Knowledge is the most powerful engine for economic growth worldwide. To accelerate development in our beloved country, we have to nurture a reading culture that goes beyond academics and politics. Growing Kenya ’s reading culture is Storymoja’s mission as it feeds our business), our personal call as writers, and our patriotic duty.
Storymoja is a venture recently formed by a collective of five writers who are committed to publishing contemporary East African writing of world-class standard. We source widely to identify good local writers, help them edit their submissions to exacting standards, and develop eye-catching book-covers.
Our books are marketed to a wide Kenyan audience for entertainment rather than as textbook material. This constitutes our unique selling proposition. We want to challenge the perception that Kenyans do not read (other than required educational text) by providing them with the contemporary stories they can identify with and which we believe they are dying to read. Our initial categories of stories include business, inspirational, fiction, humour, crime/detective and true life. Our first two books were published in October, 2007 are:
- Tracking the Scent of My Mother by Muthoni Garland (fiction nominated for the UK based Caine Prize in 2006 – the biggest prize for African writing worldwide)
- Crown Your Customer – How exceptional customer service can transform your business by Sunny Bindra (Business)
Since then, Storymoja has published other books under the Storymoja imprint, and children’s books under the Storyhippo Imprint. (See them here.)
While we strive to produce books of international literary and production quality, major consideration is given to affordability and innovative marketing and distribution in order to engage and reach the widest possible readership. You will agree that even with good media exposure, price is a significant barrier to purchase for many Kenyans, and we’ve addressed that by simply focusing on volumes as opposed to high margins. It is a long-term strategy that is unlikely to be financially profitable for us in the short-term but will hopefully fulfill our deeply-felt Storymoja motto of getting ‘A book in every hand’.
We launched a ‘Kenya Get Reading Campaign’ in 2007 with a media breakfast at which writers engaged with media representatives to discuss issues inhibiting our reading beyond exams. Many articles generated subsequently appeared online, in various newspapers and publications.
In December 2007, we organized a Nairobi-wide Storytelling competition in eight estates and seven universities that culminated in a grand one-day Reading Fiesta at which Eric Omondi of Daystar University was crowned Nairobi Master Storyteller. The idea behind the competition was to underline the link between stories and entertainment (rather than just exam drudgery). Eric’s amazing story about the causes and effects of conflict – In the Land of the Kitchen – is about to go into printing, in cartoon format targeted primarily to children. After the post-election conflict, we worked with a children’s psychologist to develop peace workshops based on this story that we rolled out to children representatives from the 200 primary schools in Nairobi. As a result, Carol Gaithuma who runs the programme at Storymoja, was invited to share the experience about handling in-school violence at a UN-Habitat workshop in Durban, South Africa.
In August 2008, the story telling competition involved almost 50 institutions and the finals at the daylong 2008 Storymoja Fiesta at Impala Club on 10th August were filmed for NTV. Other great attractions at the Fiesta included the finals of the Nairobi Spelling Bee which drew on competitors from 28 primary schools around Nairobi. This competition was modelled on the American Spelling Bee and was sponsored by Henkel. We also featured discussions intended to stimulate writers and the reading public on critical issues affecting our society. These included talks on Women in Leadership, Ethnicity and other diversity issues, Changing Role of Men in Our Society, Customer Service Seminar based on Sunny Bindra’s Book. The closing act of the Fiesta was a performance of the sensational poetry show, Cut Off My Tongue. This show sold out at Ramoma and received rave reviews.
To drive the ‘Kenya Get Reading Campaign’ Storymoja in partnership with BooksFirst and NuMetro has launched several public bookclubs that meet monthly in bookshops around Nairobi. In addition, we run monthly Storymania events (an afternoon of stories, interviews with local authors and open mic sessions) in restaurants in five locations in Nairobi.
The shareholders of Storymoja are writers with experience in different professional fields – Muthoni Garland (marketing), Dayo Foster (microfinance, author of Reading the Ceiling), Parselelo Kantai (journalist, Caine Prize nominated writer), Martin Kimani Mbugua (IGAD consultant on war and security issues), and Ivy Mwai (PR, education and publishing). They are committed to fanning the literary flame in Kenya , and celebrate literature as both the basis of our business and as an important pillar of our country’s development. We dream of the day when the ordinary Kenyan is as excited by reading as he is by Kenyan music, Nigerian DVDs and the mobile phone! Growing Kenya ’s reading culture would benefit and profit all of us.