Magunga Williams, a lawyer by training, saw a lacuna within African literary circles: the lack of availibility of African literature. Already an avid reader and writer/blogger – www.magunga.com which took home the Kenyan Blog of the Year BAKE Award 2017 – Magunga decided the path of law practice was not for him and resolved to fill this lacuna. He started The Magunga Bookstore, specialising in the distribution of African Literature. An icon in contemporary literary circles Magunga and his team ensure that African Literature is open and available not just to Africans, but people the world over.
A lawyer. The last thing I would have you pegged for. What made you decide to go to law school?
Well, what else was I supposed to do? I passed my national exams but not well enough to go to Med school. Plus anyone who watched The Practice and Boston Legal will surely attest to a longing to practice law at some point.
Why the decision not to practice?
By the time I got to third year, I knew that was one thing I did not want to do for the rest of my life. Practice for me, is good from far but far from good. I had fallen in love with writing and I still romanticised the life of being an artist. If I knew then what I know now, perhaps I would have practiced. Perhaps.
Have you always been a writer?
I guess you can say that. I have been telling stories in written form for as long as I can remember. I did not think much if it then, but now when I look back to my early formative years, I would say I have always been a writer.
What was your family’s reception when it came to your decision not to practice?
Let’s just say I had to move out of my mother’s house and we did not speak for four months.
From your years as a freelance writer what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Do not do it for the money.
What have you learnt about writing from running a blog?
That everything is a story. The number of times I have spun a story out of something so small, is countless. Readers expect a story, so if you have to pull it out of your ass, go ahead. Blogging is like riding a bicycle; the moment you stop is the moment you fall.
How can one make their voice heard as a blogger today?
Blogging is in itself a way in which people get their voices heard.
What birthed the idea of starting a bookstore?
My girlfriend had a poetry book that a number of bookshops refused to stock for many ridiculous reasons. One said people do not buy poetry. Another said he cannot stock self-published books. Another said they will only stock if people ask for it. So I said f*ck it, let me start my store and sell her book.
Where do the books come in from?
Publishers and self-published authors.
Has selling books taught you anything about writing/being an author?
Many things. That people like reading but very few have access to the books they would like to read. That pricing of books is a huge problem because of this same problem with access. That not many people can make a good living from purely being an author – you need to supplement it with talks, newspaper columns, and other side gigs. That the scourge of piracy is royally understated.
What do you think authors, publishers and bookstore owners can do to make books more accessible in Africa?
Wow. This conversation requires days upon days of brainstorming. But at the end of it I am sure that one thing we need to improve is how we market our books to audiences. Books are products just like any other, yet we imagine that after production and one or two newspaper reviews, then the whole world will come to its knees begging to read them. Nope. Sell the book and the author. And one effective marketing tool I have seen work is social media. I know that is a general answer, but like I said, it will require a serious brainstorm.
Where do you see yourself and the bookstore in five years?
Believe it or not my initial dream was never to start a bookstore, but rather a library. A repository of books that doubles up as this really cool place where lovers of the written word can congregate and interact and have a kick-ass time. That is the dream I am chasing. But now with the modification of a bookstore segment of the same.
I am new to African Literature and I can only buy three books. Which three books would you advise me to start with and why?
- Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Ibrahim Adam
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
There are very few books that have stayed with me the way these three books have. They give me feels reading through them. They are true and raw in ways many books are not.
Thank you for your time Magunga! And for what you are doing for African Literature.
#MoreThanABlog is a series we are running, highlighting all the incredible people in our blogging community that are going the extra mile and doing more than blogging. ‘The extra mile’ could be in direct line with their blog and that content or within a completly different sector. We are just looking to celebrate all the bloggers doing more and inspire evry writer out there to find ways in which they can do more than blog. If you think you fit the bill or know anyone that would, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.