In high school, I had the pleasure of reading Carcase for Hounds, a thriller that deserves its place alongside the James Hadley Chase volumes and the Rider Haggards.
The gripping novel was the brainchild of Meja Mwangi, one of Kenya’s leading novelists.
He also penned masterpieces like The Backtrackers (1979), Kill Me Quick (1973), The Cockroach Dance (1979), The Mzungu Boy, and Jimi the Dog, among others that graced our school’s library.
Naturally, I was curious to know the man behind these novels. Where was he born? Where did he go to school? How did he write so well?
If you are as curious as I was at the time, this is Meja Mwangi’s journey as told by WoK:
The literary icon was born David Dominic Mwangi in Nanyuki in December 1948. Not much is known about his parents or early life.
For his education, he attended Nanyuki secondary school, Kenyatta College (now Kenyatta University), and briefly at the University of Leeds, where he pursued a Bachelor’s Degree in English.
He was also a fellow in writing at the University of Iowa between 1975 and 1996. A fellow in writing is a graduate student who is trained to provide writing assistance to other students.
They are often assigned to specific courses or academic fields, and they work with students to help them improve their writing skills.
When he returned to Kenya, Mwangi began his career at the French Broadcasting Corporation, where he did odd jobs. He also worked at the British Council in Nairobi as a Visual Aids officer.
Inspired by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s Weep Not Child (1964), Mwangi penned his first novels, A Taste of Death and Kill Me Quick. These explored the struggle for independence in Kenya.
The novels were so successful that Mwangi quit his job to pursue a full-time career as a writer.
He penned reads like Going Down River Road, The Mzungu Boy, The Last Plague, Bread of Sorrow, The Cockroach Dance, Carcase for Hounds, among others.
After some time in the Kenyan and African publishing scene, Mwangi moved to the US. By then he had bagged numerous awards including the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature — the most prestigious literary award in Kenya.
The list of authors who have won this award reads like a hall of fame for upcoming authors. They include Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Okot p’Bitek, Wahome Mutahi, Margaret Ogola, Ngumi Kibera, Stanley Gazemba, among others.
Mwangi’s other awards include the Afro Asian Lotus’ Award, the Noma Award, and the Wahome Mutahi Prize for Literature, among others.
His books have been translated into numerous international languages, including French, Dutch, and German.
Aside from Literature, Mwangi has dabbled in the film industry. He participated in the production of movies like Out of Africa, White Mischief, and The Kitchen Toto.
Despite his success, Mwangi is a man of curious habits. He is described by his acquittances as shy and taciturn, even refusing to be introduced at some literary events.
At one event, he refused to give interviews, describing himself as a man of no importance and telling journalists to interview the millions of voiceless people for whom he tries to speak.
However, he is one of the few professional writers in Africa who have managed to live off their pens.
The Standard described him as an acclaimed author who has written more works and bagged more awards than any other in Kenya.
He is one of the most famous sons of Nanyuki, putting the town on the national and international map.
Perhaps his success can be summarized in his most famous quote:
“Just as a baker bakes because he is a baker, and a farmer farms because he is a farmer, a thief steals because he is a thief, and a writer writes because he is a writer.”
When the literary history of Kenya is finally written, Meja Mwangi will no doubt have a place at the high table.