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Anjellah Owino

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Kenyan band Sauti Sol has set the date for the release of their fifth studio album, “Midnight Train” under their recording deal with Universal Music Group.

The band recently released its first single “Suzanna” off their much anticipated album to be out in May 22.

“The recording of this album was a mishmash of stress and happiness. The process of going through these songs was a lot. But when recording it, we felt that we were ready. We felt the same way too for our previous projects but this time it was on another level,” said Chimano, a vocalist and member of the group.

Adding: Aesthetically speaking, all the four of us in the band was depicted how we are as individuals. We wanted to bring to life the 1970s and 1980s aesthetics and to make our work look 2020 and cool. The production was detailed and it integrated what we had explained what we wanted.”

The group has a recording company, Sol Generation records, and signed Nviiri, Kaskazini and Bensoul who they have worked with in their album.

We sat down with Bien to talk about the art of songwriting, which is a big part of Sauti Sol brand, and founding of a songwriters’ association in Kenya. He also shares how songwriitng has made an impact in his life, what he would like to see in the industry, and more.

NAFSI Share with us about Kenya Songwriters Association.

BIEN It is one of the legacy projects by Sauti Sol for the industry. We do not plan on holding onto it but we plan to put it into its feet and to make sure that songwriters are actually paid for what they do.

We finally just got clearance. You know opening an association is a process. You have to have a chairperson, you have to have this… there are so many regulations. We just completed the whole process and we are going to start with workshops this year.

NAFSI What role do you play in the Association?

BIEN I am the acting chairperson until artists come on board and elect their own. People could come on board and say that they do not want you as their chairperson and they elect Ethic Entertainment. I will agree to that.  

NAFSI How would you describe the aspect of art and business of songwriting in Kenya right now?

BIEN It is sad to say this but it is dead. I have been commissioned to write songs many times in other parts of the world. When I see the structure from other countries, I am amazed at their level of professionalism. You know, in Germany songwriters are given an advance pay because musicians already know that what will be written is going to be a hit. I want Kenya to experience that. I want Sol Generation to be giving song writers an advance pay to write for Nviiri, to write for Bensoul.

NAFSI Having written for many artistes here and in other countries, do you feel the need to create emotional boundaries with your art or do you find complete attachment to your art needful as a creative?

BIEN I am not emotional about it. I just write about the experience of the artist. So I do not write a song and then approach the artist. I talk about to them, what are they going through? What is the story? And then write from there. I have serious emotional attachment to the songs I write as my own. Still, the balance with that has created itself naturally.

NAFSI Who is your first audience when writing a song?

BIEN I think myself first and then my fellow artistes like Sauti Sol and Sol Generation. The song has to captivate me first. I will then hear the opinions of my band mates and Sol Generation artistes. I respect Bensoul and Nviiri as song writers more than as musicians. I respect their opinion. Most of the time they would give suggestions to some of my lyrics and come up with their own.

NAFSI Has songwriting had any impact in your life?

BIEN Yes. It is a good outlet. You are able to tell people your story. It has earned me respect. You know, there is a form of respect that comes with songwriting. It has earned me commercial value too. I have been able to see the world, meet different people, and broadened my perspective. It has taught me how to take peoples’ opinions and not to be too attached to mine. I can do that easily now. I do not hold onto my lyrics. If someone says they do not like my lyrics and they have better ones that make the song better, we put it in there.

NAFSI When artistes have songs written for, the perception has been that they are less of true artists. Do you see that perception has changed?

BIEN It is important for an artist to work with as many artistes that they need to, to make their work great. Beyoncé has 80 writers in her album, “Lemonade”. Even today in this conference, we did not have 80 people. 80 is a lot of people. People from western countries have moved to an understanding that it does not make them any less of an artist to have songwriters.

NAFSI The upcoming album and documentary you are releasing drives the narrative of mental wellness, with themes of heartbreak and insecurities in it. How did you decide to compile together these themes?

