By Nicholus Asego     
Standard Newspaper, June 17, 2006

21(a) Fame sits well with David Maillu, one of Kenya”s more remarkable writers, a celebrity in his own right.    Many things have been said about him, but for many, people separating the truth from fiction, is quite difficult. Yet a chat with one of Kenya”s most celebrated and controversial writers reveals a strikingly down to earth and soft-spoken person.

21(b) With over 70 works in poetry, philosophy, politics, prose and short stories
published, Maillu is probably the most published writer on the African continent.
Long before he started writing, Maillu, whose formal education only took him up
to Standard Eight, admits that by that by time he was a good storyteller. He
cherished folktales and writing to him was merely an option to developing his
storytelling talents.

21(c) In 1969 at the age of 30, he wrote and published his first-book, Kisalu and
His Fruit Garden, a short story book for children. The book has since been
Reprinted six times with the latest being in 2002. To date he has written over 30
books for children whom he regards as his pet audience.

21(d) The 1970s revealed a marked increase in writing not only for Maillu but
also for others among them Ngugi wa Thiong”o, whom he regards as his elder
brother and contemporary. This was a time when Africans were not regarded as
writers. The British controlled the majority of the publishing, and novel writings,
deeme unfriendly to their interests, were not published,” he recalls with a

21(e) Publishers like Macmillan and Heinemann turned down his manuscripts. In fact Maillu reckons that Kisalu and His Fruit Garden was probably the 10th book he had written before he was published. This is the main reason why he began publishing himself using Comb Books Limited where he is also the director.

21(f) “At that early time I did a research to identify what interested people,” he says. Respondents highlighted half a dozen topics – politics, sex, human relations, religion, death and money. Maillu tailored his writing accordingly, quickly producing titles that spoke for themselves. Among the first was Unfit for Human Consumption (1973), which he did in two weeks. The 5,000 copies produced with its initial publication were sold in about nine months, and later reprints sold 20,000 copies.    ­

21(g) To the common man though, Maillu is best remembered for his two books that followed, After 4:30 and My Dear Bottle. His raw expose of sex and carefree lifestyles in the city in After 4:30 elicited strong reactions from scholars, creative writers, philosophers and religious leaders. Unperturbed, Maillu, a teetotaler, wrote My Dear Bottle in 1973 while living in Eastlands. “Drunkards were the most aggressive community I encountered,” he says. His overt presentation of sex, without redeeming lessons, led to his excoriation by the local critical establishment..

21(h) “Kenyans must” shed off this secrecy surrounding sexuality,” he says. This to him was the main reason that the two books encountered such strong opposition. “After 4:30 was meant to sensitise the girl against the lures of the neo-colonial urban life,” he says. Other titles in the 1970s included The Kommon Man, Troubles and Dear Monika.

21(i) After all these years, why would people still identify Maillu with After 4:”30 and My Dear Bottle? Maillu thinks it is mainly because of the prominence given to these books by literary critics and the strong sentiments they elicited. The majority of the adults today probably suffered at the hands of their teachers when caught reading these novels secretly during their school days. Stories of schoolgirls reading the novels under their desks were common.

21(j) Like many of the early writers, Maillu had his share of run-ins with the Government. According to him it has been consistent in its frustration of the intellectual community. He recalls Ngugi”s bitterness with the Government leading to his going into exile.

21(k) Unlike Ngugi, whose attacks on the Government were frontal and direct, Maillu”s criticisms were covered with humour. For instance in his poem Mathare Valley, his criticisms teem from a drunkard”s version. He also attributes his survival to his fame especially after My Dear Bottle and After 4:30. It made it hard for the Government to do away with him.

21(l) He criticizes the Government for failing to give due recognition to writers and by extension the intellectual community. The Government, according to him, “is behaving like a man of the house who continues belittling his children though they”re mature.” It is for this reason that many of our intellectuals are first recognised away from home. Take the example of Ngugi wa Thiong”o and more recently, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai.

