The journey of Writers Guild’s newly established bookshop

Mr Gabriel Dinda is a man on the move. During a time of uncertainty over what to do as an occupation, writing revealed itself to him in unimaginable way.Writers Guild, which he helped found, is now one of the most visible and vibrant literary organizations in the country. In just less than a decade, Gabriel and his partners have achieved what some literary inclined people take decades to achieve. In this candid interview with NBM’s Jacob Oketch, Gabriel, in his own words, gives us the history of Writers Guild from inception to the present time.

“The idea of coming up with a writers organization occurred to me while I was a Business and Finance student at Kenyatta University back in 2011. I was new in Nairobi and I had come to stay in the city while undertaking my studies. While in college, I was always on the lookout for activities such as career week and so on.

In 2013, the seed of Writers Guild was planted during career week at Kenyatta University, when I noticed that students were not keen on attending such events and I asked myself why this was happening. I then wrote an article on why students should be interested in career-oriented activities during the career week. When I took the article to the administration for stamping, they became interested in it. As a result, I was given a chance to become the editor of the college magazine.

People started reaching out to me with their works, asking for guidance. I received so many requests from students. I noticed a gap – how come that I who was not even a literature student attracted so much attention from aspiring writers. I wanted to do something about this experience. I was praying to God to give me something worthwhile to do. I had dubbed in photography and singing but I didn’t feel satisfied with what I was doing. I thought of starting a writers academy where people would bring their works and then we could approach entities like the Nation Media Group for assistance on how to shape them.

Gabriel Dinda – “We review books before stocking, to ensure that we adhere to quality standards”

I started my project as a student club. In 2013, during my birthday, I asked myself, how do I celebrate my birthday? I decided to call for a meeting with writers with whom we had been working and all the people who had shown interest. Every Tuesday, we would have a meeting. In September 2014, we organized the first of what we called “Writers Tujuane”, where people would come with their partners, not necessarily their girlfriends and boyfriends but people they affiliated with in the business of writing. We then opened a Facebook page and posted pictures there.

We also started a magazine called “All Senses”. At first, we were creating platforms for people to write. In 2015, Writers Guild started blowing up. We hosted literary luminaries such as the late Prof Ken Walibora, Tony Mochama and Kinyanjui Kombani.We even reached out to Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi. 33 of our members got jobs to write for various companies. At the time, I was also writing for an association for chartered accountants (ACCA). KCA University saw an opportunity here.

Around the same time, I was awarded Top 25 Under 25 Entrepreneurial Award under the category of business leadership. The media started reaching out to us and this catapulted us to national prominence. We were invited to go to Mombasa, Eldoret, among other places, to   train writers. We also did some programs with Thomas Adedayo, who is currently the Executive Director of Nigerian Film and Censorship Board. We organized workshops even in Uganda.

After graduating from college, Writers Guild was now registered as a company but at the moment, the organization has changed its registration to that of a trust. An organization called African Garage gave us an office at I&M building. This office space also brought its good tidings. We started something called Writers Ecclesia with the hope that it will grow to be a huge enterprise. We invited editors, publishers and writers in our sessions.

Writers Guild Kenya book tour at Capital Centre Mall

At the end of 2015, we moved to ICEA building. We were raising office rent from writing for companies, creating content. We then initiated a partnership with the National Museums of Kenya, which allowed us to use all museums in Kenya to do writing activities. Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia and Dr Asha Owano were instrumental in cementing that partnership .The museum became our home. We also hosted the Zambian ambassador to Kenya in 2016.

Together with Dr Michael Nebe, we had a workshop project which resulted into a book titled “Youth Unemployment in Kenya: A ticking Time bomb”, published by Longhorn and it was launched by the then Education Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matian’gi. Our poets performed at the workshop and the launch. Dr Nebe facilitated the publication of the poems that were performed in those functions. The launch of the book was amazing and it was graced by poet and journalist Tony Mochama and Prof Egara Kabaji, a leading literary scholar who also at one time, was the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST). Prof Kabaji introduced us to MMUST and we had an MOU to help them develop and run writing programmes.

In 2017, we were at ICEA building, continuing to develop writers. With the publication of Through the Journey of Hope, many people started asking if we could publish them. We felt we needed to do something about these numerous requests. We started offering self-publishing services. We would look at your work and refer you to a publisher. We published our first book, Me Vs Me: Conversations With My Tomorrow by Kevin Odongo, a lecturer at Utalii College. Writers became quite hopeful and this energized us. We started looking for experienced editors to work with. We organized editorial trainings where we brought in consulting editors. We did a lot of this.

Something came up in 2018 that necessitated our move to Strathmore University, where we became part of the incubation centre, Ibiz. In that year, some people wanted to shift to other forms of writing and so we came up with short professional programmes which would help us to mentor other categories of writers. We now have three programmes; Write your passion, targeting writers who are above 20 years; Teens Write, targeting writers below 20 years and; Writing for smart professionals, targeting people who want to write well in their professional engagements but not necessarily creative writing. It is shorter and more specific. We did them at Strathmore university.

Write Your Passion programme class of 2020

With the advent of the corona virus pandemic, we went online doing programmes through zoom. We started getting people even from the US. We became so comfortable working online.  We have published many books. In Writers Guild, we encourage freedom. A member is not bound to publish with Writers Guild. Our goal is to encourage people to write and read then we support them. Where you publish are details. We have published 36 titles since 2017. Almost all of these writers were publishing for the first time. This responds to our goal. The titles published elsewhere with the support of Writers Guild are 111. Our writers who have grown and are running blogs are 233. We have 18 of our writers who are working for newspapers and magazines.

In 2020, with the ease of the lockdown, our 36 authors would display their books and we were selling for them. We realized that our writers were becoming marketers and that avenues for selling were minimal. This was painful to us. So, we sought to find out where the problem was. We would go with books to where people are to determine if indeed Kenyans are not readers or they lack variety of authentic material. In November 2020, we started book tours. We held the first book tour at Capital Centre and what we found out gave us hope; people were interested in reading. It shocked and encouraged us.

We then went to village market and got the same response. In March, we went to KICC. Nation Media Group had an exhibition there. Three writers came with their books. They said they did not have time to market their books. We felt that this lack of support must be addressed. We then decided to immediately establish a bookshop and a support structure for writers. Ours is not a bookshop in the conventional sense. It is a symbol for the support structure for African writers. We will capitalize on partnerships. It is an all-African bookshop. It is hard to access African authors. We intend to uplift underdogs to write. We review books before stocking, to ensure that we adhere to quality standards. We then write a complete report and advise the author on how to improve their book if necessary. The idea is that we write and we ought to write good titles. We have started with Kenya but we envision expanding beyond Kenya”.

Writer is the author of Aphorisms and Poems of Light

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