BIEN The stories are about myself. I have insecurities. I have dealt with heartbreak. Writing songs is how I deal with them. Insecurities never end. They make me a better songwriter and they make me a better human being. You can never go wrong when you write about your own story. If you write about partying, that has a short shelf life. It is also important to write about those things too but it is good to find a balance.

Gilbert ‘Gillie’ Owino is a theatre, TV and film director, actor and writer, and a professional accountant. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award, Sanaa Theatre Awards in 2018 due to the contribution he has made in the arts.

He has staged many plays in Mombasa’s Little Theatre Club and Kenya National Theatre in Nairobi. He currently plays the role of Mzee Msiri on popular Kenyan TV series, “Pete”. Gillie is celebrating his 62nd birthday today. He talks about how he got into the arts world, why he studied accounting, the growth in the industry, his dream role and a whole lot more.

NAFSI Happy birthday! For a man who has been in the arts industry for a very long time, What has been the greatest lesson that you have learned about it?

GILLIE That the arts can build character and boost confidence. I came to understand that life is not that serious. I enjoy it. I learn to be thankful. I walk into the knowledge that all things are possible.

NAFSI What was your first stage play?

GILLIE My first significant stage play was “The Siren”. It was a play at first and then KBC commissioned it to be a TV series for its potential to reach more people. We performed it on TV for one season then took it on stages in Mombasa, Malindi and Kilifi. The play is about contraceptives and it encouraged its debate. I wrote the script and played the role of a narrator.

NAFSI What has been your most memorable play?

GILLIE “Ipi Tombi” by two South African writers. It was a dream team, from the choreographer, director and to the actors. It took us about six months to rehearse and present it at Little Theatre Club. The play is about a man who leaves the countryside to look for employment in the city. He faces police harassment. The good thing is that the story is told through songs and dance therefore it is not entirely sad. It did not talk about apartheid but about a vibrant life in South Africa because of apartheid. There are sob stories from South Africa but this is not one of them. I presented “Ipi Tombi” again in 2013, 2014. I was the producer, director and co-choreographer. I did not act this time so that I could see its magic as an audience. I was very happy.

Another prominent play was “The Curse” staged in 2000, I think. I wrote and played the role of an oracle. The play is about abortion and it encouraged debate around it too. In the 80s, I also played the eldest son of Muntu in the play, “Muntu” by Doe DeGraft, and Lakunle in Wole Soyinka’s “The Lion and the Jewel” adaptation. Joe was a Ghanaian teacher living in Kenya but he made “Muntu” to be an African story.

Gillie Owino on set for “Pete” TV series

NAFSI You play a voice of reason in these productions. Did you position yourself for such roles?

GILLIE I auditioned for some of these roles. I would write plays and the director would decide hat I should play a role without having to audition. It was an open audition for Mzee Msiri character in “Pete”. I love that I get to play these parts. I admire the character of Mzee Msiri. If I exhibit his traits in real life, I am happy. If I am not, I would love to be like him. He is in no hurry for anything. He is calm, calculated, peacemaker and gets mad very ocassionally.

NAFSI Swahili telenovelas draw a huge audience. And more and more of these productions are churned out every new day. What has contributed to the growth of the film and TV industry?

GILLIE There has been this misconception that Kenyans do not love their own and are more fixated with foreign content. The fact is that now more than ever people are investing in local content. The Kenyan film industry will benefit since the standards are improving. What we lacked before was investment. Since independent filmmakers have improved on quality, I see good productions in Kenyan TV stations. The next place we are going is Netflix. We are on that level.

NAFSI How did you get into theatre, film and TV?

GILLIE Do I even remember? I have not always had an interest in theatre although I used to perform small skits and studied literature in high school. I was interested in writing. After high school, I pursued Accounting. It was cool to do these other courses. If I was to go back to school today, I would have done performing arts, cinematography, anything in the film, theatre and TV space since there is now a market for it. Back then, the arts was considered as a hobby and there was no way you would go to school to study for a hobby.

NAFSI What was your first Film/ TV production?