21(m) It was Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah, then a teacher in Lesotho, who recognised the seriousness of Maillu as a writer. Lately though scholarly reference for his work has begun to surface. He has been a subject for Masters and PhD research in many places. He holds a Doctor of Letters degree in African Literature and Political Philosophy from St. Clement University in Australia. Unfortunately, the accolades lavished on him abroad are absent at home.

21(n) Does writing pay? To Maillu this is quite unpredictable. “Profitability largely depends on the content and the prevailing times,” he says. He cautions that writing for the sole purpose of profitability might bring disappointments. “Certain creative works can be well ahead of their time, hence their profits might not be instant,” he explains.

21(o) To this end he regards After 4:30 a fitting example, since the moral decadence reflected therein is still prevalent today. The temptation today for writers is to dwell on schoolbooks because of the sales.

21(p) Maillu regards himself as a pioneer in vernacular writings. During a short stint at the Voice of Kenya, he introduced Kamba poetry and had a good following. “Why should you write something your own mother can”t understand?” he once challenged Ngugi. It wasn”t long after this that Ngugi wrote his first book in Gikuyu Ngahika Ndeenda (l Will Marry When I Want).

21(q) Citing examples from European countries like Germany and Yugoslavia where newspapers are written in the local languages, he encourages writers to do likewise.

21(r) Two years ago Maillu launched a magazine in Kamba entitled Ngomo (Adze). The name comes from an instrument used in carving stones, a craft common among the Kamba. The magazine is meant to help sharpen the minds of the people, the majority of who don”t speak English. It covers topics ranging from politics to culture and societal issues touching on the Akamba.

21(s) With over 60 manuscripts yet to be published, it is evident that Maillu”s creative juices continue to flow. Expected to be published this year include The Nairobian, The Rapist and Man from Machakos. The Nairobian, which was concluded on December 6, 2004, is bound to raffle feathers. “It”s a book that is as political as anything,” he says.

21(t) Like After 4:30, The Nairobian is about the moral decadence and the money culture in our cities. Not only does it talk of the destruction of our cities, and about industrial garbage but it also hits out at the Asian community, accusing them of slowly but surely taking over the economy.

21(u) Maillu has been described by Prof Chris Wanjala of the University of Nairobi as a pan-Africanist on the order of Kwame Nkrumah. Never shy of controversy, Maillu is obsessed with anything that embodies African culture.

21(v) Together with six other African scholars, he wrote an African Bible for the African religion called KA, The Holy Book of Neter. Long before this he explored the Christian philosophy in a book The Black Adam and Eve where he challenged the Christian creation myth. In 1998 he wrote Our Kind of Polygamy, where he predicted that prostitution, “concubinage”, homosexuality, divorce and abortion were going to be the legacy if monogamy took root as advocated by Christianity.

21(w) Maillu is definitely a man of many shades and colours. Does he harbour any political aspirations? “Yes and no,” he replies. Writers, he believes, are greater than presidents. “Kenyans might not even know who was Nigeria”s second president, but they are well aware of Chinua Achebe. Not only is he well known but his works will outlive him,” he points out.

21(x) However should things go wrong, he might reconsider politics as an avenue for his radical ideas. Maillu believes that the media and especially the print hold the key for aspiring writers. They should introduce programmes and avenues to encourage writers. Though he has a dream of starting a college of creative writing one day to help up coming writers, in the meantime he is unbelievably accessible to help the ­future Maillus and Ngugis.

21(y) Despite his hard-line stance on many issues, his soft side is evident as he speaks of his German born wife of over 35 years, Hannelore. She has been supportive and in Maillus words, “she is part of my workshop”.

21(z) In a distinguished career as a novelist, playwright, scholar, poet, politician and theologian that has spanned a little over three decades, Maillu has distinguished himself as a prolific writer. His originality, humour and relevance know no bounds. He is also an accomplished painter and guitarist. Slipping as it were from one role to another comes to Maillu easily.