When speaking of early African writers, it would be unreasonable to not mention the name Grace Emily Ogot. She is the first Kenyan woman to become a published writer and even in her death has had 3 books published posthumously by her husband.
In life, she was an author, nurse, politician and journalist. In this article, we explore the biography, education and career of this phenomenal woman; stay with us!
Grace Ogot Biography
Grace Emily Ogot (nee Akinyi) was born on the 15th of May, 1930 in a place called Asembo in the Nzanya district, Kenya. Her father was quite an interesting person and had a major influence in the life of Grace Ogot. Her father was named Joseph Nyanduga and he was among the first people from the the village of Asembo to acquire western education.
He was also converted from traditional worship to the Anglican faith and even became a teacher at the Ng’iya Girls’ School that was run by the Church Missionary Society. Being a Christian, he taught Grace Ogot a lot about bible stories especially stories from the old testament while her grandmother told her traditional folk stories and all these were reflected in Grace Ogot’s future literary works.
Grace Ogot received her high school education from the Ng’iya Girl’s School and Butere High school and upon graduation, she immediately began receiving training at the Nursing Training Hospital located in Uganda.
She spent 4 years training as a nurse and after obtaining her degree worked at St Thomas Hospital for Mothers and Babies located in London, England. After spending about 5 years in England, she returned to Kenya to work at Maseno Hospital in Kenya. She also worked as a student health service provider at Makers University College, Kenya.
Apart from nursing, Grace Ogot also ventured into other fields including journalism and politics. In 1975, she became a Kenyan delegate to the general assembly of the United Nations and the following year served as a Kenyan delegate to UNESCO.
She worked as a script writer and also a presenter on “London Calling East”, a programme that aired on BBC. She also served briefly as the Public Relations Officer for Air India Corporation.
In 1959, Grace Ogot got married to a historian professor called Bethwell Allan Ogot and their marriage bore four children.
Grace Ogot Writing Career
Grace Ogot grew up having an imaginative mind and this was heavily influenced by her exposure to both biblical and traditional stories. During the 1962 African Literature Conference at Makerere University when Grace Ogot presented her short story titled “A Year of Sacrifice”, she realized that she was the only presenter from East Africa and this inspired her to publish her pieces.
Her first published work was called “A Year of Sacrifice” and it was published in 1963 in the African journal called “Black Orpheus”. Her second published work was a short story titled “The Rain Came” and was published in a collection of other short stories in 1964. Interestingly, the short story “The Rain Came” was a slightly modified and abridged version of her first publication.
Grace Ogot published her first novel titled “The Promise Land” in 1966. The book was set in the 1930s and centered around the theme of Migration. The main characters in the book were natives of Nyanza who migrated in search of better opportunities.
The book highlights the challenges that come with emigration and touched on themes of materialism, tribalism and traditional feminity. Critics have described her books as having a patriarchal tone as she often emphasises the traditional wifely role but this is arguable seeing as her books also emphasises on feminine strength.
Another common theme in Grace Ogot’s works is the interplay between traditional and modern cultures. The main character in her first novel “The Promised Land” , Ochola fell under a strange illness that modern medicine could not cure and eventually, he resorted to traditional medicine. Grace Ogot shed more light on this saying that her stories are based on day to day life and that most people fall back on cultural methods when hospitals and churches fail.
Grace Ogot’s second novel was titled “Land Without Thunder” and this novel offered an exposure into the culture of the “Luo” tribe in precolonial East Africa. Some of her other novels include “The Graduate”, “The Other Woman” and “The Strange Bride”.
Grace Ogot died on the 18th of March, 2015.
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Chisom Anastasia Nwaezuoke is a physiotherapist, writer, public speaker and yogi. She is also a sexual health and reproductive rights advocate and volunteers for HandsOff Initiative.