GILLIE “The Wilby Conspiracy”. I had completely forgotten about this. The movie was shot in Kenya and American actor Sidney Poitier played the main role. He was the first black person I saw playing a major role in film and he became the first black actor to win an Oscar for Best Actor for the role. I watched them transform the Nairobi street to be like a bazaar in India. That was one of my first encounter with the magic of film. It was in early 70s, I was in high school and I was one of the extras, walking on the street.

NAFSI You used to stammer long ago yet you played leading roles including that of a narrator. How did you work in an industry that needs you to speak?

GILLIE I used to stammer and peculiarly so, with the words ‘mb’. I became aware of it. My conversations were very guarded. I would find a longer way of saying the same thing and if I would not think very quickly of words to use, I would be agitated and that would result to stammering. I would not stammer during performances because those were not my words.

Gillie (standing on the left) on stage with the cast of “Bride by Return”

NAFSI How about stage fright?

GILLIE There was an audition that I went to and I was given a long poem to recite. I was allowed to go with the piece of paper in the audition room. The people in that room were big names in theatre during those days. The piece was very moving. I stiffened my hands, there was a quiver in my voice when reading the poem. My hands began to shake. I was suffering (laughs) but people actually thought I was performing. That I was actually in character. When I finished reading the piece, I got a standing ovation.

NAFSI Stage fright is not entirely a bad thing after all.

GILLIE Stage fright is not entirely a bad thing after all. Even when I am on stage, I have experienced stage fright but the audience did not know. Most of the time, the audience never knows. I have just remembered recently giving a speech and the microphone started shaking in my hands. I think this time people noticed but somehow I went through with it. Stage fright happens out of the blues. I do not know what triggers it but the moment I see it is there, I cannot stop it. I have to find a way to get out of it.

NAFSI And having played all these characters, do they stay with you for sometime after the curtains close?

GILLIE I think we can wean ourselves out of a character. It can stay with us for a long time especially when playing one role for very many years, like the late Mzee Ojwang’. I believe creatives should be trained on how to get out of character. Not only that but also how to get into character. Sometimes an actor could have a conflict with his or her character’s personality to the point of refusing to be fully into that character. Good actors are able to depict a character in the most genuine way and the audience will see that. Once finishing playing the role, going back to who a person is comes natural to some while it does not to others.

NAFSI You have been acting for more than 40 years. Do you have a dream role?

GILLIE I have been told that I resemble the late Nelson Mandela. I would like to play him. I admire American actor Morgan Freeman, I would like to play him too. He is my role model after Sidney Poitier.

“Homegoing”, a debut historical fiction novel by a young woman born in Ghana and raised in America, equally reflects on her writing journey.

Yaa Gyasi returned to her home, Ghana, to research for her first book about a mother and daughter. According to Stanford Magazine, the novelist’s trip had been funded by her institution of learning for her writing project. But when she was supposed to have finished it, she had little results.

Her friend informed her about Cape Coast Castle, one out of fourty slave forts. Learning about that part of history led her to change her initial storyline to then center on slavery. She came up with a rich, powerful novel in mapping out this path.

“Homegoing” shares a story of two sisters with contrasting destinies. Effia is married to a slave trader while Esi is sold into slavery. What follows is a compelling art of storytelling through eight generations of one family, from the villages in Gold Coast (now known as Ghana) to present day America.

Effia lives at Cape Coast Castle. Underneath the castle are dungeons where slaves held in captivity before being shippped off across the Atlantic. Unknown to Effia, her half-sister she has never heard of is among the hundreds of slaves captured. Effia’s bloodline stays in Gold Coast. They sell rival tribespeople to slavery, then fight colonialism in the later decades.

On the other hand, Esi’s bloodline face harsh realities of slavery, racism, civil war in America, and come to be who they are now termed as African-American.

