As an enthusiastic author, playwright, poet, English Literature teacher, mentor and encourager of young minds to embrace literary knowledge through reading and writing, Bonface Otieno stands out among the young people advocating for literacy through practice and determination.
Otieno studied at Kabarak University, finished his degree training in December 2021 and joined the workforce as a teacher a month later, a field he has continued to use as a space for uplifting young literature lovers through mentorship and pragmatic engagement.
How it started
While on campus, his passion for poetry, playwriting and drama was kindling, and nobody would stifle his desire to speak up his mind through writing and literary appreciation.
“I started in 2018 after joining the university; though I had been doing it even in high school, the channels were more open on joining the university,” he said during a recent interview with The Scholar Media Africa.
To start himself off on the right path, Otieno sought the counsel of passionate lecturers who were already into creative writing for nuggets on how they had been climbing the literary ladder.
Simultaneously, he pushed himself to break the glass ceiling and stand out as a thought leader worthy of listening to.
In 2018, he founded a drama club at Kabarak University, dubbed Kabarak University Drama and Creative Outreach (KUDCO) club, which saw like-minded brains unite and promote their talents, especially in drama and script writing.
Otieno wrote numerous scripts for the club, which he was the Founder and Chair of, and also featured in many stage performances.
“When I left, there was already a very strong foundation of the club. Currently, KUDCO is really burning in Kabarak University,” he says.
Branching out from drama, he created a creative writing forum to supplement the drama club and attend to minds inspired by writing, calling it the Bleeding Ink poetry exchange program.
He took it global because numerous people were willing to engage in that forum and also break out from the many challenges engulfing them, rebranding it Bleeding Ink Global poetry exchange forum.
The online space now has numerous members from various countries across Africa and beyond, such as Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and the United Kingdom, and continues to grow.
It aims at identifying fresh-from-the-boat writers, appreciating their creativity and brainstorming on how each of them can bake their ideas into a solid, successful product benefitting the audience.
From 2018 to 2021, Otieno was deep into writing which, in 2021, saw him publish his first book, an anthology, under the title Wicked Agadapidi and Other Songs.
“The book draws its inspiration from Okot p’Bitek’s works from Uganda, and Famine, a Yorùbá poem by Professor Ulli Beier. One of the fancy names, Agadapidi, was of particular interest to me, and that is how I coined the title of my first book,” he explains.
On starting his career profession in January 2022 at St. Andrews Terabete High School, a cosmopolitan school in Naivasha, Otieno saw another chance to continue impacting young lives through mentorship.
He was keen to help the young minds cultivate an intentional learning and reading culture, raising their self-esteem and nurturing talents.
Teacher Otieno raised the curiosity of a portion of the students. For those who wrote the poems, he would refine them through editing and keep the collection for a future publishing he had promised the poets so that their work would be widely appreciated.
“After around seven months, we were able to write an anthology from their hand-picked poems and we published it this year,” he says.
For the poets’ classmates, their curiosity held and still holds on the desire to read their classmates’ published work and, hopefully, write, too.
The book launch of the student’s co-authored anthology is set to happen in March 2023, an event anticipating featuring the young minds who are rising in literary creativity.
“I want my students to be acknowledged because such a thing in this school has never happened before and featuring them would spark up their passion,” he admits.
The student-written anthology is not the kind of anthologies we are used to. No!
Otieno says he infused a lot of explanatory sections into the book so that “…as the students read, they can know the literary devices and other essential parts, types and finer details of poetry and how to write poems, not to mention the questions aimed at helping the reader.”
With numerous students contending with low self-esteem, through KUDCO, “…drama was one way to overcome that, through training speech and embracing creativity,” he reminisces.
Most of the members, according to the former Founder and Chair, self-discovered, are now running big industries in the creative world and have been exposed to national performances courtesy of KUDCO.
These efforts have shaped many young people, learners and now writers, to embrace creativity, support one another and realize who they are and, more importantly, open their eyes to behold who they can be.
Under his belt, Otieno has a second book, Horror in the Storm, which he co-authored with one of his lecturers.
Currently, he is also co-authoring his third book, a play, with another lecturer, set to publish early next year.
His publications have been widely read in diverse spaces by scholars, students, authors and families.
In the next one year, he looks forward to publishing over ten poets from Bleeding Ink, from the many poems they have written as responses to each other’s problems and other prompts meant to spark their creativity.
While four books are already complete and ready for publishing, a collective anthology is also in the baking pan.
Myriad barriers thorn the way for young African writers, with nobody willing to identify and appreciate their creativity.
“People don’t want to read! They want to watch social media comedy and enjoy life, but you cannot enjoy life without doing something productive. Writers use a lot of resources to publish a book and reproduce copies, but the market refuses to buy the books because they don’t like reading,” he laments.
According to author Otieno, the publishing and marketing process is really engaging and expensive.
“You want someone to do some serious editing for your book and they need so much to do it,” he says, adding that it casts down green writers.
The more established publishers have also been focusing more on veteran authors at the expense of the blooming authors who are also paving the way to greatness.
Worryingly, however, is any author’s fear of their work being stolen. Many are victims of this heart-wrenching and unethical practice.
“You send a copy of your raw work to an established writer or publisher for review and the next day, you are told that your work cannot be published anywhere and needs an overhaul, only to notice it was later published abroad or elsewhere,” he explains, saying that he has come across numerous such cases.
To young writers
He insists that a young writer needs someone with the expertise, passion and high-end connections to hold their hand and move up the staircase with them, urging them to chide the ‘a man for himself’ attitude and collaborate.
“Ganging up together to connect with, support and spur up one another is the only way out,” he advises.
In a scenario where, for instance, 150 authors support one author at a time, buying the author’s book and offering a single review each, and then recommending the book to their friends, would spring the young writer to run global, become renowned and financially stable for another publishing, as says Otieno.
The collaboration would equally solve the financial challenge bedevilling many young authors.
That has been his idea and dream for young African writers, encouraging more to be of the same mind, leave their lonely nests and hold hands for each other’s benefit.
“We need to appreciate literature for what it is and grow together,” he adds.
He urges writers not to be intimidated by anything but to market their work by creating long-lasting relationships with prospective buyers and readers.
“Make them your friends, tell them what you think and listen to what they think and maintain the relationship before, during and after selling your book to them,” he advises.
Creating an interest in what you are doing may also interest them, creating a common ground and building a mutual relationship.
Otieno vouches for the upcoming publishing houses as reliable outlets for publishing and as secure and pocket-friendly go-to entities for looming writers.
“But before sharing your work with a publisher, know them first. Also, prefer sharing a portion of the work for the first review and if they accept it, share the remaining chunks for review and publishing, on getting satisfied,” he opines.
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Beyond every challenge, Otieno has chosen to see an opportunity, rise beyond the ceilings of life and push the boundaries because, as in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Now, do you want to connect with author Bonface Otieno and buy his books, book a mentorship session or maybe, have a professional chat? Feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Facebook and LinkedIn, both at Bonface Otieno.