By Alex Nderitu
Cynthia Abdallah is a Kenyan-born writer, poet and educator. She is the author of My Six Little Fears (poetry) and The Musunzu Tree (short stories) and The Author’s Feet (poetry). She currently lives and works in Venezuela, South America, where she teaches Language and Literature. Her work has appeared in numerous online magazines and in print. These include The Tokyo Poetry Journal (Japan), Kwani? Uchaguzi Edition(Kenya), Ake Review (Nigeria), Quailbell Magazine (USA), Kalahari Review (Kenya), Nalubaale Review(Uganda), Active Muse (India) and the Bodies and Scars anthology by Ghana Literary Journal.
1. Can you tell our readers across the world about your writing journey?
There have been highs and lows. My highs have been when I have received emails saying that my work has been accepted and will be published and my many lows have been, when I have received rejections from publishers. But I keep writing because that is the journey. I know many writers like JK Rowling whose work was rejected by many publishing houses and then she ended up selling millions of copies of her books. That in itself keeps me going.
2: Can you tell us about your books and what impact they have made on the lives of readers and you?
My chapbooks, My Six Little Fears and The Author’s Feet have been received fairly well by my readers. They touch on subjects that are relevant to the human race. Matters of family, life, belonging, and nature. My short stories also touch on everyday narratives that we encounter in Kenya and Africa. Stories on land, superstitions, and domestic violence. I have been able to donate many books to a lot of readers and libraries and this itself is an impact on the lives of the many readers out there.
3: Awards or Readers, what do you think should come first? Why?
Readers. I want my stories to go beyond Kenya. So people can hear what I have to say, learn something, and take a journey with me. Awards will come when they come.
4: We all know that digitalisation has conquered every nook and cranny on the earth, and it has invaded the publishing industry. However, some areas on the earth are slow in embracing digitalisation. How has the digitalisation of the publishing industry affected the African writing community and their readership?
It has widened the reading space and now a lot more people can access different writer’s works from anywhere in the world. For example, my books are on Amazon and Kindle. Users from different parts of the world have gladly purchased the soft copies. I think digitalization also means many more can read now. However, we need to think of those in the villages with no access to the Internet and sophisticated gadgets.
5: Each writer has unique writing processes, and most of them are influenced by their surroundings, cultures, and lifestyles. Can you tell us about your writing process and how Africa has influenced it?
My experiences as a child and as an adult contribute immensely to my writing process. Moreover, Chinua Achebe and many Western African writers are my go-to when I need to write authentically African stories. I read a lot of their work and I learn from them. That is what I want my stories to entail. A deep African feel.
6: Have you ever encountered writer’s block? How did you manage to deal with it?
It is quite common for writers to experience this. Am even experiencing it now. It took me quite some time to respond to these questions. The only way to deal with it is to embark on reading widely which is something I am doing right now. Besides the academic readings I have to do for my teaching job, I am reading at least 1 work of fiction every 3 weeks. I am on book number 6.
7: Africa is the cradle of human civilization, and it’s the most diverse continent in the world, home to vibrant cultures. It’s also the motherland of several great personalities in global literature. What is your opinion on Africa’s contribution to global literature, and how we can promote African literature on the world stage?
African literature is doing okay at the moment however there is a lot to be done. As a Literature teacher in Venezuela, I have seen that there is little African literature in these foreign spaces yet in Kenya, our libraries are saturated with foreign books. If African Literature is to grow, we need to start promoting it immensely in our African libraries and stores and promoting our writers. That way the world will appreciate it because we do. At the moment, the world only knows a handful of African writers. There is a long way to go. We need our own literary awards, our own literary shows so the world can appreciate us.
8: We live in a divided world in many dimensions and literature is no exception. We, as authors, still believe that literature can help unite the world and heal the planet. How do you perceive the divisions in our sphere and its impact? What are your suggestions on how literature and authors can contribute to restoring unity in this world?
It is in divisions that we should seek common ground. If we can learn to appreciate our differences, and be keen to understand the contradictions, we will realize that we have more in common than we presume. Literature paints a picture of what is and sometimes it is not all pretty. We seek to represent the world as it is and therefore the world should look at it as a mirror. And if the image we are receiving is not as we imagined it, then maybe it is time to make a change.
9: As an author, what is your message for the budding generation of authors across genres?
I consider myself a becoming writer. I am only getting my work out there and I could use a wide readership. So I would like to urge people to read my poems and stories and give me some reviews.
10: What are your parting words to hundreds of thousands of readers of Asian Reviews?
If you are yet to read an African author, go out there and get their books. There is a world of rich culture and tradition embedded in our stories that could give you a glimpse into what an African society was and is made of.