“Homegoing” explores the weighty theme of slavery and family hopefully and wittily. It delves deep into the some of the events that were most inhumane in history but with dignity. Her writing is provocatively bold. She questions nuances that reflect varied forms of racism and slavery in normal day-to-day life. And through one family, she traces both sides of slavery and to the birthing of the African-American community.

We are not sure whether “Homegoing” influenced the decision of the Ghanaian government to dub 2019 as the “Year of Return”. Still, the campaign aimed at encouraging Africans in diaspora to visit and invest, became successful. Many African descendants including celebrities visited the country. Comedian Steve Harvey shared a video of his moving experience at the Cape Coast Castle. Supermodel Naomi Campbell, actor Idris Elba, hip-hop stars Ludacris, T.I, Cardi B, Rick Ross, and many more also ‘went back home’.

(This is a revised version of a review I did two years ago. I came across this novel at a bookstore- Bookstop at Yaya Centre in Nairobi. I had the desire to read works of African writers. And then as I curiously ran my fingers along the spines of colourful books on the shelves, I came across “Homegoing”. I was hoping that I would love it as much as I did the colourful cover and the blurb at the back. I did. It is one of THE BEST! And it shot up my interest in fiction, especially those by African writers.

I have a strong feeling that it would be a literary classic many years from now. I highly recommend everyone, especially those of African descent, if possible, to read it. We would love to know, what books would you recommend?)

Does minimalist living speak to you?

Minimalism is a conscious choice of simplifying life by owning less. This concept is a stamp to the thinking that we do not need to keep accumulating material possessions to be happy. It trains us to be less attached to possessions and instead find fulfillment from within.

Storing everything and hoping to put them into use one day is only a tale. One day never comes. When finding sentimental value in every item and keeping them on window ledges, under the bed, rooms start to seem smaller and cleaning is a tedious task, right? It does not have to be the case. You can opt for minimalism.

This gives us the freedom to own necessary items and those that add meaning to life. In organizing a minimalist space, placement of each object is purposeful. A single item like a plant, artwork, fabric, colour, and the like can become a centrepiece in a room. The use of colours in items and walls are collectively minimal too.

Photo: Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Minimal spaces radiate calm and wholesomely contributes to our wellbeing. We are able to clean our homes with little effort and to know where everything is. The whole point of minimalism is not to save money as much as videos on this concept show empty rooms. It is, however, to empower us to become more mindful on what we spend money on and to do so on what we truly want, whether it is on purposeful experiences or items. Still, minimalists manage to save a lot of money by cutting back on unnecessary purchases.

If you are going for a minimalistic look, setting out an intention on how you want your home to look and feel like gives you clarity on the items you are going to keep. There is not any definite number of stuff to own and there is not one way of designing a minimal space, you can adopt this lifestyle to suit your needs and taste. Go with the flow with what feels right to you.

Photo: Jason Leung on Unsplash

Simplifying your living space starts with decluttering items. Here are things you can declutter.

  • Dispose empty tins and jars around your home

Torn, broken, faded, worn out and expired items fall here. Go to room after room collecting these items.

Photo: Jarek Ceborski on Unsplash
  • Get rid of extra, multiple items

It is easy to hoard needful possessions. As much as they are neccessary to have, we only use them in small numbers. Utensils, stationery, clothes, storage tins, makeup products, shopping bags, newspapers, wall hangings, grooming equipment, calendars, are some of the things we hoard. You could have a set or two of items, hang one calendar, store one reusable shopping bag.

  • Purge items you have never used in the last six months

Purge items you have never used in the last six months. These could include things you love but since you have not been using them, it is highly unlikely that you would. You could donate or sell them.

  • Discard possessions that no longer appeal to you

The reason behind minimalism is to own things that speak to you. These are items that we choose to keep out of sight, in drawers and what-not but they still occupy a space.

  • Items you recently bought some of

Replace items you already own when you make new purchases. As much as you may love some of your old belongings, replacing them with new, better items keeps your living area well-ordered.

