Another feather in Kinyanjui Kombani's hat
3 months ago, 21 Sep 18:40
Kenyan author Kinyanjui Kombani is the winner of the 2018 CODE’s Burt Award for African Young Adult Literature for his book Finding Columbia.
“It is a great feeling, I am very excited. The Burt Award is one of the most, if not the most, prestigious awards in Africa,” said Kombani about his win last month. He was among five finalists, three from Ghana and one from Ethiopia.
Established by the non-profit Canadian Organisation for Development through Education (CODE), the award is sponsored by philanthropist William Burt and has a cash prize of prize of Canadian $10,000. The award was presented at a ceremony in Accra.
Finding Columbia is the story of a street boy called Lex who spends most of his time sniffing glue.
His unexciting life takes an unexpected turn when officers from Kenya’s anti-drugs agency track him down and recruit him to help them find a powerful but elusive drug baron called Columbia.
In the ensuing adventure, Lex is drawn into a journey of self-discovery and becomes determined to overcome the drug culture.
Says Kombani, “The story was inspired by my elder brother who has been battling alcoholism. In 2017, he spent some time at a rehabilitation centre.”
Finding Columbia, which won the 2017 Burt Award Kenya, is one of 13 titles that Kombani has written and published.
He is a banker by profession — which has earned him the nickname of “the banker who writes” — a learning facilitator and a business mentor.
He says his favourite books as a child were written by African authors such as the Pacesetter novels, the Moses series by Barbara Kimenye, Little White Man, by Meja Mwangi and the traditional tales of clever Abunuwasi.
While he was a student at Kenyatta University, he co-authored theatre scripts. One his plays was used by the Born Free Foundation, a wildlife conservation NGO, for a country-wide awareness campaign against the bush meat trade, and was later turned into a film.
Moving into novels for children and young adults was a new experience for Kombani, and not as easy as he had expected.
“One has to balance between simplicity and keeping the audience enthralled. I had to unlearn everything and put myself in the readers’ shoes,” he said.
Believable characters are the starting point for Kombani’s stories. He then weaves narratives based on their motivations and “making extraordinary things happen to ordinary people.”
Many of his books speak of the everyday lives and misadventures of young people.
In Den of Inequities (2013), a young construction worker, a local thief and a female university student from a privileged family are brought together in a drama of police attacks and extrajudicial killings.
From his non-fiction novels, The Last Villains of Molo (2004) was drawn from the experiences of the youth during tribal clashes in 1991 in Molo, a town in the Rift Valley region of Kenya.
Today Kombani juggles a full-time career, family life and writing. “It is more about setting priorities and working with deadlines. Also, I work for an organisation that supports creativity and my work,” he ...
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