A LITTLE over a week ago, The New Yorker ran a story on Magunga Williams, Kenyan bookstore owner and blogger, in their Page-Turner section. The feature, penned by Daniel A. Gross, a Boston-based writer and radio producer, focuses on Magunga’s efforts to do something that hadn’t existed before him in Kenya–create an online bookstore for only African books. That bookstore is The Magunga Bookstore, modeled on the Guardian‘s online bookstore.
People like Magunga, young and hungry and daring, are breaking new grounds in the literary scene. It is important that the work he and Abigail Arunga, whose own contribution to this dream is monumental, are doing is highlighted and celebrated.
Read an excerpt below.
Magunga Williams grew up in Kisumu, a Kenyan city that’s home to more than three hundred thousand people but to only two major bookstores. There, Williams told me recently, “people depend on books that they find in supermarkets.” Most of these books come from the United States and Europe. “These supermarkets do not have a rich African collection,” Williams said. But there was one place where he could always find a wider range of books. It was the personal collection of a local man, whose house became a neighborhood meeting place and an unofficial sort of public library. “It helped so many of us,” Williams, who is now twenty-five, said. “There are people who used to skip school so that they could go to the library and read comics.”
Eventually, the library in Kisumu closed. Williams moved to Nairobi and began an undergraduate program in law, but he never forgot the way that a house full of books, in a city with too few, became an escape. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Williams said. “The dream has always been to have a library.” So Williams, while he was in school, started a literary blog, Magunga.com, and when he received his undergraduate degree he decided not to take the necessary final steps to become a lawyer in Kenya. Instead, he made it his mission to create a space like that library—not in a house but on the Internet. The result is a fledgling online pan-African bookshop: the Magunga Bookstore.
In becoming a bookseller, Williams was, in part, following in the footsteps of his girlfriend, Abigail Arunga. A few years ago, Arunga, a Nairobi-based freelance writer in her late twenties, stopped by a few local bookstores and asked if they would stock “Akello,” her self-published collection of poems. At one shop, she was told that Kenyans don’t read poetry. At another, an employee claimed that her ninety-three-page book was too short. “They told me that my book had to be at least a hundred pages,” she said. So she decided to sell the book herself—at poetry readings, literary festivals, even family gatherings. “Literally everywhere. Like, except illegal places,” she told me. She kept a stack of copies in the trunk of her car. “I had at least six in my handbag at all times.”
Congratulations to Magunga Williams and Abigail Arunga.
Read the original story HERE.