Grace Emily Akinyi Ogot

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Grace Emily Akinyi Ogot

East Africa's best-known woman author, Grace Emily Akinyi Ogot (born 1930) wrote novels and short stories. She also became an important political figure in modern Kenya.

Grace Emily Akinyi Ogot earned a distinctive position in Kenya's literary and political history. The best known writer in East Africa, and with a varied career background, she became in 1984 one of only a handful of women to serve as a member of Parliament and the only woman assistant minister in the cabinet of President Daniel Arap Moi.

Born in Kenya's Central Nyanza District in 1930, she was the child of pioneering Christian parents in the traditional Luo stronghold of Asembo. Her father, Joseph Nyanduga, was an early convert to the Anglican Church and one of the first men in Asembo to receive a Western education. He later taught at the Church Missionary Society's Ng'iya Girls' School. She remembered him reading her Bible stories, as well as hearing the traditional stories told by her grandmother. Later Ogot's writing reflected this dual background of tradition and modernity and the tensions between them.

Having attended Ng'iya Girls' School and Butere High School, the young woman trained as a nurse in both Uganda and England. Several years working as a nursing sister and midwifery tutor at Maseno Hospital (run by the Church Missionary Society), and later at the Student Health Service at Makerere University College, provided experience in a number of different careers. She worked as a script-writer and broadcaster for the BBC Overseas Service (later having her own popular weekly radio program in Luo), as a community development officer in Kisumu, and as a public relations officer for Air India. In the late 1960s she opened two branches of a clothing boutique known as Lindy's in Nairobi.

She married the historian Bethwell Alan Ogot, a Luo from Gem Location, in 1959 and was the mother of four children. She began to publish short stories both in English and in Luo in the early 1960s and her first novel, The Promised Land, was published in 1966. It was concerned with the challenges faced by Luo pioneers who moved across the border into Tanzania in a search of greater opportunity. Land Without Thunder, a collection of short stories about traditional life in rural western Kenya, appeared in 1968. Two other short story collections have appeared, The Other Woman and Other Stories (Nairobi, 1976) and The Island of Tears (Nairobi, 1980), as well as second novel, The Graduate (Nairobi, 1980). The novel described the tribulations of a young Kenyan graduate who returns home after study in the United States. Ogot's short stories often weaved old and new material together by presenting traditional curses and mysteries confounding modern Kenyans in new urban settings. A series of historical novels in process went back several centuries to reconstruct Luo history. A number of her stories have been dramatized and performed in Kenya.

In recognition of her blossoming literary career, she was named a delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1975, and as a member of the Kenya delegation to UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) in 1976. Having helped found the Writers' Association of Kenya, she served as its chairman from 1975 to 1980. President Daniel Arap Moi appointed her to the Kenya Parliament in 1985 and as assistant minister for culture. In 1988 she was resoundingly returned to the Parliament from her husband's home in Gem and was reappointed to her ministerial position.

Ogot's family members shared her interest in politics. Her husband, served as head of Kenya Railways and also taught history at Kenyatta University. Her older sister, Rose Orondo, served on the Kisumu County Council for several terms, and her younger brother Robert Jalango was elected to Parliament in 1988, representing their family home in Asembo.

Further Reading

The novels and short stories of Grace Ogot were widely available. Oladele Taiwo devoted a chapter of her Female Novelists of Modern Africa (1984) to Ogot's literary development; Bernth Lindfors has published "An Interview with Grace Ogot" in World Literature Written in English (1979); O. R. Dathorne included a chapter on "Grace Ogot: Role of the Black Woman" in African Literature in the Twentieth Century (1974).

Ogot's book, The Strange Bride, was published in 1989; She was one of 570 women writers of the 20th-century chosen to appear in Modern Women Writers, a four-volume set including criticism, biographical material, and excerpts from published works, released in 1996. □