A Case for the Writing Workshop | by Zukiswa Wanner

Over a year ago, I started writing a column in the literary pages of the Saturday Nation. In that time, the bulk of the emails I have received from prospective Kenyan writers largely have a request and a complaint.
The request is to find out whether I will be doing any writing workshops and if so, how they can be a part of it.
And the complaint is on the lack of response from Kenyan publishers when they send their manuscripts. Some have claimed that publishers have stayed as long as three years with manuscripts without their feedback.
So after chatting with some friends – and having done something similar for Arts against Poverty and the Caine Prize, I decided I would do some workshops with prospective writers.
There were certain things I did not want with the workshop though.
1. I did not want it to be one of those workshops where there is talking about craft, language, characterization, what makes a good/bad short story without people actually not writing one. Because time is a precious commodity, I also would not waste mine with people who THINK they can write taking part.  So workshop participants would need to send samples of their work to determine whether their work is good enough. Sounds harsh, I know, but as I have said many times before, just because I love music, it doesn’t make me a musician. Ditto writing. Loving reading doesn’t make everyone a writer.  
2. I did not want it to be funded by some NGO. I wanted the prospective writers to invest in their work. As a writer, when I ask people to edit my work – or act or sing at my launch – I pay for it. Because only when we value our art does everyone else perceive it as work. At KES 30,000 payable over two months, this may sound steep but it is in fact not. Let’s assume we have ten writers. Their stories go from conception to editing to being in a book. They are part of the decision-making process in cover design, pricing etc and they each get 50 copies of their anthology. The average cost of an anthology on books.magunga.com is KES 900. If our ten writers sell theirs at KES 800, they have, in a space of two months become published writers and have a KES 10,000 profit on their initial investment if they sell all their 50 copies. Of course if among them, they decide to put a bit more money and print more copies, they will be able to sell at a lower rate and move more volumes. As anything else, the idea of payment for a literary workshop is flawed as there will be brilliant writers who will not be able to pay but since I am actually putting in work here, and I really would like the participants to leave with a book at the end of our workshop, this makes sense to me. There are however, free workshops available like the AMKA one at the Goethe every first Saturday of the month and anyone who is keen to improve their craft without my strict deadlines or the money, can attend it.
Since the call out, I have received some submissions. Some really brilliant and others sadly not so great. This week, I make a final call. The deadline is still March 31st. Anyone interested email sankaracommunications@gmail.com
And apologies to those who wanted to take part but won’t be around. I am unfortunately not making this call again as this is my only free time to do a project like this. I am committed for the rest of the year part of which include a Fellowship for three months out of Kenya.
Best of luck to all submitting.

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