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In Support of African Authors: Meet the Man behind the First Ever All-African Bookshop

Gabriel Dinda

Gabriel Dinda is a man that wears many hats—a husband, a father, a storyteller, an avid reader, a lecturer and above all, a writer passionate about inspiring others to read and write more.

He is the founder of Writers Guild Kenya, an organisation that has published 36 books, currently runs six writing programs and boasts 3071 members.

Mourine Odongo caught up with Gabriel to talk about his passion for serving and the recently launched all African bookshop.

Who is Gabriel?

I help people connect with each other through stories. I’m always involved in activities that help people write more. I connect people with those who can help them explore their writing skills by organising and coordinating training and activities. The activities could be related to book clubs or collaborating with people or companies that empower writers. I do all this under the umbrella of Writers Guild Kenya, of which I’m the founder. I love to serve. So, I always look for an opportunity to serve.  

Tell me about the journey of Writers Guild Kenya.

In 2013, I was a second-year student pursuing a Bachelor of Economics and Finance at K.U. (Kenyatta University). I noticed there were many activities and events on campus, yet very few students attended. I was bothered by this trend, so during the career week, I did a one-page article encouraging the students to attend. This was the beginning of my journey.

I later became the editor of the Career Focus magazine on campus. In the years that followed, I started the Writers Guild, an initiative to help aspiring writers in K.U. learn from each other and grow. Through the initiative, we managed to train writers in Eldoret, Mombasa, and Kakamega. We also visited universities like Zetech, Strathmore, and the University of Nairobi.

In 2015, I was awarded the top 25 under 25 leadership award by KCA University and African garage because of the work I was doing with Writers Guild. Later that year, when I cleared campus, we opened the Writers Guild offices in town. Around this time, we focused on writing for companies and individuals. We also started training writers. We partnered with other organizations like the National Museum of Kenya, which allowed us to use national museums countrywide to host our activities.

In 2016 our friends from Germany that had an organization called Elimu Inayokuza Maendeleo sponsored us to publish our first book, Through the Journey of Hope. This was launched on 4th June 2016. From this first publication, we established our self-publishing unit to help our writers publish their books. Today we have 56 first-time authors who have been published.

What inspired you to start an all-African bookshop?

We were inspired by our authors, who reached out asking us for help to distribute their books. Then, we did a book tour and realised that people were excited about local books, local authors, and stories they could relate to. But, there was no place where they could readily get them. We thought we could bridge that gap. The initiative serves to bring a variety of local stories and provide a platform for you and me, people who don’t have a big name but have a big story. We are located in Nairobi CBD, Hazina Towers. 

A section of books by Writers Guild-Kenya displayed at the Book Tour in Capital Centre Mall.

Why is this initiative important now?

Africa is at crossroads. We are bombarded with foreign things in all sectors and we yawn at local ones. With books, we desire to connect with our own stories, where we can relate to the context. Our bookshop allows you to interact with African stories in one place. 

Also, the history of Africa, for a long time, has been oral in nature. Now we are getting to a point where we want to immortalise our stories. We would love to facilitate that by making it possible for you to tell your story.

The bookshop has two phases. We’ve started with a physical location that also acts as our dispatch centre for phase two, an online platform. Currently, we have two services. You can easily make an order through our dial-a-book service, and we will deliver the book you want. You can also physically visit our bookshop or make a regular call, and we will deliver.

Author Lesalon Kasaine checking out the variety of books at Writers Guild Kenya Bookstore

Is the reading culture in Kenya as bad as people make it out to be?

The reading culture in Kenya is excellent. It’s unfair to say that Kenyans or Africans don’t read. It could be that a large percentage don’t read. But there are many Kenyans that love their books. These are the people who need a variety. 

That is where we feel the problem is. Some people have gotten to reading apathy because it is the same content, the same books. The books that talk about streets in New York or London. We need stories that talk about the Moi Avenues. So more than the reading culture, it is the lack of variety and lack of local stories that we can relate to. That is the gap that the Writers Guild is coming in to fill.

Apart from the African, only bookshop, Writers Guild Kenya offers other writing programs to aspiring writers in Kenya. Tell us more about that?

We have three programs. The first one is affiliate membership, where you register with us and pay a membership fee. Under affiliate, there are several categories: beginners pay Kshs.1500. As a beginner member, you can attend our activities and training. You’ll also be exposed to opportunities and get support. This program is good for people excited about writing but doesn’t know where to start. It gives you a chance to explore and see the avenue that best fits you.

Incubate membership comes after you’ve taken any of our professional programs. We have three: write your passion, teens write and write for smart professionals. After taking any of these programs, you qualify for one year of support.

The last program is Tunza Members. These are our mentors. They don’t necessarily have to be writers. They are individuals that love what Writers Guild does. These people give their money, experience, and time to grow Writers Guild.

There are aspiring writers out there who would love to write a book but don’t know where to start. Can you give them a few tips?

I would suggest that they seek guidance from organisations or people who are committed to growing writers. Writers Guild Kenya does this full-time. 

A section of Writers Guild-Kenya team pose for a picture after a successful Book Tour at Kenyatta International Conference Centre on 20th March, 2021 at the Nation Media Group SME Expo

Would you say that Kenyan writers have it rough when it comes to publishing?

This is not a Kenyan problem. Possibly it’s more pronounced in Africa. Publishing is a journey, and sometimes it can be challenging because of a lack of guidance. In Kenya, it’s hard to publish, but it is easier compared to other African countries. I was in Zimbabwe last year, and I realised it is harder to publish there.

But yes, some countries have it really good. In Norway, for example, for every book published, the government buys about 100 copies to start with. This supports the publisher and the writer.

In cases where the support is not as pronounced, this may be a challenge. Now I see a lot of activities and vibrancy in the publishing sector. You can easily reach a publishing or a bridging organisation like Writers Guild to help you on your journey. There are many initiatives and organisations that are willing to finance the publishing of books, engage authors, and even pay authors to write.

How can one stock with you?

Submit a hard copy. We will read it, write a report and give you our verdict within ten days. We evaluate the book to stock in the following manner. First, depth of content. Have you exhaustively talked about your topic? Will the content wow the readers? Secondly, presentability and marketability. Is the book well presented? Lastly, does the book align with Writers Guild values? Our wish and hope are that what we do is not just for us but to glorify God, offer our services to humanity, and grow whoever comes into contact with us. The books we publish must be in line with these values.

Gabriel Dinda signs a book on behalf of the author at Book Tour in Village Market in February 2021. The book tour is what gave birth to the first All-African Bookshop

You married a writer, and you both launched a book on the same day. Tell me about that.

Yes, my wife Vera Bonareri and I launched our books on the same day, 7th December 2019 at Alliance Francaise. This was to celebrate our one year of love and marriage. We did our wedding on 3rd November 2018, and so we had hoped to celebrate the anniversary the same day the following year by launching our book. But it was not possible because of the logistics that came with booking the venue. It was a beautiful experience.

We are blessed in that we share a passion for books, and we have a desire to encourage more people to read. At home, we have a home book club. Maybe in the future, God will give us an opportunity to write a book jointly.

One book you would recommend?

Diary of a Miaha by Verah Bonarari Omwocha – Dinda 

Also read: Muthoni Garland on the Power of Books