ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I have met an artist who is twenty one years old, and who must have Kenya’s largest art exhibition — all around the streets

and alleyways of Eastleigh and Mathare. His name is Joga. . . . To me this says we are finally becoming a country.




Editorial by Binyavanga Wainaina 


Lately I seem to meet all kinds of interesting people. Mostly young, self motivated people, who have created a space for themselves in an adverse economy by being innovative. I have met a guy who engraves glass with exquisite skill; another guy who designs clothes, bags and other products for factories. I have met people who never studied music, but who have created a style of Hip Hop that is completely Kenyan; writers who never studied literature who are writing at a level I did not know existed in this country.

I have met a film director who managed to make a film in three weeks, with virtually no budget, who made another in Sheng using unknown actors. I have met an artist who is twenty one years old, and who must have Kenya’s largest art exhibition — all around the streets and alleyways of Eastleigh and Mathare. His name is Joga. I have met a writer, who has the power of words to evoke place like no Kenyan I know. He works as a gardener in Nairobi. His name is Stanley Gazemba.

To me this says we are finally becoming a country. When art as expression starts to appear, without prompting, all over the suburbs and villages of this country, what we are saying is: we are confident enough to create our own living, our own entertainment, our own aesthetic. Such an aesthetic will not be donated to us from the corridors of a university; or from the ministry of culture, or by The French Cultural Centre. It will come from the individual creations of thousands of creative people.

It is only a matter of time before this country is known around the continent as a country of creative energy. It is about time.

Breaking new ground always provokes ridicule. When I interviewed Kalamashaka, they told me people would boo when they attempted to sing in Kiswahili. In the old Kenya, people with new ideas were ridiculed. They threatened the position of those who had stopped having new ideas.

So I shall call this new generation, the Redyculass Genration.

This is the Kenya that kwani? is about. We are a magazine of ideas. We seek to entertain, provoke, and create. We are open to all Kenyans, wherever they may be, who want to say something new.

Between these covers, you will visit some interesting worlds: the world of a pot-bellied Kenyan mayor who suspects that he is about to lose his power; the world of an expatriate European desperate  to become a macho Kenya Cowboy; the world of a young girl pondering the implications of womanhood in a salon in the 1970s. You will meet a UN worker who falls in love with a smell; you will enter the minds of three great Kenyan icons. You will rise and fall with Richard Onyango.

Kwani? would not be in existence if it was not for the time, and work and monetary support of so many people who shared the dream. I would like to mention them here. . . .

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Kwani? is a registered Trust

For subscription, visit website for more information.

Source: Kwani 2003 / published by Kwani Trust / P.O. Box 75240 00200 / City Square, Nairobi.

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Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.

—Binyavanga Wainaina. “How to write about Africa

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The Moi regime had told us if you deal with your issues we will become like our neighbours, like Somalia, we will fall apart – so keep quite, don’t ask questions. That was the most damaging thing, more than the economic problems for me. Forty years of people telling you who you are, what to do and how to behave. If you didn’t behave in the right way, you were a non-person.

Living in South Africa and periodically coming back to Kenya, my relationship with officialdom in Kenya was just insane. Unfortunately Moi’s personality and the way Moi did business became Kenya’s way of doing business. We took our cue from him. I remember I had left my passport in a pair of jeans in the washing machine and everyone was telling me that I was going to be arrested because the passport was a privilege and not a right.

I remember going to get my birth certificate and going through all sorts of problems from people who wanted me to cringe and crawl because of their perverted sense of self-importance, of “Mtukufuism” (Holiness). It was still a who you knew, who you are, sort of thing. It was as if you wanted to do anything in Kenya, you needed a godfather, who you would bow to and say, “Your holiness, please help me.” Everywhere was broken down into small feudal spaces.—Binyavanga Wainaina. Voices of Kenya’s Voters


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Children were in school, long lines of spittle reaching their desks, as they tried to keep awake. Even Daniel Arap Moi, Kenyan the president, who usually woke up at 4 am, was now taking his nap – trying to summon his favorite dream: that the entire nation of Gikuyus were standing in line at his gate to await execution, cash and title-deeds in hand, to hand over at the gate. Idi Amin Dada hunched over Mrs. Gupta Shah like an insistent question mark, jabbing. She was chewing hard at a bit of blue-gold and red sari, trying to keep from screaming out loud; they had put on a movie on the video and set it loud to muffle the sounds: some Bombay song: Chal Chal Chal Merihethi….on the screen Idi could see a pouty maiden at the edge of a cliff, and a man with a giant quiff of hair, and sideburns sang in a shrill voice.

She leapt off the cliff, and he followed her in a few seconds…they lay draped elegantly at the bottom of the valley; their fingers touched and they died, then the nasal Hindi music escalated in intensity, went beyond drama, beyond melodrama, and achieved genuine Bombay Belodrama. Idi Amin Dada jabbed deeper into Mrs. Gupta, his plantain sized fingers digging deeply into the folds of her stomach, which usually undulated serenely between two wisps of sari as she hummed her way through the day.  

—Binyavanga Wainaina A Day in the Life of Idi Amin Dada (short story)

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Binyavanga Wainaina, a Kenyan writer, is the founding editor of Kenya’s only literary Journal, Kwani?. He lived and worked for ten years in South Africa. He has been writing from Nakuru, Kenya for the past two years. He is now based in Nairobi, Kenya. He has been published by various literary journals around the World. He writes regularly for the Sunday Times (South Africa) and the East African (Kenya). He has also written for the Guardian (UK), The Mail and Guardian (SA), The Cape Times and the Cape Argus (Cape Town).In July 2002 he won the Caine Prize for African Writing – Africa’s most prestigious literary prize.

The Caine Prize for African Writing is named in memory of the late Sir Michael Caine, who was Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for almost 25 years. The patrons of the prize are three African winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer and Naguib Mahfouz. The two African Booker Prize winners, J. M. Coetzee and Ben Okri, have joined the Council of the Caine Prize.

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One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir

By Binyavanga Wainaina

Binyavanga Wainaina tumbled through his middle-class Kenyan childhood out of kilter with the world around him. This world came to him as a chaos of loud and colorful sounds: the hair dryers at his mother’s beauty parlor, black mamba bicycle bells, mechanics in Nairobi, the music of Michael Jackson—all punctuated by the infectious laughter of his brother and sister, Jimmy and Ciru. He could fall in with their patterns, but it would take him a while to carve out his own. In this vivid and compelling debut memoir, Wainaina takes us through his school days, his mother’s religious period, his failed attempt to study in South Africa as a computer programmer, a moving family reunion in Uganda, and his travels around Kenya. The landscape in front of him always claims his main attention, but he also evokes the shifting political scene that unsettles his views on family, tribe, and nationhood. Throughout, reading is his refuge and his solace. And when, in 2002, a writing prize comes through, the door is opened for him to pursue the career that perhaps had been beckoning all along. A series of fascinating international reporting assignments follow. Finally he circles back to a Kenya in the throes of postelection violence and finds he is not the only one questioning the old certainties.

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011  


#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 29 March 2010 




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Related files: Banning Chinua Achebe in Kenya    kwani?    Fidelity Bank and the Binyavanga Wainaina Jibe

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