Moran Publisher's Jerry Onyango, Petronilla Ogola and Samuel Ng'ang'a

From the Nairobi International Book Fair 2013

It’s not easy to do a book fair. You have to find all these publishers and convince them to come together in one space and flog their ware. Those folks have enough on their plate what with convincing the government to get their book on the Ministry of Education approved list. Then there is the case of the sad people who have taken the work of being a writer. They write books and then they have to find people who are willing to buy and read their drivel whilst at the same time paying bills and leaving some over for beers.

Moran Publisher's Jerry Onyango, Petronilla Ogola and Samuel Ng'ang'a
Moran Publisher’s Jerry Onyango, Petronilla Ogola and Samuel Ng’ang’a

But somehow the folks of the Kenya Publishers Association have been able to do a book fair bringing together publishers and writers in Nairobi for the last 16 years. It is no mean feat if you ask me. I have been attending this fair pretty consistently for the last half decade and I have to say the biggest achievement is that it is still there.

The fair had its challenges of course. It’s never been one for the writers but one for publishers to hook up and make nice as they did their deals. The writers have always been a by-the-way as the publishers shone.

This year was even more full of challenges. The week before Kenya had just gone through some of the worst terror attacks in a long time as our Westgate Mall was taken down by some bad guys. This didn’t allow so many people to have so much confidence in the fair.

eKitabu exhibitor's Susan W. Kariuki, Mary Williams, Michael Ng'eno and Caroline Wanjiru
eKitabu exhibitors Susan W. Kariuki, Mary Williams, Michael Ng’eno, and Caroline Wanjiru

The guys organising the fair did their bit to mitigate the effects of these flaws. There was a lot of tightened security and this worked out quite well as the event is awash with school children with their schools and their parents. They were here to see a fair that was very child-friendly as they saw some of the best that the country has to offer the kids. Catching them while they are still young seems to be the policy that everyone approves.

Edith Marely, Danson Ng'ang'a and Catherine Kinyua
Edith Marely, Danson Ng’ang’a, and Catherine Kinyua

Then the issue with the authors seems to have been sorted out with the Authors Buffet which sees many writers launching books at the same time. It also allows many of them to meet and mingle and do things that writers do when they do which is exchange books and contacts. And drink perhaps?

The actual fair was the usual stuff I have gotten accustomed to with book stands with educational leanings with the usual suspects – East African Educational Publishers, Mountain Top Publishers, Longhorn Publishers et al – showing that their best educational book forward.

The creative writing guys were slim on the ground with Kwani? and their huge stand bringing showing off their latest Kwani 7 aka Kwani? Majuu about the way Kenyans fled abroad in the 1990s and how they fared out there. I got me a copy.

Margaret Muthee, Jalida Scheuerman and Elizabeth Wangari
Margaret Muthee, Jalida Scheuerman and Elizabeth Wangari

The fair ended with its traditional Jomo Kenyatta Literature Awards at the Intercontinental Hotel with Henry Ole Kutet winning the big English award for his Longhorn Publisher’s book Vanishing Herds.

I’m looking forward to next year’s fair as I suspect it will rock way much more than this one. But for one that happened just after we were attacked, this one went pretty well. Kudos to the Kenya Publishers Association.


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