Most popular Kenyan writers
Kenyan writers have played an important role in promoting local and African writing to the world.
This has helped foster Kenyan literature and enable the local publishing scene to flourish.
Several Kenyan authors have won prestigious literature awards as well as gain global recognition.
A little history on the earliest recorded Kenyan literature was back in the 18th century. This was poetry written in Swahili by a man known as Mwengo.
Throughout the centuries, many writers have emerged from Kenya, writing excellent work of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and technical writing.
These amazing authors have received immense support from Kenyans and international readers.
Check out these Kenyan authors who are not only popular at home but internationally too.
1. Grace Ogot
Grace was a founding member of the Writer’s Association of Kenya.
She was also the first African female writer to publish a book in English, making her a pioneering figure all through his career.
Grace comes from the Nyanza region in Kenya and started publishing short stories in the early 1960s.
Her first novel, the Promised Land, was published in 1966. The story portrayed the life of a young family that migrated from Kenya to Tanzania and tribal conflict that they encountered.
This novel questioned the perception of female identity in the East African region. It also disrupts the idea of the ideal African wife.
Her other novels are Land Without Thunder, The Other Woman, and The Island of Tears.
She passed away in March 2015.
2. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is with no doubt an icon of both Kenyan and African literature.
He is known for his straightforward opinions regarding language. His novels were published in the Gikuyu language and later translated to other languages.
His achievements in literature and quest for the preservation of African traditions, culture and languages were recognized by the Catalan government.
While receiving the 31st Catalonia International Prize from the Catalan government, he gave his acceptance speech in Gikuyu.
His early career while still in Kenya was shaped by the events around colonialism and the Mau Mau war.
Ngũgĩ studied in Makerere university and afterwards went to the UK.
He published his first novel, Weep, Not Child, while in the UK. The novel is about the effects of the Mau Mau war on Kenyans while critiquing colonial oppression.
Ngũgĩ also wrote of Kenya’s struggle for independence as documented in his best-seller, A grain of Wheat.
His other successful novels include the River Between and I will Marry When I Want.
3. Binyavanga Wainaina
Binyavanga was one provocative writer who developed his reputation through satire.
His unique style of writing focused on how the west perceived Africa. How to Write About Africa narrates how the west view Africa in their literature.
He founded a literary magazine called Kwani? Which features the best writers in Kenya and Africa.
His most and widely read work is, One Day I Will Write About This Place, which is a reflection of his youth.
This was his pinnacle to fame when Oprah Winfrey chose it as part of her book club.
Binyavanga Wainaina was one of the annual TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time magazine.
He has also won the Caine Prize for African Writing. He died in 2019.
4. Biko Zulu
Biko Zulu uses captivating language and humour to tell stories that would normally be difficult to tell.
He has published a book titled Drunk as well as having a successful blog.
Biko has garnered thousands of followers on his social media pages through his compelling skill of using language to arrest your attention.
5. Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye
Her first book, Coming to Birth, is a tale of a lady known as Pauline. She leaves the village for the city to join her new husband, Martin, who is also new to the city.
Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye was a Kenyan of British descent also known as the mother of Kenyan literature.
She was also a poet and a bookseller. Marjorie told the story of Kenya post-independence through her novels.
Her compelling novel, Majengo, published in 1972, is a political thriller about poor young girls in the urban centres of the just independent Kenya.
She passed away aged 87.
6. Margaret Ogola
Margaret Ogola doubled as an author and a doctor who dedicated her life to fighting the scourge of HIV/AIDS in East Africa.
Her first novel, The River and the Source, was published in 1994. This work unleashed her literary talent.
The novel is about three generations of women in a traditional Luo setting. It tells of the shifting dynamics of the community and the place of women.
Margaret’s other bestsellers included I Swear by Apollo and a sequel of The River and The Source.
She passed away in 2011, at the age of only 53.
7. Muthoni Garland
Muthoni is an up and coming Kenyan author who got shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2006.
She is also the founding member of StoryMoja, which is a writer’s hub and publishing house in Nairobi.
Her most famous work is Halfway Between Nairobi and Dundori. This novel document a shaken marriage in the midst of a modernized Kenya.
The other bestseller is Tracking the Scents of My Mother, which was shortlisted for the Caine Prize.
Muthoni’s most recent book is an anthology of short stories, titled Helicopter Beetles.
8. Francis Imbuga
Francis Davis Imbuga was a Kenyan writer, playwright, literature scholar, teacher and professor at Kenyatta University.
His famous works include Aminata and Betrayal in the City, have been used as the literature staple in Kenyan high schools.
Both Betrayal in the City and Aminata have been used as a play set book studied by many students in high school.
However, not many are aware of his Kafira trilogy, which was published posthumously.
9. Meja Mwangi
Mwangi began publishing literary works in the 1970s alongside the famous Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Grace Ogot.
His writing works mostly reflect on the history and social conditions of Kenya.
Mwangi’s published novels from the 1970s include Taste of Death and Carcass for Hounds.
These novels share the events that took place during the resistance of the British by the Kikuyus.
He also wrote about the deploring poverty in the country in his novels Kill Me Quick, Going Down River Road and The Cockroach.