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TAKE5: Alex Nderitu – Daily Nation

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By ABIGAIL ARUNGA
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Alexander Nderitu is an author, poet, playwright, and critic.

He published Africa’s first e-novel ever, and was named one of Kenya’s ‘Top 40 Under 40 Men’ by Business Daily in 2017.

This year, he was nominated for the Nigerian-based Syncity NG Anniversary Prize, for a story he did about the Westgate terrorist attack, and the South African-based ASSITEJ SA Playwriting Competition for a Hip-Hop-oriented comedy.

1. Publishing Africa’s first e-novel is a significant achievement…

When I started writing When the Whirlwind Passes, in 1998, e-books were unheard-of in Africa.

I know because when I read about e-book experiments being done by the likes of Stephen King (Riding the Bullet) and Patricia le Roy (Angels of Russia), I searched for African writers and publishers in the e-book space but found none.

Amazon hadn’t even launched their now-famous Kindle. My e-novel came out in 2001. I still have the first cheque I received from eBookMall.com.

No one has ever challenged the fact that I am Africa’s first digital novelist. In fact, some local publishers contacted me to ask about ‘this e-book thing’. They were concerned about piracy.

2. What motivated you get into e-publishing?

As I worked on my first novel, I was 19, I started scouting for publishers in the Yellow Pages.

The Internet was in its infancy in Kenya. I noticed that there were only a handful of book publishers and they all seemed to be oriented towards text books, not what we refer to as ‘trade books’, which is my domain.

I was then studying IT in college and was fascinated by the e-book trend that was taking hold in the US and UK. I decided to give it a try.

Now, the scene has improved, especially with technologies such as Print-On-Demand, e-readers and apps like Worldreader.

3. A hip-hop oriented comedy sounds a lot like Hamilton, one of the most famous hip-hop theatrical productions to ever come out of the US. Do such explorations with genre inspire you?

I am a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote Hamilton and In the Heights. Like him, I believe that hip-hop is a powerful medium and Progressive Rap can communicate positive messages in a creative way. My script, Hannah and the Angel, contains a ‘battle rap’ contest which my ASSITEJ mentor, Lereko Mfono, said was his favourite part.

I genre-hop a lot. I think I’m too experimental. I’m working on a slew of short plays which I hope to showcase in a mini-theatre fest.

The characters range from African vampires to goofy terrorists and romancing lawyers. Stay tuned – I don’t share a birthday with Shakespeare for nothing!

4. There are stories that abound about the Westgate terrorist attack, particularly from writers who lost loved ones during that assault. What do you think made your story different enough to be nominated for the prize?

Apart from a stage production dubbed Westgate Women, I am not familiar with any other literary work pertaining to that particular tragedy.

My short story, titled Westgate, follows a theatre group making a play based on the attacks.

As to what attracts prize nominations, I think it’s more a matter of technique than subject matter. Style. How do you engage the reader or manipulate your chosen language?

5. This is a terrible question to ask a writer, but what’s your next book about?

I am working on the sequel to When the Whirlwind Passes, my second short-story collection, and the release of my second poetry book, titled Where the Kremlin Live. I write and read books.

At any one time, I have several irons in the fire.





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