MacGoye, Marjorie (King) Oludhe 1928-
MACGOYE, Marjorie (King) Oludhe 1928-
PERSONAL: Born 1928, in Southampton, England; immigrated to Kenya, 1954; naturalized Kenyan citizen, 1964; married D. G. W. Oludhe Macgoye (a clinic official; died, 1990); children: four. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: University of London, B.A. and M.A.
ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 70344, Nairobi 00400, Kenya.
CAREER: Poet and novelist. Worked as a missionary bookseller.
AWARDS, HONORS: Sinclair Prize of Fiction, 1986, for Coming to Birth; Arts and Africa Poetry Award, British Broadcasting Corp.
Growing Up at Lina School (young adult), East African Publishing House (Nairobi, Kenya), 1971, reprinted, Heinemann (Nairobi, Kenya), 1988.
Murder in Majengo, (in "New Fiction from Africa" series), Oxford University Press (Nairobi, Kenya), 1972.
Coming to Birth, Heinemann (Nairobi, Kenya), 1986, Feminist Press (New York, NY), 2000.
The Present Moment, Heinemann (Nairobi, Kenya), 1987, Feminist Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Street Life (novella), Heinemann (Nairobi, Kenya), 1987.
Victoria and Murder in Majengo, Macmillan (London, England), 1993.
Homing In, East African Educational Publishers (Nairobi, Kenya), 1994.
Chira, East African Educational Publishers (Nairobi, Kenya), 1997.
The Black Hand Gang (juvenile), East African Educational Publishers (Nairobi, Kenya), 1997.
Song of Nyarloka and Other Poems, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1977.
(Editor) Charles Hayes, Stima: An Informal History of the EAP&L, East African Power and Lighting Co. (Nairobi, Kenya), 1983.
The Story of Kenya: A Nation in the Making, Oxford University Press (Nairobi, Kenya), 1986.
Moral Issues in Kenya, Uzima Press (Nairobi, Kenya), 1996.
Make It Sing and Other Poems, East African Educational Publishers (Nairobi, Kenya), 1998.
Contributor to anthologies; contributor of short stories to magazines.
SIDELIGHTS: Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, a Kenyan poet and novelist, was born and educated in England before moving to Kenya in 1954 as a missionary bookseller. According to her entry in The FeministCompanion to Literature in English, she has said, "I am so much enmeshed in my Luo family and community I am not afraid of writing from within it either." In 1964, immediately following independence, she became a Kenyan citizen.
Macgoye began to publish her writing after immigrating to Kenya, beginning with several stories in magazines. Macgoye's success grew as she moved to book-length fiction, and her novels and poetry began getting published in the early 1970s. Macgoye has won several awards for her work, and her fiction is frequently anthologized. She has additionally produced a variety of other works, including Growing Up at Lina School, a novel for young adults; Murder in Majengo, a thriller; and various nonfiction work.
Macgoye's award-winning novel, Coming to Birth, follows the life of a Kenyan woman between 1956 and 1978, paralleling her personal development with Kenya's struggle for independence. Protagonist Paulina Were leaves her village at age sixteen to live in Nairobi with her new husband. It is an unhappy marriage and after two miscarriages she returns to village life, but not before having gained a new strength and independence from life in the city. She supports herself by teaching needlework to village women and eventually has a child by another man. After her child is killed, she returns to Nairobi, where she encounters her estranged husband. Their new life together holds the promise of the child they could not have earlier.
In the London Review of Books, Graham Hough noted that although the novel is not "feminist," it provides "a striking statement of the cause feminists have at heart." Adewale Maja-Pearce, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, praised the language of the novel, but suggested that Macgoye "tries to do too much— when she attempts to make [Paulina and her husband's] story carry the burden of postcolonial politics."
Macgoye's subsequent novel, The Present Moment, examines the lives of seven elderly women spending their remaining years in an old people's home in Nairobi. The women, who come from diverse tribal backgrounds, pass the time sharing stories of their youth, from old lovers, to political turmoil, to the deaths of their children. Nicholas Spice, writing in the London Review of Books, complimented Macgoye's ability to present the wretched lives of these women, a "true underclass," without directly attributing blame. She does the same with the effects of colonial rule, allowing the injustices to become "self-evident."
