Writivism Short Story 2018 Prize Winner: A Dialogue With Mbogo Ireri

Mbogo Ireri is a writer born and raised in Embu, Kenya. His first short story One False Move was published by BBC Focus on Africa. Hopes and Dreams shortlisted for Writivism is his second attempt at short story writing.
This conversation happened between a green bedroom in Gaborone, Botswana and a city in Kenya. 

Gaamangwe: Mbogo, congratulations on being shortlisted for Writivism prize. What does being shortlisted for this prize mean to you?

Mbogo: Thank you. I am very excited. Writivism is a great platform with diverse stories and I am humbled that Hopes and Dreams made it this far. It’s a great encouragement for me.

Gaamangwe: Yes, Writivism is a great platform. What inspired the creation of Hopes and Dreams?

Mbogo: There was an old loquat tree in our farm when I was a kid. I always wanted to write about it. It’s from its memories that the story was born. I was always intrigued by its boundlessness and wildness. The space it occupied neglected in weeds while around it crops were nurtured with human tenderness. It’s from these contrasts that the story grew. I included corruption as it’s also a rampant issue in our societies.

Gaamangwe: I can relate to this fascination to an old tree. I have tons of stories written and stuck in my head about our Mosu tree. I enjoyed how you built the story around it whilst exploring the bigger issue of corruption. How was the process of writing this meeting of old memories and societal issues?

Mbogo: Throughout the story I had meant to retain hope as the undying factor that holds everything together. But even in a mind of a child, I discovered that hope can be shaken and its course changed (or cut down with an axe). Navigating through suicide and a betrayed trust wasn’t easy as these issues are not always easy to address. But I discovered from a child’s voice, the space between hope and hopelessness is wide and with a life of its own so I chose to tell the story from there.

Gaamangwe: That is powerful. How did you arrive to telling the story from the child’s perspective? I also found it powerful that the child’s world wholly fell into pieces when the tree was finally cut down. Was that symbolism a conscious choice?

Mbogo: I must admit, writing as a child, gives me a more detached approach to stories and results in a more remorseless approach to subjects that should just be discussed in black and white. The cutting of the tree could be symbolic (or not depending on how one sees the story). When one’s world falls apart, how can one collect oneself and start again? Does one live with the old memories or does one build new ones? These were questions I had when the tree came tumbling down and I felt they are conscious ones – only mostly unanswerable. I sought not sympathy for Ana but an understanding that hope indeed is a fragile thing.

Mbogo Ireri - Kenyan Writer

Gaamangwe: I connect with that symbolism. I suppose it also symbolizes the end of the old life or a structure or a centre, perhaps the death of an old wisdom, as Ana’s father used to be that for the villagers. It’s actually quite multi-layered. And this applies to other elements in the story, say the briefcase. The way Ana’s father held onto it even when everything was falling apart. All humans work like that. Our sense of things can be attached to material things. What is important to you when you create a short story? What themes excites you?

Mbogo: Yes, I completely concur – holding onto things we love, even when that love remains questionable is very human. I tried to include that In Hopes and Dreams, in Ana’s father who embodies blind hope – like plants growing in darkness hoping eventually they will reach sunlight.

I am excited by themes that play with these human emotions. Sadness intertwined with glimmers of hope are my favorite. I think most readers are drawn to stories that either invoke their greatest hopes or greatest fears.

When creating a story, most importantly for me is to let the story tell itself. I try not to be too intrusive on the subject and always try to give it enough air to breathe itself to life. From there I have to try keep the reader there and create a perspective that makes him belong to the story.

Gaamangwe: That is great Mbogo. I look forward to reading more of your stories. Thank you for joining me here. All the best with Writivism and your future writings.

NB: This interview is part of a collective book project with all the incredible and talented shortlisted writers for Writivism Prizes.

Download Writivism Shortlisted Writers in Conversation with Africa in Dialogue

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