetry mentee, convened this readathon in collaboration with Dr GG Njoroge, the Chief Librarian of the Post-Modern Library (PML) at Kenyatta University. The library has embarked on a great mission to memorialise Micere as a Kenyan intellectual and educationist.
We are keen on restocking all her works as the new semester beckons. Additionally, a public gallery of her quotes and images in portraits is being organised for mounting within the great walls of the PML complex.
PML is one of the most-visited academic tour sites in Nairobi county by secondary school students from across the country. Micere’s fecund bibliography is being digitised and centralised to ease identification/usage of her books within this massive academic sanctuary.
The reading marathon, titled, 'Celebrating Utu: A Readathon in Honour of Micere Githae Mug0', brought together a stellar team of readers from five countries. They read excerpts from her writings virtually for two and half hours on Friday and Saturday evening. This virtual reading extravaganza attracted an audience of more than 60 from Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, United Kingdom, USA, Germany and across the counties of Kenya. Most were drawn from the education, media, publishing and creative sectors of the book-world.
The poem readers included: Former KU don Wanjira Muthoni, who read three Gĩkũyũ poems penned by Ngugi in his recent touching online tribute to Micere. Other readers were: EW Kamuhuro (University of Embu), Edna Thumm (Germany), Hassan Higenyi (Uganda), Wangari Mwai (VC – PUEA), Monica Mweseli (UoN), Rasaq Malik Gbolahan (University of Ibadan); Danson Kahyana (Makerere University) and long-serving chairperson (emeritus) of our Literature Department, Waveney Olembo.
Illuminating excerpts from Micere’s philosophical treatises were read to a vibrant virtual audience that included CJ (emeritus) Dr Willy Mutunga, Makueni Governor (emeritus) Prof Kivutha Kibwana and the famous Swahili poet Mzee Abdilatif Abdalla. The readers here were: Richard Mbuthia (Tanzania), Moses Serubiri (New York), Jomo Mogire and Tito Kunyuk the Kadhi of Nakuru Law Courts. Others were former KU don Garnette Oluoch-Olunya (GoDown Arts Centre) and Njuki Githethwa, the curator of Comrades Book House.
Dr Esther K Mbithi, former chairperson of the Literature Department at KU, and author Nashive Syeunda co-read excerpts of Micere’s radio play, The Long Illness of Ex-Chief Kiti.
The opening section of the great play co-authored with Ngugi, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi, was presented in audio format by the director of Mount Kenya Theatre Company based in Embu, Elijah Otieno, assisted by me.
Kilifi-based artist Wanjiru Githunguri and Bonnie Okinyi, curator of Bleeding Poets International Network, read the second part. The third part of the play was read from the Kiswahili version of the play, titled Mzalendo Kimathi, by Kevin Ndege from St Paul’s University.
The applause was thunderous.