Tony Mochama is no stranger to literary controversy. His work resonates his person, disrupting the norm when you least expect it. Twice, he interrupted the programme during a packed session to celebrate ten years of his writing at the Goethe Institute yesterday.
A striking observation was that most of the audience was young. The exact audience that Mochama writes for, which identifies with his hippie style of language use. Mochama’s style was the subject of debate by academicians when he released his first book, a poetry collection What if I’m a Literary Gangsta, in 2007. Several were offended that his writing was literally ‘misleading’ in terms of language use, and his massive young audience which was drawn mainly from his fanbase of the Smitta column in the The Standard would have no idea of how to correctly use language. They argued that the works lacked thematic depth. However, the writer maintained that the new generation needed to look at immediate concerns and not dwell on the colonial and post-colonial obsolete themes which the fathers of literature in Africa anchored their writing.
In an article in the Saturday Nation in 2015, renowned critic Evan Mwangi took a swipe at the author. … The 134 chapters that make the 142-page book are short, and there are no complicatd philosophies embedded in the chatty narration … One lesson young writers could learn from Mochama is that you don’t need to have anything profound to say to put your pen to paper. Some incompetent editor might just publish you, Mwangi wrote about Mochama’s Nairobi: A Night Guide. Mochama avers that Mwangi has no idea about the day and night efforts that went into collecting and recording the events that inform the book. His editor and publisher Tom Odhiambo argues that the book is a worthwhile effort.
Whether Evan Mwangi’s verdict is true or not depends on the taste of the reader, as three of Mochama’s books have finished as second runners-up for the prestigious Burt Award. He was also the winner of the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2013.
Publisher John Mwazemba holds that Mochama is a daring writer whose brand has managed to rattle the normal, even though he (the publisher) has done quite some work to fit the writer’s work into the classroom. Mwazemba published Mochama’s Modern Poetry for Secondary Schools (Phoenix Publishers), which aims to expose learners to modern age poetry and analysis.
With ten books in ten years, Mochama stands out as one of the most prolific writers in Kenya at the moment (The manuscript 2063, which he wrote under the Miles Morland scholarship is expected for publication soon. It is a futuristic novel.) The writer was flanked by fellow writers Kinyanjui Kombani and Ng’ang’a Mbugua and publisher John Mwazemba during the celebration attended by people from various fields. Readings were done from all the ten books by different literary enthusiasts including 2017 Burt Award winner, Adipo Sidang and renowned lawyer Kethi Kilonzo. Below is an excerpt of one of the pieces that was read, from Modern Poetry for Secondary Schools: