We should learn a lesson from these young writers

(A bold manifesto for doing work with passion)

What would your mum say if you told her: “I’m a spoken word artist”? I mean, does that even count as a proper job description? Apparently it does.

There is a new generation who has no problem with standing up and saying “I am a writer.” Or – and I consider them even more brave – “I am a poet.”

“But what’s your job?”

I met them last weekend, at the Story Moja Festival in Nairobi. Young writers from Kenya and Uganda read their contributions to Africa 39, an anthology bringing together 39 writers from Africa under 40 years. I asked them how they react when people hear that they are writers and then ask: “But what is your JOB?” Apparently, the most concerned people are usually the mothers. Clifton Gachagua explained how his mother’s doubts turned into pride when her son’s work was published in an anthology.

Find likeminded people

Another stage was full of young poets, poetry slammers and spoken word artists and they were all friends. Some colleagues of them were sitting in the audience and they talked respectfully about each other and spoke about gigs and events they had done together. They are not competitors, but companions. They advise and support each other. “You need to read your contemporaries,” said Linda Musita.

The role of a writer

There was also the debate about whether artists can or should be activists. Wole Soyinka from Nigeria, the first African to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, gave a moving yet controversial lecture. He talked about Boko Haram and other terror groups and said: “As writers we should tell them they lie.” But when Linda Musita was asked what the role of a writer in society is, she answered: “The role of a writer is just to write.

Language and identity – a boring debate

In Kenya, at least 46 different languages are spoken. Therefore, questions about identity and language come up on a regular basis. However, I recognised a lot of eye-rolling among the panellists.

For many young writers it doesn’t matter whether they have found their identity and whether that is expressed in the way they use (a) language(s). A writer is there to write. And a lot of the discussion that comes afterwards is old and hackneyed. Okwiri Oduor even said “I write in many Englishes.”

It is time to stop caring.

It is time to do exactly what we want, whether there is a name for it or not.

It is time to connect with likeminded people.

Not in order to define some kind of identity or represent some cause or to fit in some job description. But to do it for the sake of it.

It is time we do what we do because we cannot do anything else.

It is time we do what we do because we cannot NOT do it.

Let’s do it with passion.

Let’s be informed about what is going on in our circle. Let’s learn from our colleagues.

And let’s stand for it.

What are you passionate about, despite the lack of a proper job description? Tell me in the comments.

Want more? Get weekly updates to your inbox – with love. And have a look at facebook (where you’ll find a VISUAL of the manifesto).

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