Photo: Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

Remember, minimalism is a practice. Regularly go through your possessions to keep decluttering and sprucing up your home. You could go on a 30-day minimalism challenge or one of 100-things to declutter, a weekly declutter routine or spending ten minutes every day to declutter one area, and so on to have your ideal home. And, equally important, is to making this as part of your lifestyle by continually decluttering and rethinking before acquiring anything for your home.

How does minimalism speak to you?

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.” – Charles Scribner, Jr.

Many studies show that the best time to start reading to babies is when they are unborn. At about six months in the womb, babies can listen when they are read to. Reading to them when they are young inculcates a lifelong love for books. As they are born into a world of pleasurable reading environment, it becomes second nature for them to show interest in books.

Reading has lots of benefits to children. They get to learn new words each time, become knowledgeable of the world, gives them the words to express themselves, sparks vivid imaginations, helps them develop empathy, brings out more curiosity, teaches them values, and so on.

Here are simple ways to instill a lifelong love for reading in a child.

  • Read. Children emulate what they see their parents doing. Having a genuine enthusiasm for books and seeing you read will reflect in their actions as well.
  • Create a reading routine that suits both you and the child. Say, in the morning or moments before tucking them to bed. Read to them daily. Even as they grow older and learn to read on their own, make time to continue doing so together.
  • On the first day that you read to them, allow them the time to interact with the book. Allow them to turn the pages and to see the pictures.
  • Read out aloud to them. Ask them to sound out the words too. It helps in learning new words faster, makes the activity more engaging, and gives life to words. Move your hands along each word you read.
  • Children have a short attention span. Dedicating a 20-minute book session a day is enough for them. You can extend the time as they grow older.
  • Have reading be creative and fun. Make sounds, faces, use gestures and involve them in that for practical reading.
Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič – @itfeelslikefilm on Unsplash
  • Visit bookstores with them and allow them to select books that they find appealing. Instead of buying books and give them at home, regularly going to the bookstores together whenever you want to get them a book is empowering. They will know where to buy books on their own when they are older. Bookstores too will create long-lasting fond memories for them.
  • Expose them to a wide range of genres. Get classical, folklores, historical, adventure, poetry, picture books, and so on to expand their thinking, interest and knowledge of the world.
  • Talk about books with them in a way that depicts reading to be fun, endless and relaxing adventure.
  • Listen as they talk about books. Ask questions about the books you are reading to them. Discuss about the books you are reading too.
  • If a child is fussy, unwell, is unexcited about books or does not want to read on a certain day, respect their choice. To be able to impart a love for reading, reading should not be forced upon them.
Photo by: Lesly Juarez on Unsplash
  • Make it easy for them to access books at home. As their curiosity for reading grows, children are likely to grab books by themselves to read. Also, carry a book in their bags when you go to places.
  • Teach them how to take care of books. Remind them to return books afterwards.
  • Have another person read out aloud to them by playing audiobooks at home. This is not only a step towards establishing a home reading environment but it also allows them to be fascinated by sounds.
  • Have children meet with authors, particularly, of those whose books they have read. It serves as an opportunity to explore deeper about books as well as increases their passion for reading.
  • Visit libraries together.
  • Refer to a situation from a book when a similar one presents itself in the real world.
Photo by Nafsi Media: Kids’ reading area at Text Book Centre in Sarit Business Centre
  • Attend book-related events such as book launches, meet-ups, and enroll in book clubs with them.
  • Gift books to them. If they show interest in a specific book series or author, surprise them with it.
  • Ask them to read other materials apart from books. Getting them to read newspapers, magazines, posters, billboards, menus, helps them see other ways reading can be applied.

Happy reading!

Visual artist Njogu Kuria transformed a room in his home into a studio. Vinyl records, packets of super glue and paint are all over the floor and some of his best artworks are leaning against the wall. Njogu calls it “an organized chaos”. He knows where everything is.

A gaze sweeps the room. A phrase “the earth has music for those who listen” is on the wall.

“I came across the quote in one of the records. I found it to be profound,” he explains.

