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Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor  [ Kenya ]

Biography

Portrait Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
© Ali Ghandtschi

Guest 2014.

Bibliography

The Weight of Whispers

Kwani Trust Nairobi, 2006

Dust

Knopf New York, 2014

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor was born in Nairobi in 1968. She studied English and History at Kenyatta University and earned a Master of Arts at the University of Reading, UK. She is finalising work on her MPhil (Creative Writing) at the University of Queensland, Brisbane. From 2003 to 2005, she was the director of the International Film Festival in Zanzibar, under the remit of which a literary forum was also established.

The literary magazine »Kwani?«, which was founded by Binyavanga Wainaina, published her short story, »The Weight of Whispers« which earned her the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2003. The narrative takes the unusual perspective of an aristocratic refugee who escapes a genocide in his unnamed country to go into exile in Kenya with his family. His memories of life before the escape are brilliantly interwoven with events and dialogues in the present. The initial rumours of atrocities soon turn into actual threats – anxiety which is exploited by inspectors, civil servants and soldiers. Even as he is penniless and in an almost hopeless situation the narrator maintains his dream of freedom, which he repeatedly evokes in his mind’s eye. Adhiambo Owuor’s fragmented, poetic, fast-paced and emotionally charged style continued with her highly acclaimed debut novel, »Dust» (2014). The book recounts the story of her homeland, from colonialism through to the Mau Mau revolts, the referendum in 2005 and subsequent outbreaks of violence. Adhiambo Owuor reveals the hidden and often painful consequences of political upheaval in the form of a collection of individual scenarios with a disrupted family from the north of Kenya at its centre. In a breathless prologue the son, a young, highly talented student in Nairobi, is shot on the street. The tragic loss causes the bereaved not only to come to terms with the circumstances of his death but to work through their own complicated past.

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s short stories have been published in international literary magazines, including Dave Eggers’ »McSweeney’s«. The Story »The Knife Grinder’s Tale« was adapted as a short film in 2007. For her artistic and cultural achievements, Owuor was appointed Woman of the Year (arts and culture) 2004 by the Kenyan Magazine »Eve«. In 2005 she was invited to participate in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. In 2010, as a participant in the »Pilgrimages« project initiated by the Chinua Achebe Center, she travelled to Kinshasa and recounted her experiences in a travelogue titled »Milobela«. In the same year she lectured at a TEDx Conference organized in Nairobi and in 2011 she took part in the prestigious Lannan Residency Program in Marfa, Texas. In addition to her literary profession she has worked as a computer technologist, event producer, small business development advisor, and is involved with the creative and cultural industries, and the environmental sectors.

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