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Grace Ogot chronicles her life in new autobiography

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 Dr Grace Ogot (right) presents a land title deed and other documents relating to the Odera Akang’o campus of Moi University to the Higher Education minister, Prof Hellen Sambili, during a ceremony to hand over the campus to Moi University. Looking on is the Moi University Chancellor, Prof Bethwel Ogot, Dr Ogot’s husband. File

Dr Grace Ogot (right) presents a land title deed and other documents relating to the Odera Akang’o campus of Moi University to the then Higher Education minister, Prof Hellen Sambili, during a ceremony to hand over the campus to Moi University. Looking on is the Moi University Chancellor, Prof Bethwel Ogot, Dr Ogot’s husband. File 

By Chris Wanjala

Posted  Thursday, January 3  2013 at  17:07

In Summary

  • Grace Ogot has published the story of her life, Days of My Life: An Autobiography.

The book delves into the author’s education in colonial Kenya, revealing her leadership qualities, her moral values and her ability to learn new languages. But perhaps the most instructive thing about the book is the strength of the love between Grace and the man she married.

Throughout the account is the sobriety of their relationship and the way it informed her career development and her writing. Their marriage was preceded by a protracted courtship period and an exchange of lengthy love letters.

She had come from a background of a strong story-telling tradition which merged with her husband’s interest in oral history. He was then researching the history of the southern Luo, drawing heavily from oral traditions.

He readily appreciated her skill as a writer and pointed out the poetry in her letters to him. As the editor of Ghala, the literary supplement of the East Africa Journal, he became one of the early East African intellectuals to encourage her output as a writer.

Mrs Ogot comments generously on her parents, relatives , members of the protestant church to which she belongs, her siblings and her fellow writers and literary intellectuals. There are stylistic flaws and errors of fact, dates and even information on people, events and places in the book.

Per Wastberg, the current chairman of the Nobel Committee for Literature is a man. He has done a lot of work for African literature in Europe and Africa. But Grace Ogot writes: “In March 1961, I received a letter from a Swedish lady – a Miss Per Wastberg – author and journalist.

She was on a tour of East Africa. In her letter, she told me that she was editing an anthology of African writing for publication in Sweden later that year. She had failed to discover any authors in East Africa.

“Eighteen countries in Africa would be represented in her book. She had heard from several people at Makerere University College, including Gerald Moore (a literary critic).”

Politics

The book is courageous and strong on politics and public administration of Nyanza Province and the entire country during the Nyayo era. It gives background information on assassinations of politicians from Nyanza and some of the people she replaced in her constituency.

She gives accounts of how she and her husband went through a lot of pain to have access to President Moi to organize fund-raisers to develop her constituency.

The book, however, shows how she let down writers and thespians as assistant minister for Culture and Social Services. She never worked to improve the working climate of the Kenya Cultural Centre in general and the Kenya National Theatre in particular.

Prof Wanjala is a literary scholar and critic and author of A Season of Harvest among other works.

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