He grew up in a home where music was always played. Recently, he attended Koroga Festival for the first time last year to see one of his favourite musicians, Congolese rhumba singer M’bilia Bel, perform. Music found its way to his craft.

Njogu works in vinyl records, fabrics and painting. He mostly brings to life portraits of African figures from records. The artist surprisingly has listened to most of these records from different parts of the world going as back as the ’50s.

An art piece by Njogu

“When you look at any piece of art here, there is a lot of music that has been represented and combined from all over the world onto a canvas,” he says.

He treats art as a business and he is able to make a living out of art alone as much as art is still viewed as a hobby instead of a job. A lot of the times he has also seen that aesthetic appeal of a piece of art is appreciated but there is unwillingness to purchase it.

“Art is interesting,” he paused. “You are very passionate about what you do and someone else has to decide whether or not your work is worth their money. Then, art is seen as a luxury and not as a necessity. I am establishing a balance to create out of passion and still earn money.

“Creatives could be making money as teachers of art if the subject was still part of the curriculum as we see in international schools. There still need to be more appreciation of art. It is a job. Artists have a role to play in the society. We put in effort and passion in our work,” he continued.

To make his contribution to the arts world, Njogu went on to co-found Studio Soku with his friend and fellow artist Jeremiah Sonko in early 2018. They held a free art mentorship programme and promoted collaborations and gave a platform for new artists to make a living off of their craft.

And then he abruptly left last year.

Exhaustion, he jumps in. Managing the gallery demanded so much more than he expected from him.

“I do not know how to ask for help. I rather do things by myself so that they come out as I want them to. I was uncomfortable too in some of the changes that had to take place at the gallery,”

The exhaustion heightened. Njogu went to Lamu to stay for a few days. During that time, he says that he stopped to care what would happen with him being away from the gallery. He came back. His romantic relationship ended. He left the studio once again, packed his clothes and went to Bungoma for three months. Although he was not diagnosed, he believes that he was going through depression and the break in Bungoma helped him come out of it.

Njogu bought a shell of a 1974 Volkswagen and built it with his father. He spent a big part of his time talking about mechanics and life from his father and learned many things about each other and then after three months, he came back to Nairobi to start to work again, this time in his home.

How is he feeling now?

“I am in a good place. I feel at peace. I am living my own life and I want to challenge myself by exploring different techniques in my art. I want to create a lot of works, and have more that I keep than I sell.”

“I want to own an art museum where I get to share what I have created and what I have collected from other artists. Fellow artist Jeffie Magina told me that he is working on building his legacy for his future generations in this way. With an art museum, people can come and pay to see my work even after I am gone. There is a place they can come to and see my collection. We have been leaving our legacy to art collectors and left with nothing of our own. I have realized that I do not have to sell every piece of art.

Will he go back to managing the gallery?

“I may do that. I am not certain of it right now,” he responds.

Happy New Year!

It was pleasant to talk about books with Jennie Marima.

Jennie is an author of many children’s and Young Adult fiction, including “Trio Troubles” and “Just This Once.” She is an editor too. She owns a YouTube channel, “Shi Scribbles” where, in her bubbly nature, hooks her audience into the realms of book publishing and writing.

Jennie generously shares her outlook with us, from why a personal connection with books is important to her, to why she would occasionally feel that she has no authority to speak about books, and to the reading habits she is cultivating in this new decade and beyond.

NAFSI What are the three most memorable books you have read over the past decade?

JENNIE: “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Stay With Me” by Ayobami Adebayo, and “Drunk” by Biko Zulu. I have come to understand that books connect with people differently. How I experience a book and how someone else experiences the same book could be dissimilar. Also, a book can be popular but my personal connection with it is nonexistent whereas a book may be ignored by many but it completely moves me. With the three books, I have felt a connection with their stories, characters, and writing. These are books I will definitely read again. Usually for me the mark of a good book is one that draws me to re-read it. For instance, there were times I used to read “Americanah” in the beginning of every year.

