Against the Grain
November 1, 2018
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Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I did an interview with Bett Kinyatti of Craft It. She writes stories of Kenyans in their craft. For her miniseries about Nairobi’s creatives that she’s calling Hunt Like a Hungry Lioness, she picked me to start off. One of the questions she asked during my interview, Mixed Signals, was what makes me stay hungry, in five words or less. What keeps me motivated to write week after week?

I immediately thought, Gosh, I’m a woman. Do women ever do anything for reasons you can put in five words or less? If we did, men would’ve figured us out in the Stone Age! I didn’t say that. It would’ve made for a good sound bite but it didn’t make it past my filters. Instead I concentrated on trying to put my reasons in five words and failed. So I said, “Let’s circle back to that one.”

Eventually I settled on self-fulfillment, which in and of itself (I’ve always wanted to say that), is a good reason to do something. It goes beyond that though.

Writing is many things for me. It’s a rebellion. Like many other millennials, it’s my way of upsetting the old order of things, reprioritizing personal well-being over a stable income. Writing feeds my soul in ways nothing else can.

It’s my way of turning my world back to the right side up. I’ve decided to make a career out of my passion so that I spend my life doing something I love, the way it was meant to be. I am still attempting to do this, but I want to prove to myself that contrary to popular opinion, I can earn a living in the Arts.

Writing is an expression of my authentic self. It’s my way of pushing back all the forces that suppress true creative expression in our world today, by tainting it with these connotations of weakness or secondary importance.

It’s my way of asserting that wielding ambition and deriving fulfilment from a career I have carved out for myself away from the roles of wife and child-bearer, is my right. It’s any woman’s right and no one should rob us of that. No one should diminish its importance to us and to society.

If I have daughters who look up to me, I want them to know the ways I have had to fight for this career and be inspired to make things happen for themselves. I want my sons to know that women are worthy and capable and should be treated as such. I want to leave my kids a legacy of empowerment as opposed to disenfranchisement, and writing is how I’m going to do that.

When I write, I let my light shine to quash this compulsion I’ve had ingrained in me since I was a little girl to dim my light, so that others can shine brighter.

It is my lightwork. My healing work. I won’t presume to have any influence on our culture, but I try to craft stories with a conscious message. I write characters going through excruciating growth and occasional relapses, because growth rarely occurs in a straight line. I create characters who sit back in non-judgement and allow others the grace and compassion they need in their progressions and regressions. Characters who operate from a place of genuineness (albeit many times misguided) because there’s enough malice in the world without us writing it into stories. Characters living in the realm of awareness.

This is what I would’ve said at my interview if I were as articulate in speech as I am in writing. This is what it means to me to be a writer.


About author

Wanjiru Ndung'u

Wanjiru Ndung'u writes fiction, poetry and essays. She is an irretrievable night owl, tea-lover and cat mom. She enjoys books, alternative music, movies and streaming shows.

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