PUBLIC READING

New literary salon to promote reading culture

In Prof Harold Bloom's footsteps.

In Summary
  • The initiative is the brainchild of a visiting scholar at UoN from the USA, Bhakti Shringarpure.
  • The pioneer public reading was hosted on Thursday at Coffee Casa. It is situated in the Doctor’s Park on Third Parklands Avenue.
Public reading.
Public reading.
Image: JKS MAKOKHA

The idea of reading is one that is at the very centre of literary life whether done in solitude or in a community. In fact, reading is a chief skill that most modern society depends on in both public and private life. To read is to cultivate oneself cognitively, emotionally and socially as well.

The government and our national leaders are encouraging us to read the newly launched Building Bridges Report in order to debate it and engineer a new dawn for our motherland. To read is akin to nation-building, practically.

Last month an ardent scholar of reading habits and the nature of reading itself passed on with much accolades in his country and across the world but with little notice here. This is Prof Harold Bloom of Yale University in America.

By the time of his death last month at the age of 89, Bloom had attained the stature of a sage in literary theory and the study of literature. He had become a staple voice in many postgraduate schools where Humanities and the Arts are taught even in Kenya.

He was the author of more than thirty books among them being the one that made him famous, The Anxiety of Influence (1973). In it he describes how generational change occurs in literature in terms of conflict of ideas and ideologies. More recently, Bloom showed us how literature and its skills such as reading are indispensable in our contemporary societies, even in Africa, in his book, The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life (2011).

His other books encourage us to cultivate proper reading habits and avoid misreading texts. Scholars and the general public will find enjoyment and erudition on this note in works such as A Map of Misreading (1975) and How to Read and Why (2000).

Many were the statements he carved into the hearts of scholarship and among the most memorable include: “Real reading is a lonely activity”, “Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you” and the more philosophical, “We read to find ourselves, more fully and more strangely than otherwise we could hope to find.”

Lovers of literature from across the city, county and country should feel inspired to attend these monthly literary readings in public to celebrate the legacy of Harold Bloom

Kenyan literary critics such as Prof Evans Mwangi and Prof Egara Kabaji have used Bloom to explain the nature of generational change with reference to our own literary landscape since the turn of the century.

Public reading is one of the joys that creative writers can share with their audiences. Unlike the reification of private reading championed by Bloom above, reading in public is a social exercise.

It is an act of socialisation that affords us a golden chance to meet with writers and artists and commune with their talents. In fact, the Macmillan Library in the city centre of Nairobi is in the process of organising such public reading activities especially for children and the youth as part of its regeneration agenda.

 

Speaking to The Star, the Chief Librarian Jacob Ananda extolled the need to develop a reading culture in Kenya and among the youth. He views it as a veritable investment by the county and national governments that can have admirable outcomes if well sustained. The library is in the process of securing a section that will be open to the young members of society. His vision is to maximise the potential that the library has including its strategic location at the very heart of the city.

Public reading can also come in the form of literary salons. Fifteen years ago Kwani? Literary organisation founded by the late Binyavanga Wainaina, Kenya’s most prominent writer of the new generation, used to host a literary salon on Kaunda Street in Nairobi in Club Soundd. Many young writers seized this opportunity and platform to showcase their talents.

Some are now secure in the writing careers including Mehul Gohil, who also plays for the national chess team, as well as the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature laureate Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor.

She is the author of the new novel The Dragon Fly Sea (2019) that is receiving acclaim both locally and internationally at the moment. The award of the highest national literary trophy was on the basis of Dust (2004). It remains the most elaborate novel on what we now call Post-Election Violence 2017/2018 or simply, PEV.

This week a new constellation of writers launched a fresh monthly literary salon in Parklands under theme: Nairobi – Maps of Exile. The initiative is the brainchild of a visiting scholar at UoN from the USA, Bhakti Shringarpure. She is the curator of the war literature magazine called Warscapes. She teamed up with Hassan Ghedi Santur. He is the internationally acclaimed Somali writer whose novel The Youth of God (2019) was launched in June this year.

The pioneer public reading was hosted on Thursday at Coffee Casa. It is situated in the Doctor’s Park on Third Parklands Avenue to the west of the city. The evening event of tea and talk brought together literary aficionados, students and centred around three writers: Itoro Bassey, Lutivini Majanja and Abdul Dahir Adan. The organisers include the new literary outfit known as Carrot Company headed by Taye Balogun and intend it to be a monthly fixture on the resurgent literary calendar of Kenya.

Lovers of literature from across the city, county and country should feel inspired to attend these monthly literary readings in public to celebrate the legacy of Harold Bloom. But more importantly, this new initiative is best captured in the tweet by Yvonne Owuor as a “literary treatment for in-between peoples.” These are people of the increasingly multicultural, transnational hybrid city of our times.

Dr JKS Makokha teaches Literature and Theatre at Kenyatta University. http://www.warscapes.com/