“ ‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,’ said Jojen. ‘The man who never reads lives only one’ ” in the A Dance with Dragons by George R R Martin, the American fantasy writer who developed the almost cultic Game of Thrones TV series.

Readers in Nairobi were treated to a fun and fair book fest on 25 and 26 June, 2021 at the Alliance Française de Nairobi by independently published authors. As the writer Garrison Keillor says, “A book is a gift you can open again and again”, the NYrobi Book Fest did gift readers.

The aim of the book fest was to celebrate new writing in Kenya, with a focus on indie authors besides encouraging reading culture, sharing of cultural and literary trends and ideas, and the spoken word.

What makes the NYrobi Book Fest unique is it offered a platform for independent publishers and authors to showcase their works, interact with readers, and network. Independent booksellers, like Nuria, Kenya’s premier online bookstore, also participated thus authors got an opportunity to expand their distribution and sales channels.

Readers and visitors eager to sample what new Kenyan writing was all about started streaming in the following day as early as 9:00 o’clock. They marvelled at how much content is available from Kenya while they sampled books from stand to stand.

The highlight of Day 1 was the launch Mwalimu John Sibi-Okumu’s J.E. Sibi-Okumu Collected Plays 2004 – 2014 at the Wangari Maathai auditorium that evening. The event drew audience from key personalities who played a role in JSO’s illustrious career with speeches by banker and Chairman at Kenya Conservatoire of Music, Mr Isaac Awuondo and the French ambassador to Kenya, Her Excellency Aline Kuster-Ménager.

The exhibitors interacted with the most influential names in the Kenyan artistic community during the cocktail afterwards.

The last day was much more fun and engaging, with performances by Wangari the Storyteller where she entertained attendees to African folklore and other stories; a literary discussion entitled ‘Kenyan Literature – From the Past to the Present’ with writer Tony Mochama and Dr Tom Odhiambo, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s Literature department, among others.

Mufasa the Poet, a spoken word artiste, wrapped the Book Fest in the evening with a spoken word and music performance. It was a live performance like no other.

The main purpose of a book fair is not to sell books but it offers a rare opportunity to analyse the kind of readers who visit, which books are being published, what advances have been made in the publishing industry, and get to know what readers are reading. However, books were sold, and authors got new readers.

A book fair also helps create new writers, and from the advice provided by the publishers and authors, new writers were born, with Mystery Publishers signing on one writer who insisted on a ceremonial signing of the publishing agreement witnessed by his daughters.

A book fair inspires people to form the habit of reading books, reminding us that books are our best companion. It would be prudent for Alliance Française de Nairobi to organise such events regularly, and even throw in a literary prize to boot.

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