For decades, she took up the pen and told the most gripping stories that hooked many a reader. She is no doubt a woman who has powerfully influenced East Africa’s literary narrative.
Grace Ogot is a pioneer. She earned a distinctive position in Kenya’s literary and political history. In 1984, she was the best-known writer in East Africa. It is then that she decided to join politics. She became one of the few women to serve as a Member of Parliament and the only female assistant minister in President Moi’s Cabinet. She also worked as a midwife, tutor, journalist and a BBC Overseas Service broadcaster.
Ogot was born Grace Emily Akinyi in Asembo, in Nyanza district on May 15, 1930.
She was the child of pioneering Christian parents in the traditional Luo stronghold of Asembo. Her father, Joseph Nyanduga, was an early convert to the Anglican Church and one of the first men in Asembo to receive Western education.
He later taught at the Church Missionary Society’s Ng’iya Girls School. She remembered her father reading her Bible stories, as well as hearing the traditional stories told by her grandmother. Later, Ogot’s writing reflected this dual background of tradition and modernity and the tensions between the two.
Emerging from the promised land in the anthills of the Savannah, Ogot attended Ng’iya Girls’ School and Butere High School. The young woman trained as a nurse in both Uganda and England. Several years of working as a nursing sister and midwifery tutor at Maseno Hospital, and later at the Student Health Service at Makerere University College, provided her experience in a number of different careers.
She worked as a script-writer and broadcaster for the BBC Overseas Service (later having her own popular weekly radio programme in Luo), as a community development officer in Kisumu, and as a public relations officer for Air India. In the late 1960s, she opened two branches of a clothing boutique known as Lindy’s in Nairobi.
Ogot was a founding member of the Writers’ Association of Kenya and served as its chairman from 1975 to 1980. She began to publish short stories both in English and in Luo in the early 1960s.
She was famous as much for what she represented as for what she wrote, giving literature a whole new meaning for African pupils.
Her first novel, The Promised Land, was published in 1966. It featured challenges faced by Luo pioneers who moved across the border into Tanzania in search of greater opportunities. Land Without Thunder, a collection of short stories about traditional life in rural Western Kenya, appeared in 1968. These stories were immensely powerful...
* This article written by Peter Ngangi Nguli can be fully read online via STANDARD DIGITAL