W

anjiru Koinange, otherwise called Shiro by those closely known to her is an absolute delight. From her infectious smile, to her bubbly self you can’t help but get drawn in to her conversation. Her style of writing is an easy read, and we are all here for it, judging by the success of the book.

I first met Wanjiru way back in Highschool. I schooled with her elder sister and you know what they say, Once a friend the whole family is a friend. So I do have  privileged rights to this exclusive Interview, even though It has close to two decades since we Interacted. That says a lot about her character and thanks Shiro for taking the time.

Her striking debut, The Havoc Of choice is rich, thought- provoking and wonderfully endearing, and Kenyans confirmed the same. It quickly became the National Bestseller in 2020. As if that were not enough, the Kenyan Bookstagrammers are still raving about the book a year on.

Shiro excels in painting a vivid picture of the devastating effects of the post election violence that took place in 2007. She develops an intricate plot around a family of four in different time frames. Showing ever so cleverly how each mind-shifting decision made, by each family member, informs the next person’s choice, which ultimately leads to chaotic situations.

When Wanjiru is not writing, she is working at restoring Libraries in Nairobi. Book Bunk is a social impact Organization she co- founded that works towards restoring some of Nairobi’s iconic Libraries into spaces where Art of different forms can eco-exist.

READ MORE: Library Corner: The Bookworm Gigiri

When did you first pick up a pen and start writing stories?

I always heard that I was a good writer. Right from early Primary, I remember getting 10/10 from the simple essays like writing 10 things about yourself. So I have always written stories including on online publications like commonwealthwriters.org.

Is there a moment in time that made you think, ‘I want to be an author’

I have always been a reader. But for some reason, when I consciously started reading books by African writers, the Idea of also becoming one lingered in my mind.

I remember reading Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi, and just feeling utterly drawn in. It was the first time that I recognized reality in a fiction book, and felt deep emotional hurt for someone who wasn’t from the Western world. It was as if there was no distance between my reality and the characters’ reality. The feeling Chimamanda’s book evoked in me, made me realize there are endless opportunities to writing contemporary African stories.

How long was the process for you, from writing through to being told you had a publishing deal
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Image credit: @marcusolang

Long! I first started writing this story in 2012, and at the time I was struggling to find a storyline. I was in Durban taking my Masters in Creative Writing. Literally everyone I interacted with was honestly concerned about the situation back home after the Post Election Violence. They all would ask, “..and how are you guys fairing on now?”

I realized how this ask forced me to reconcile with what we went through as Kenyans affected me as an Individual. This questions triggered my curiosity into how we, as Kenyans really were fairing on? For the most part I think we all just wanted to leave the worst behind us, pick ourselves up and move on.

And so, the idea of writing a fictional story of true events that devastated our Nation to somehow start a conversation of Reconciliation amongst ourselves.

Along the way, I have written so many drafts, some with tears of just wanting to give up because I couldn’t figure the best way to develop a certain character’s story. To getting hard core feedback on the work that needed to be done on the draft.

By the time I was getting published I think I had 8 drafts written, and 6 years later I guess the book was now considered good enough to get published.

For How long was Kavata keeping you company before she came on paper

Kavata  was actually one of the characters that came much later.  I struggled with Kavata, wondering how her character would influence the plot development of the book.

It’s so surprising just how much she has stirred a controversial conversation about her choices. I’m glad the struggle paid off.

What did you hope to achieve when writing this book

I just had questions about our society that I didn’t seem to get the answers to.  Things didn’t make sense to me and so I thought why not write a book and throw it out there. Start a conversation if you will. I wanted to raise a platform where we would look into the mirror and see how we make our choices especially when it comes to elections.

For some reason we don’t use the same moral compass for the way we live our lives in this country. Because if we did, we wouldn’t treat the environment they way we do, or drive the way we do. To some extent it’s as if we just don’t care, yet we need to care.

Picture that best summarizes your pursuit
Image of a Library in Nairobi

MacMillan Library restored by Book Bunks

Image of a restored Library

One of the restored Libraries by Wanjiru Koinange’s Organization, Book Bunks

Picture of a location that has inspired you
Image of Library set up

One of book bunks restored libraries in Nairobi

Picture of your most memorable book event
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Wanjiru at the Text Book Center Book signing

Keep up with Wanjiru Koinange’s work at www.bookbunk.org

Instagram: @shirokoinange

If you enjoyed this article, you can also visit the bookville section of my blog to find more author Interviews, and Industry Insights.