NAFSI This is interesting to know. And this bestseller is actually adapted into a ten-episode HBO series, we believe, in 2020.

JENNIE I am not looking forward to watching it honestly. Movie adaptations, in this case a series, do not do justice to the novels. I had read “Half of a Yellow Sun” and “12 Years a Slave” before watching their movie adaptations. They do not come close to the books.  

NAFSI Novels being better than on-screen adaptations is an opinion we hear many times. Why do you personally hold this view?

JENNIE A book gives me the room to visualize the story on my own. It allows me to see the characters through my own lens. On the other hand, a movie is an imagination of a few people of how the book is. It has already made that decision for me. The characters may look like how I thought of but when it comes to how they sound, their demeanour, and how I connect with them in a movie is different compared to a novel. Other times, that personal connection is lacking altogether. It is disappointing too when the feelings evoked when reading the novel is not the same when watching the movie.

NAFSI The general argument has been that it is unsatisfactory to pack together, say, “Half of a Yellow Sun”, a 433-page novel to a 113-minute feature film since significant moments could be missing. What you have shared, we think, is a fresh perspective and thought-provoking at that. Now, other than reading, how else do you maintain a connection with books?

JENNIE Thank you. I listen to plenty of writing-related podcast, including “Grammar Girl”, “Write About Now”, and “The Allusionist”. As an editor, I read very many manuscripts. I feel like I am always connected to books through the nature of my work. I write books, buy books, wishing I had more time to read books, host videos on YouTube about books…

There were times I felt like I have no authority to speak about books because I need to read more. I do not want that voice to get loud. I came to realize that we all have different parts to play when it comes to books.”

NAFSI Wait a minute; reading a pile of manuscripts could take up so much of your time and energy. Do you have enough time to read books off the shelves?

JENNIE No. And to some degree that has made me feel like I am an imposter. My life revolves around books but I do not find time to read as many as I would like. When people ask me if I have read certain books, I find that a number of times I have not. There were times I felt like I have no authority to speak about books because I need to read more. I do not want that voice to get loud. I came to realize that we all have different parts to play when it comes to books. My role right now could be editing and talking about them, another person’s role could be selling or buying them. We should not let the feeling of inadequacy get in the way of us being in this space. Sometimes, I must say, that feeling lingers. It can be loud and other times it is muted.

NAFSI For a writer such as yourself to admit that reading can be difficult is bold.

JENNIE I have had to clear my calendar for me to finish reading a book. It was a chore. There are books that demand a lot from the reader and that is unfair. It should not be burdensome for readers.

NAFSI Do you find it acceptable, or even experience zero guilt, when you do not finish a book to its last word?

JENNIE Yes. I have put many books down. It reaches a point where I conclude that maybe it is me or maybe it is the book. There have been moments when I put a book down and it reels me in when I pick it up later. One good example is “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. I think the mood I was in the first time I opened its pages contributed to my poor interest in it. Then there are books I put down never to pick up where I left off, like John Green’s “Turtles All The Way Down.” I was excited to start reading it immediately I got my hands on it only to come across a character having a stomach problem like me at the time. I did not need a book reminding me about my struggles in real life. (Laughs) When I read, I look for an escape from the reality. That said, I may go back to the book one day.

NAFSI What is your opinion about the book industry in this past decade?

JENNIE I think in the beginning of the decade there were concerns that technology and eBooks will take the place of paperbacks and hardbacks. But I think in 2019 their sales seem to be holding the forte. I do not have any statistics off the top of my head. This is from my own observation. It is also wonderful to see all these other forms of books, audio-books and eBooks, emerge.

NAFSI What do you wish to do differently when it comes to how you approach books in this new decade?

JENNIE I dismissed eBooks in this past decade. I want to give them a second chance, who knows, I may uncover some magic out of them. I am eager to explore audio-books too since I enjoy listening to podcasts.  Secondly, I have had pockets of deliberate reading through a book club and I am grateful it forced me to read more in this past decade. I want to be more purposeful in making time to read in this new era.