Departed Kenyan novelist and poet Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye speaks during an interview in her home in Ngara on the 16th of October 2012. PHOTO | EMMA NZIOKA | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Tributes to author Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye who died on Tuesday continued pouring in on Tuesday.
Considered the grand matriarch of Kenyan literature, Ms Macgoye, who died aged 87, was one of the few surviving women writers of the pioneering generation that included Grace Ogot and Asenath Odaga.
Simply referred by the acronym MOM by many Kenyans who studied her book Coming to Birth, and read her poem ‘A Freedom Song’, Ms Macgoye was found dead at her Ngara home in Nairobi on Tuesday morning, according to family sources.
Kenyatta University don Prof Elizabeth Orchadson Mazrui described the author as a humble human being and one of Kenya’s greatest writers.
“She was like a second mother. I feel devastated. She was one of the greatest writers yet she lived the simplest of lives,” said Prof Mazrui who was for many years by the poet’s side.
Prof Mazrui said whenever she visited the novelist, her house was always full of young people.
“One of these young people was a street lady who used to bring her gifts and it was very touching,” she added. Ms Wakuraya Wanjohi remembers the author as a mentor and a sounding board.
“The last time I visited her, about two months ago, she had difficulty trying not to doze off at times. Still, she tried hard to listen to another chapter of Tuesdays With Morrie, (a memoir by American writer Mitch Albom). This was the book I had started reading to her when she was no longer able to read much of anything,” said Ms Wanjohi, an author. Both women are of European extraction but married to Kenyans.
Prof Chris Wanjala of the University of Nairobi celebrated Ms Macgoye for “integrating her intellectual and creative self with that of the indigenous Kenyan and bearing with gallantry, the pain and aspirations of the average Kenyan.”
“When she was approached by Egerton University to be awarded a doctorate in literature, in the manner of Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Wole Soyinka, she turned down the offer,” recalled Prof Wanjala.
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Despite acquiring a master’s degree in literature from the University of London, Ms Macgoye left her birthplace of Southampton in 1954, to work at the Church Missionary Society bookshop in Nairobi.
In 1960, she married a clinical officer, Mr Daniel Oludhe Mcgoye from Gem in Siaya County and took up Kenyan citizenship.
She was to be so integrated into her husband’s Luo extended family and learnt the language and custom, which earned her the nickname ‘Nyarloka’ (daughter from yonder).
While she will be most probably be remembered best for “Atieno yo”, the refrain in the poem ‘A Freedom Song’, she told this writer in one of her last interviews that the poem was a “complete failure because many people praise the poem, yet they still keep domestic labour!”
But domestic oppression aside, Ms Macgoye wrote historical novels which documented the effects of Kenya’s momentous milestones like the assassination of Tom Mboya, on ordinary Kenyans.
Her other book is Chira, in which she blended Luo traditional lore and modern writing techniques to powerfully convey the message of Aids and its tragic effects.
So enamoured was she of Tanzania’s founding president, Julius Nyerere, that she eulogised him on his death in 1999 as “accessible, spry and smiling”.
And in her last interview with the Nation she spoke of her long journey, the mistakes and the faith.
“If you are really trusting in the Lord you will keep going.
“Although I made many mistakes and wrong judgments in the course this journey, I trusted in the Lord,”
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