Starting off modestly as the Hay Storymoja Festival back in 2007, Muthoni Garland isn’t shy to admit that her festival was loosely patterned after the Hay Literary Festival in the UK.
One thing Muthoni especially admired about the UK fete was the way the small town of Hay was transformed every year into a gigantic multicultural event that wasn’t only about books and brilliant writers. It embraced all aspects of the arts, including literati from all over Europe.
Over the last eight years, the Storymoja Festival (the term Hay was dropped a few years back) has increasingly become more culturally rich and multifaceted. This year there are still lots of storytellers, writers and poets, but there are also dancers, photographers and graphic novelists as well as journalists, bloggers, thespians and TV personalities like Jeff Koinange.
The vast majority of ‘creatives’ who’ll be participating from this coming Wednesday when the festival opens at the Arboretum Park will be East Africans, meaning they are not only Kenyan, but also Ugandan, Rwandese and Burundians. This is largely because there has been a literary renaissance in the region over the past decade or two.
There will also be several creatives coming from central and southern Africa and several from overseas, including the Caine Prize director Lizzy Attree and the American playwright Elizabeth Spackman, who together with Rwandese writer Amizero Kompagnie wrote their version of Role Play.
This version is different from John Sibi-Okumu’s as it reflects a cultural blend of cast members who are both Rwandese and Kenyan, including Sitawa Namwalie and Mugambi Nthenge. The Rwandese version will be staged on Friday night.
Meanwhile, the other theatrical performance Nyef Nyef featuring Muthoni Garland and several other impassioned storytellers will be performed on Saturday night.
Sibi-Okumu will also be at the festival to speak about playwriting both on Thursday and over the weekend since the programme will run through Sunday.
There will be master classes the first three days in everything, from creative writing and playwriting to branding and monetising one’s creative skills. Pre-registration is required since space is limited.
But there will also be lots of open talks, interactive discussions, workshops and illuminating panels.
Among the Kenyan writers who’ll be participating in the festival are Billie Kahore, Sitawa Namwalie, Juliet Marura, Rasna Warah, Wangari Grace, Ernest Wamboye, Chief Nyamweya, Muthoni Muchemi and Jeff Koinange among others.
There will also be well known Ugandan writers like Goretti Kyamuhendo, South Africans like Khulekani Magubane and the Zimbabwean writer, publisher and filmmaker Tsits Dangarembga.