Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with James Kemoli Amata

by John O. Ndavula Read the Story September 17, 2018

The following interview with James Kemoli Amata is part of SmokeLong Quarterly‘s Global Flash Series. The English translation follows the original, which is in Kiswahili. 

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Kwanza, ningependa nijue ilikotoka dhana ya hadithi hii.

Dhana, kwa minajili ya hadithi SHOPPING YA SHILINGI ELFU TANO, ilitokana na soga ya kusisimua aliyonishirikisha rafiki yangu.

Twambie kisa cha kuchagua urefu na mtindo wa hadithi hii.

Nilichagua kuandika hadithi fupi kwa kuwa nimekuwa nikisafiri sana siku hizi. Nilitumia lugha rahisi kwa sababu ninataka hadithi yangu iwavutie wengi. Nilichagua majina ya wahusika ambayo yana maana kwa sababu hadithi yangu ina funzo la kimaadili. Kwa mfano, jina la mhusika mkuu, Goldman, linawakilisha uungwana na utajiri.

Mpaka iwe ilikuhitaji ujasiri mkubwa kuandika hadithi hii.

Taasisi ya ndoa katika jamii yetu imekabiliwa na changamoto nyingi. Wanandoa wana maswala mengi ambayo hayajasuluhishwa yanayotatanisha ndoa zao. Nilipoisikia hadithi hii, niliona ilikuwa na funzo kubwa kwa wanandoa. Kwa kuwa sikutaka kuandika hadithi ya kutambulisha chanzo chake, nilibadilisha mandhari na majina ya wahusika.

Mke wako mwenyewe anaweza kufikiria nini?

Mke wangu anafikiri hii hadithi inatoa tafakari nzuri kwa wanandoa ambao wana upendeleo kwa wakwe zao.

Ningependa nijue kuhusu maandishi yako mengine.

Nimeandika vitabu vingi lakini ningependa nivitaje  vitatu. Cha Kwanza ni Kisa cha Zahara Mage, ambacho ni riwaya ya Kiswahili  ambayo inagusia mapenzi na ukabila. Pia, nimechapisha, Highly Regretted: An Autobiography of a Bad Teacher  ambacho kinaangazia sana niliyopitia nikiwa mwalimu katika shule za sekondari nchini Kenya. Mwisho, nimeandika kwa ushirikiano, kitabu cha masomo, Taaluma ya Ushairi ambacho ni muhimu katika ufundishaji wa ushairi wa Kiswahili katika shule za sekondari na vyuo.

Ni mada zipi ujikutazo ukirejelea?

Mara nyingi mimi huandika kuhusu maswala ya kijamii na uchumi na yanavyoingiliana na ndoa na dini.

Unashughulikia nini wakati huu?

Wakati huu ninashughulikia toleo la pili la kitabu Taaluma ya Ushairi. Nijipapo mapumziko mbali na upitiaji, ninaandika hadithi fupi.

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First, I’d love to know where the idea for this story came from.

The idea for the story Shopping ya Shilingi Elfu Tano came from some juicy gossip a friend shared with me.

Tell us why you chose to write in the length and style that you did.

I chose to write flash fiction because I’m currently traveling a lot. I used simple language because I want my story to have a wider appeal. I also chose character names that have meanings because my story has a moral lesson in it. For example, the name of the main character, Goldman, represents gentility and wealth.

It must have taken a lot of courage to write this story.

The institution of marriage is under siege in our society today. Couples have a lot of unresolved issues that strain their marriages. When I heard this story, I thought it had a great lesson for married couples. Since I didn’t want to write a story that gave away the identity of my source, I changed the setting and the names of characters.

And what would your own wife think?

My wife thinks the story offers a good reflection for couples who tend to have a bias towards their parents-in-law.

I’d love to know about your other work.

I have written many books but I would like to consider three. The first one is Kisa cha Zahara Mage, which is a Kiswahili novel that touches on love and tribalism. I have also published Highly Regretted: An Autobiography of a Bad Teacher, which captures my teaching experiences in Kenyan secondary schools. Finally, I have co-authored an academic book, Taaluma ya Ushairi, which is an important textbook on teaching Kiswahili poetry in secondary schools and colleges.

What themes do you find yourself returning to?

I find myself writing about socio-economic issues and how they intersect with marriage and religion.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on the second edition of the book Taaluma ya Ushairi. Whenever I take breaks from the revisions, I write flash fiction.

About the Author:

James Kemoli Amata ni mwalimu mstaafu wa shule za Sekondari wa Kiswahili ambaye huandika hadithi na ushairi katika lugha za Kiswahili na Kiingereza. Kati ya maandishi yake ya hadithi za Kiswahili ni: Kisa cha Zahara Mage, Maisha ya Mjusi na Buibui, Bahati Alikata Kiu, na kadhalika. Kati ya tungo zake za ushairi wa Kiswahili ni: Kionjo cha Unafiki, Kionjo cha Uchokozi, na kadhalika. Hivi karibuni, Kemoli amechapisha kazi zake sanasana katika Smashwords.com. Alipata shahada ya Elimu kutoka Chuo Kikuu cha Nairobi mwaka wa 1976.

James Kemoli Amata is a retired secondary school teacher of Kiswahili who writes fiction and poetry in Kiswahili and English languages. His Kiswahili fiction includes: Kisa cha Zahara Mage, Maisha ya Mjusi na Buibui, Bahati Alikata Kiu, among others. His Kiswahili poetry works include: Kionjo cha Unafiki, Kionjo cha Uchokozi, among others. More recently, Kemoli has published his work on Smashwords.com. He received a Bachelor of Education degree from University of Nairobi in 1976.

About the Interviewer:

John O. Ndavula, guest editor for Kiswahili, is the author of Social Media & Political Campaigns in Kenya. His prose has appeared in Kikwetu. He is co-founding editor of Kikwetu: A Journal of East African Literature and has published literary criticism books on East African and European fiction. He teaches creative writing at St. Paul’s University in Kenya. He earned his PhD in Mass Communication from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya.

About the Artist:

Find more photography by Ahmad Odeh at Unsplash.