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Okemwa’s childhood was unique, riddled with poverty, despair and loneliness. Out of school most of the time, due to fees, he sat on an ant-hill outside their rural home watching the colours of the rainbow on the rural sky. On fine days he would run about with other boys of similar circumstances to catch grasshoppers and butterflies in the vast fields next to the river banks while, at the same time, watching the orange rays of the setting sun slowly sinking in the western horizon. During market days Okemwa would sit with other little boys beside the road and watched people carrying their wares to the market, counting the number of vehicles that drove by, while making faces and gestures at children who accompanied their parents to the market. With no basics in life, and being brought up with just a mother, Okemwa didn’t enjoy the life other children in the neighbourhood had. In the poem The Gong, he vividly captures the true texture and feel of his childhood:


The Gong

Of my childhood rings louder
Its echo hurtles in, faster
Catching up with me
Every night in my dreams

The bicycles, donkey-carts
The farmers’ open vans
Raced up and down this pebbly road
Leaving behind trails of dust

I sat here, on this anthill
On a market day
Counting people, donkeys
I was a loner then
The mantis as my teddy bear.

Okemwa grew up to become a boy. He had numerous ambitions. He wanted to go to university to study and get a degree. He had no money for it. He wanted to become a writer, but didn’t know how. His failed ambitions and wishes, desperation and restlessness is best captured in the poem Round in Circles:

Round in Circles

You go round in circles, your head
In the clouds, expecting a hitch, a hiatus
Anything somewhere along
The slippery arcs of your life

Something to assuage the length
Of the circles, swerve that constant
Fixation of your already-worn-to-
A frazzle mind in making a pile

You start with scotching your niggling
In trivial cogitation, hitching
Your wagon to a star, wishing heavens
Broke down into gold-specks, pearls and diamonds

Drowned in cupidity nature secretly

Folds wings, seceding from your strategy

Leaving you scraping the barrel, wretched
On a shoestring, doing anything for lucre.

Worshipping at the shrine of mammon
You see your whole self atrophy
Into nothingness and purpose of living
Is lost—all is chasing intangible wind!

You go out in the dark one night
To look at the moon, stars and meteors
Trying to calculate how symbolic
These can be to the wealth of the mind.

One morning your thoughts darken
With thick haze of desperation, you
Realize how steady nature’s clock is
And the need to learn this hard fact.

Okemwa grew up a troubled boy. He knew he wanted something, but didn’t know exactly what it was. He knew there was an ember deep inside him that was smouldering, but didn’t know when it was going to burn out. He knew he had not arrived at his destination, but didn’t know what direction he exactly was heading. There was something in him that was not mixing or hadn’t mixed. He failed to understand himself and didn’t think others understood him; and this led him to be withdrawn.

What Makes Me Tick

If you could extract the blue feelings
From my heart, or, like a pawpaw fruit
Bisect me, and see the seedy inside
Of my overburdened self
Or thrust me up the sky and see me come down
Through the moon-lit night, hollering
Screaming to the one present---who is also an absence
Or, if you are a scholar, climb up my belfry
And study the polished sticks of metal
That touches to bore my body’s chime
You will get to know the stuff
That ignites my body, soul and spirit.
But still you may not comprehend
Or, more so, reach to finger the delicate inside
That is the satellite of my whole being
You will still miss out on one single fact
That must combine with another to make me tick

Even when Okemwa became a teacher he still felt he hadn’t reached his destination in life. He taught absent-mindedly most of the time, day-dreaming, scribbling his poetry on his pupils’ exercise books. His salary was meager and didn’t meet all his needs. He didn’t know whether it was alright for him to continue teaching or to stop and do something else. The poem, An Old Retired School Teacher, tells a lot about his attitude towards teaching:

What Others Say

"A very good insight into the writer's perception of life - as a child, the woes of African teachers, life and death, religion, prostitution, marriage, witchcraft, love, hatred and existence.

"These poems are genuine; and convey the heartfelt experiences of a very sensitive, honest and articulate spirit. You can tell that Christopher is talented.

"Poetry is a concentrated form of expression. It's not for the prosaic or the talkative. Christopher is fortunate to belong to the class of humans who can say a lot in a few words."

- Charles Phebi-Agyekum, Author

"Christopher Okemwa is a master of mixing the voice of rapture with despair, an exceptional voice, in many ways unlike the usual voice we hear from Africa , longing to unravel the secrets of life and of love, striving to reach the unreachable, accomplished and lyrical."

- Anna Petkova Mwangi

“The Gong is an excellent work that engages the reader. Each poem leads to a journey; a weaving of Stories, Sayings and Truths, each one creating an imprint on the mind. It is an unforgettable experience and a remarkable record of the times which must be shared.”

- Estella Muyinda

Memorable Events

Top Awards

Year 2015

Burt Award (KENYA) for African Literature

Year 2006

Changamoto Arts Fund award.

Year 2002

Editor’s Choice Award for Outstanding Achievement in Poetry.

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Christopher Okemwa
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About Okemwa

Christopher Okemwa is a poet, actor, dancer, playwright, story-teller, short-story and children’s writer. He has won several awards in poetry. Learn More.