WHEN A PEN TALKS WHAT IS IT LIKELY TO SAY?…. Literary lessons from a talking pen.

By Gloria Mwaniga.

Kenyan University students are known for pulling strange  stunts just because they can, so when a friend told me  that the  Kenyatta University journalism club chairperson Zippora Muli and a few of her colleagues were on a mission to make pens speak, I knew instantly that I wouldn’t afford the laxity of missing this show.

Pen talk, a brilliant annual journalistic event, only exists within the well built walls of the new Kenyatta University Business Center.


So on Saturday the 10th of February, I  found myself comfortably seated in a lecture hall  listening in as the very charming Phyllis Muthoni  serenaded the guests with her ever-passionate and most heartfelt discussion on poetry.

Among the takeaway points I got from her are:

  • When reciting poetry, a poet should aim at setting the tone that will best speak to the audience and not just read the piece.
  • That a good poet should be able to tell the difference between poetry on page and performance poetry.
  • That every poet should understand well the difference between the creative and business sides of the poetry industry. This calls for understanding as to whether a writer should get publishers or be self-published.

Phyllis went ahead to recite two pieces from her latest poetry collection book ‘The Lilac Uprising’.

Later on, art lover and the star columnist, Khainga Okwemba, unable to resist the beautiful poetry read an extra’ piece  from the book to the audience.

Book Reviews

Dr Tom Odhiambo tackled the Books and Theatre Review.

He said that a reviewer should be widely read and able to differentiate between the difference audiences he is reviewing for.

To be tackled in book reviews are subtitles like :

  • Author,
  • Title.
  • Publisher,
  • Where to find the book
  • Cost of the book.

About play reviews, I learnt that apparently, before a play is staged, the audience should be given a brief summary of the play to read so that they are able to follow it through.

The good doctor emphasized on the importance of using language that is well understood by the 21st century reader and not the one used in the Shakespearean era.

Humor Writing.

We were quietly transported to Mwisho wa Lami, where the very humorous Mwalimu Andrew, the Sunday Nation Columnist explained to us the importance of socialization and research in humor writing. He explained that a good writer uses dialogue together with prose writing and deliberately picks creative names.

A simple plot is also a plus except when characterizing a person.

He however warned the upcoming writers to keep off clichés and venture to create and use unique tidbits. Mwalimu also spoke of the importance of consistency for audience identification and relevance that is created by focusing on topical issues that are easily identifiable.

After the morning session, we were off to a well deserved break as we watched the KU travelling theater ease up our filled up brains.


John Muchiri, the Buzz magazine editor talked of how best to conduct interviews in a manner that will keep the audience’s interest up.

He warned against asking an interviewee questions that have already been asked and focusing on juicy and unheard details.

On sourcing for interviews, John advised on the importance of having credible  multiple sources for the sake of verifying information

 Investigative journalism and ethics.

Here, Khainga Okwemba spoke of the importance of confidentiality in journalism and challenges faced by investigative journalists like threats on their lives.

He also emphasized the importance of getting multiple sources of information.

Man talk:

Even in a mixed crowd of females and males alike, the well known Man –talk columnist-turned farmer Oyunga Pala walked us back into time as he tackled feature writing and what it takes to sustain a column.

He said his generation of writers used lots of humor and satire as the Nyayo regime wouldn’t allow for anything else. To him, journalism is a service and every writer is only as good as his last story (guess you can judge how good a journalist I am now).

Oyunga said a good journalist is aware of the world trends, and is able to correlate this to real life here.

He said that honesty is one of the major qualities that helped him sustain a well loved column for a decade and a good journalist is a humble one.


Maxmillan Muninwa, a standard columnist spoke of the challenged of women journalists across the globe.

Smitting the icing on the cake

Like every good  well balanced meal, the curtains were brought down by the well able Tony Mochama otherwise known as smitta smitten giving tips on how to cover event stories .He  said the secret was in making people feel as though they were present at the event.(I do hope that what you feel dear reader).

He spoke of giving people the nitty gritty details they would love to hear and keeping off boring stories.

Whole meal.

All this, together with tale tales of guys being exiled from their rooms in the Cupid’s valentine spirit, seasoned with innocent over enthusiasm of university students served to be a very exciting and learning experience.

As I walked out of the institution, I hoped that  this simple act by a few literature lovers would go a long way in mentoring young ones in the right literary direction and creating our own  local Ben Okri’s and Ata Ama Ata Aidoo’s


Author: Gloria Mwaniga Minage

Phenomenal woman. that's me

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