In Support of African Authors: Meet the Man behind the First Ever All-African Bookshop
Gabriel Dinda is a man that wears many hats—a husband, a father, a storyteller, an avid reader, a lecturer and above all, a writer passionate about inspiring others to read and write more.
He is the founder of Writers Guild Kenya, an organisation that has published 36 books, currently runs six writing programs and boasts 3071 members.
Mourine Odongo caught up with Gabriel to talk about his passion for serving and the recently launched all African bookshop.
Who is Gabriel?
I help people connect with each other through stories. I’m always involved in activities that help people write more. I connect people with those who can help them explore their writing skills by organising and coordinating training and activities. The activities could be related to book clubs or collaborating with people or companies that empower writers. I do all this under the umbrella of Writers Guild Kenya, of which I’m the founder. I love to serve. So, I always look for an opportunity to serve.
Tell me about the journey of Writers Guild Kenya.
In 2013, I was a second-year student pursuing a Bachelor of Economics and Finance at K.U. (Kenyatta University). I noticed there were many activities and events on campus, yet very few students attended. I was bothered by this trend, so during the career week, I did a one-page article encouraging the students to attend. This was the beginning of my journey.
I later became the editor of the Career Focus magazine on campus. In the years that followed, I started the Writers Guild, an initiative to help aspiring writers in K.U. learn from each other and grow. Through the initiative, we managed to train writers in Eldoret, Mombasa, and Kakamega. We also visited universities like Zetech, Strathmore, and the University of Nairobi.
In 2015, I was awarded the top 25 under 25 leadership award by KCA University and African garage because of the work I was doing with Writers Guild. Later that year, when I cleared campus, we opened the Writers Guild offices in town. Around this time, we focused on writing for companies and individuals. We also started training writers. We partnered with other organizations like the National Museum of Kenya, which allowed us to use national museums countrywide to host our activities.
In 2016 our friends from Germany that had an organization called Elimu Inayokuza Maendeleo sponsored us to publish our first book, Through the Journey of Hope. This was launched on 4th June 2016. From this first publication, we established our self-publishing unit to help our writers publish their books. Today we have 56 first-time authors who have been published.
What inspired you to start an all-African bookshop?
We were inspired by our authors, who reached out asking us for help to distribute their books. Then, we did a book tour and realised that people were excited about local books, local authors, and stories they could relate to. But, there was no place where they could readily get them. We thought we could bridge that gap. The initiative serves to bring a variety of local stories and provide a platform for you and me, people who don’t have a big name but have a big story. We are located in Nairobi CBD, Hazina Towers.
Why is this initiative important now?
Africa is at crossroads. We are bombarded with foreign things in all sectors and we yawn at local ones. With books, we desire to connect with our own stories, where we can relate to the context. Our bookshop allows you to interact with African stories in one place.
Also, the history of Africa, for a long time, has been oral in nature. Now we are getting to a point where we want to immortalise our stories. We would love to facilitate that by making it possible for you to tell your story.
The bookshop has two phases. We’ve started with a physical location that also acts as our dispatch centre for phase two, an online platform. Currently, we have two services. You can easily make an order through our dial-a-book service, and we will deliver the book you want. You can also physically visit our bookshop or make a regular call, and we will deliver.
Is the reading culture in Kenya as bad as people make it out to be?
The reading culture in Kenya is excellent. It’s unfair to say that Kenyans or Africans don’t read. It could be that a large percentage don’t read. But there are many Kenyans that love their books. These are the people who need a variety.
That is where we feel the problem is. Some people have gotten to reading apathy because it is the same content, the same books. The books that talk about streets in New York or London. We need stories that talk about the Moi Avenues. So more than the reading culture, it is the lack of variety and lack of local stories that we can relate to. That is the gap that the Writers Guild is coming in to fill.
Apart from the African, only bookshop, Writers Guild Kenya offers other writing programs to aspiring writers in Kenya. Tell us more about that?
We have three programs. The first one is affiliate membership, where you register with us and pay a membership fee. Under affiliate, there are several categories: beginners pay Kshs.1500. As a beginner member, you can attend our activities and training. You’ll also be exposed to opportunities and get support. This program is good for people excited about writing but doesn’t know where to start. It gives you a chance to explore and see the avenue that best fits you.
Incubate membership comes after you’ve taken any of our professional programs. We have three: write your passion, teens write and write for smart professionals. After taking any of these programs, you qualify for one year of support.
The last program is Tunza Members. These are our mentors. They don’t necessarily have to be writers. They are individuals that love what Writers Guild does. These people give their money, experience, and time to grow Writers Guild.