A Conversation with Oyunga Pala on Writing Satire, Love & Going Back To School At The Peak Of His Career

How and when did you get your start in Journalism?

I started writing for the Nation newspapers, Saturday magazine as a feature writer in 1997. I entered the newspaper space and the field of journalism accidentally as a kind of holding ground, while waiting for a ‘real job’. I ended up sticking with the art of writing. I suppose it grew on me and I moved into writing opinion columns and the rest as they say, is old news.

What did you study and was it easy for you to find work after graduating?

I graduated from the University of Nairobi with a degree in anthropology and I was not able to transition into the job market in this area of specialization. I held a few odd jobs as every novice does but the only steady work was the writing that I always treated as a side gig in the first 5 years out of college. Eventually, I decided to jump headlong into a career in creativity, learning ropes and paying my dues.

Did you make a conscious decision to specialize in satire or did it come about as an extension of your personality?

The satire was a result of the context of the times. I started writing towards the end of the Moi reign and we had just emerged from a period of brutal silencing of creative voices. It was not considered smart to be overly critical of the regime and so I also found myself leaning towards satire. One big influence was the Whispers column by Wahome Mutahi. He was a master satirist and when I started column writing, I found my own way of ‘whispering truths’ creatively.

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Wanjeri Gakuru on Making A Living As A Writer, Globe Trotting & Writing Critically Acclaimed Film: Supa Modo

Photocredit: Mutua Matheka

When did you start writing?

I started boarding school at an early age (9 years) so letter writing was my first exercise in reporting and storytelling. When I wasn’t begging to switch schools or drawing up a comprehensive shopping list, I was sharing stories of my day-to-day life, about school friends and great big plans for the holidays.

What did you study and was it difficult for you to find work after school?

A love for composition then English literature paved the way for a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Nairobi. I majored in print journalism with a goal to focus on arts & culture.

I got my first by-line while still in University. It was in Adam Magazine’s “Travel Misadventure” segment. I wrote about an impromptu midnight drive to Subukia that ended at a bonfire in Nakuru. I wrote two more pieces and had hoped to intern at the publication, when they announced their closure. That’s when I heard from UP Magazine, they had just put out their first issue. I interned there as a fourth year and for about two and a half years after graduation.

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Journalist Lydia Matata On Working At A National Newspaper, The Importance Of Taking Risks And Her Transition Into Film Making

How did you get into Journalism?

“Real’ Journalism began when I was hired by The Star Newspaper. For three years I worked with this amazing team on the online desk and wrote articles for another amazing group of people in the Features department. Prior to The Star, I did some reporting when I was in University but I think the real journey began with books. I’m a book dragon (I refuse to call myself a ‘bookworm’).

The natural progression of that, I think is wanting to be a writer. I wanted to be as good a writer as the one’s I had read. So at first, my goal was to be ‘Lydia, the best-selling novelist.’  Then I realized that before I get that huge book deal, I should probably find a way to feed myself, hence Journalism school.

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Abigail Arunga Talks Quitting Her 9 -5, Freelancing and Publishing Her First Book

How and when did you get your start in Journalism?

When I was 19 some guy broke my heart. I wrote a poem about it; as I tend to do with most major events in my life. I sent that poem to the editor at True Love. They edited and published it. Does that count?

Where did you study and did you find a job immediately after school?

I was at USIU. I studied Journalism and graduated cum laude. Yes, I have to keep reminding my parents about this when they complain about my solitary degree. I started working, kind of, as an intern at Storymoja, which is a local publisher. It was my dream at the time. All writers want to publish books – or at least, the ones I know do, and working at a publishing house was pretty much the ultimate dream. I did that for a bit, started a blog and kept bothering people with the URL until Dorothy Ghettuba, the founder of Spielworks Media read a link I sent her and hired me as a scriptwriter. So yes, less than 6 months after graduation, I had a job.

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