In her New Statesman review, Nancee Oku Bright described The Present Moment as "an intelligent novel with complex and ultimately vibrant characters" but asserted that "the dialogue often seems stilted and overwritten and the text so saturated with detail that we become confused." Jo-Ann Goodwin, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, also believed that the reader could become confused because of the "overcrowded" text. Goodwin went on to praise Macgoye's use of language, however, saying that "Macgoye has created an idiom representative of the country, alien and yet intimate, to describe an existence which is both disturbing and fascinating."
J. Roger Kurtz reviewed Macgoye's novel Homing In for World Literature Today, remarking that it "is clearly a Kenyan novel, intended for an audience familiar with recent Kenyan history." It is the story of elderly widow Ellen Smith and her caretaker, Martha Kimani. Kurtz described it as being "about finding identity and a sense of belonging, whether it is for a former English schoolteacher like Ellen in a former colony, or for the children of Kenyans like Martha in a British setting."
Kurtz noted that Chira "is not the first Kenyan novel to feature characters with AIDS, but it is the first to treat the disease in a serious and extended manner." The title, a Luo term for any wasting disease, noted Kurtz, is also a metaphor for "contemporary Kenyan society, in which hidden truths, obligations, and networks of responsibility—the unspoken realities of life whose evocation and exploration are a Macgoye trademark—constitute the unseen social viruses that occasionally break the surface."
Make It Sing and Other Poems is a five-part collection, the second of which consists of Macgoye's most important poem, "Song of Nyarloka," first published in 1977. The other sections are titled "Poet's Poetry," "Crossing Over," "Songs of Freedom," and "Public Events." Approximately half of the poems appear here for the first time, and "as always in Macgoye's writing," noted Kurtz, "there are references to Kenyan national events and personalities, and as always, Macgoye relies heavily on metaphors, images, and myth from the Luo experience. These elements, undergirded by a modernist esthetic and socialist Christian commitment, are Macgoye hallmarks. In all her writing there is a sense of history as a tragedy, as a landscape in which ordinary people struggle to overcome difficult limitations. But at the end, there is also always some new birth waiting to happen."
Macgoye once told CA: "I have been flattered to have my work compared to that of Chester Himes. Unfortunately, the implication is sometimes that the subjects are far-out, an underclass. But these lives are central in their own context, carrying political weight and consciousness, enmeshed in society, not uniformly wretched. It is the academic and disengaged writer who is in the extreme position. And the story is usually not what they tell one another but what they refrain from telling."
More recently, Macgoye told CA: "I am a witness to my Christian faith before I am a writer. This does not mean writing about 'religious' subjects but trying to understand and empathize with those around me and helping the reader to do the same. Since elaborate conversation and rhetoric are the principal arts of East Africa, the verbal medium is appropriate."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Buck, Claire, editor, The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature, Prentice-Hall General Reference (Upper Saddle River, NJ), 1992, pp. 768-769.
Kibera, Valerie, Motherlands: Black Women's Writing from Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia, Women's Press (London, England), 1991.
Kurtz, J. R., Urban Obsessions, Urban Fears: The Post-colonial Kenyan Novel, African World Press (Trenton, NJ), 1998.
Black Issues Book Review, March, 2001, Denolyn Caroll, review of Coming to Birth, p. 55.
Books, June, 1987, p. 31.
British Book News, May, 1987, p. 299; June, 1987, p. 368.
London Review of Books, July 3, 1986, Graham Hough, review of Coming to Birth, p. 22; July 9, 1987, Nicholas Spice, review of The Present Moment, p. 14.
New Statesman, June 13, 1986, p. 27-29; September 4, 1987, Nancee Oku Bright, review of The Present Moment, p. 30.
Observer, June 8, 1986, p. 25; July 12, 1987, p. 23.
Research in African Literatures, summer, 2002, J. R. Kurtz, "Crossing Over: Identity and Change in Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye's 'Song of Nyarloka,'" pp. 100-118.
Times Literary Supplement, September 5, 1986, Adewale Maja-Pearce, review of Coming to Birth, p. 977; August 28, 1987, Jo-Ann Goodwin, review of The Present Moment, p. 929.
World Literature Today, autumn, 1995, J. Roger Kurtz, review of Homing In, p. 853; autumn, 1997, J. Roger Kurtz, review of Chira, p. 852; autumn, 1999, J. Roger Kurtz, review of Make It Sing and Other Poems, p. 797.