Discover the best Kenyan authors in our guide to learn how authors from the African nation have affected literature in Africa and worldwide.
Situated between Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Indian Ocean, Kenya has a rich cultural heritage. The literary tradition of Kenya is storied and plays a large role in the country’s history. Most works written by Kenyan authors are written in either English or Swahili.
Some Kenyan authors write on worldwide themes, including feminism and social justice, while others focus on issues specific to Kenya and Africa. If you are interested in biographical novels, read our guide with the best biography authors to check out today.
1. Dolen Perkins-Valdez, 1973-
Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a New York Times bestselling author and recipient of the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. Her books include Wench: A Novel (2010), Balm: A Novel (2015), and Take my Hand (2022). Perkins-Valdez started as a writer while earning her BA at Harvard College, then earning her Ph.D. in English at George Washington University. She was inspired to write her first novel after researching W.E.B. Dubois. Wench was chosen by National Public Radio as one of the organization’s 2010 book club recommendations. Three years later, the author was asked to write an introduction to the 37th edition of Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup’s autobiographical work.
Perkins-Valdez is an associate professor of literature at American University in Washington, DC. She also serves as the Chair of the Board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, which allows her to work closely with young people in DC, teaching them about the importance of digging into literature from a young age.
“The woman had told the truth. The flowers were the color of sunset. And not the yellowish tinge of a lazy sun either, but the intense orange of a sun refusing to set on anyone else’s terms.”Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Wench
2. Margaret Ogola, 1958-2011
Dr. Margaret Atieno Ogola is known for her novel The River and the Source and its follow-up volume, I Swear by Apollo. The two novels follow the stories of four sequential generations of Kenyan women and provide a commentary on femininity in Africa and the ever-evolving culture of Kenya. Ogola’s first novel received the 1995 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. In addition to her first two novels, Ogola wrote Mandate of the People before passing away in 2011.
Ogola also worked as a pediatrician in Kenya. She worked as the medical director of a hospice for orphaned children living with HIV and AIDS. Throughout her career, she also worked to engage with organizations that promoted women’s empowerment both in Kenya and around the world. She was also a national Council for Children Services member and was awarded the Familias Award for Humanitarian Service from the World Congress of Families in 1999. Ogola also served as the Country Coordinator for the Hope for African Children Initiative from 2002 to 2004.
“True justice should be for each human being, visible and invisible, young and old, disabled and able, to enjoy fully their right to life. The accidental attributes that we acquire such as colour, sex, intelligence, economic circumstances, physical or mental disability should not be used as an excuse to deprive a person of life.”Margaret Ogola
3. Grace Ogot, 1930-2015
Along with author Charity Waciuma, Grace Ogot was the first female Kenyan author to be published. Throughout her life, she served the people of Kenya as a diplomat, politician, nurse, journalist, assistant minister of parliament, and author. After completing her training as a nurse in London, Ogot returned to Kenya, where she began working as a scriptwriter and a public relations officer.
Ogot first became recognized for her writing at a 1968 African Literature conference at Makerere University. Her short story A Year of Sacrifice was well-received at the conference. Upon realizing she was the only East African author at the conference, she became inspired to publish her work. Her first novel, The Promised Land, was published in 1966 and focused on emigration, wealth, and femininity themes.
In 1975, Ogot was appointed as a United Nations delegate. The following year, Ogot became one of the founders of the Writers’ Association of Kenya. In 1983, she became the only female assistant minister in the parliament of Kenya.
“When you are frightened, don’t sit still, keep on doing something. The act of doing will give you back your courage.”Grace Ogot
4. Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, 1928-2015
Born in England, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye became a Kenyan citizen as a young adult when she moved to the country to become a successful bookseller. After settling in Kenya, she took a shot at writing and experienced great success with magazine-published short stories. In the 1970s, Macgoye began writing novels, including Growing Up at Lina School and Murder in Majengo. Her most well-known novel was Coming to Birth, in which she details the life of a Kenyan woman living in the country from the mid-50s to the late 70s.
Oludhe was committed to sharing her love of literature with other Kenyan citizens. Working as the manager of a bookshop, she held book readings and workshops for other writers living in Kenya and other East African countries. The writer was known for her passionate commitment to the people of Kenya and worked for social justice by participating in national debates.
“I am so much enmeshed in my Luo family and community and I am not afraid of writing from within it either.”Majorie Olude Macgoye
5. Binyavanga Wainaina, 1971-2019
A recipient of the Caine Prize for African Writing, Binyavanga Wainaina was well known for his short story Discovering Home. Wainaina’s wit and wisdom were also heralded following his 2005 essay entitled How to Write About Africa, in which he stated, “One must treat Africa as if it were one country… [of] 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book,” providing satirical insight on the way the Western world views African countries.
In addition to providing the world with a more realistic view of Africa, Wainaina was also known for serving as the founding editor for Kwani?, an East African literary magazine established in 2002. Sadly, he passed away at a young age due to a stroke. Five years before his death, Wainaina was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.
“There is no country in the world with the diversity, confidence, and talent and Black pride like Nigeria.”Binyavanga Wainaina
6. Muthoni Garland, 1962-
Muthoni Garland is a well-known author for both children and adults. Her book Kamau’s Finish is used to teach students world literature worldwide. Garland’s adult-geared science-fiction book, Attack of the Shidas, was used to spark a discussion about tribalism within African schools.
In addition to her writing work, Garland spends much of her time helping people worldwide gain access to reading material. She’s a founding member of Storymoja, a writer’s collective based in Kenya. The organization has published over 250 books and works to help children develop a love of reading from a young age. She’s worked to develop the Start a Library initiative, which has created more than 100 libraries for children in Kenya.
“A chopped-off and rather sad vision of him, I admit, despite the smart pin-stripe trousers that he really shouldn’t be wearing. But maybe I’m being too picky since deep down I know this lying around dressed-up with nowhere to go is the kind of behavior that only manifests when a man has been fired from his job…”Muthoni Garland, Halfway between Nairobi and Dundori
7. Meja Mwangi, 1948-
Writer, director, screenwriter, and novelist Meja Mwangi is a leader in Kenya’s writing and film industries. He got his start in the creative arts at the French Broadcasting Corporation and as a visual aids officer for the British Council in Nairobi. Mwangi then turned to write full-time and was accepted as a writing fellow at the University of Iowa. After his fellowship, he returned to Kenya. Shortly after that, Mwangi gained international critical acclaim for his writing.
Mwangi’s works include Kill Me Quick (1973), Going Down River Road (1976), and The Cockroach Dance (1979). His novels delve into many popular themes in Africa during the 1970s, including the AIDS epidemic and the difficulty of rising out of poverty. Mwangi was awarded the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature for Kill Me Quick and the Lotus Prize for Literature. The writer is known for his films Power (2009) and Blood Brothers (2009).
“Maina shrugged. He took had believed the lie, told by parents and teachers, that going to school was the way to escape the yoke.”Meja Mwangi, Kill Me Quick
8. Francis Imbuga, 1947-2012
Francis Imbuga was a Kenyan professor, writer, and playwright. The author earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Nairobi, followed by his doctorate from the University of Iowa. Imbuga started in the arts as an actor and later became a lecturer and professor. He began his career as a playwright in 1969. Two of the author’s works, Betrayal in the City and Aminata, are now curriculum essentials for literary students throughout Kenya. Imbuga delved into the social class issues present in many communities throughout Africa.
“When the madness of an entire nation disturbs one solitary mind, it is not enough to say the man is mad.”Francis Imbuga
9. Mukoma Wa Ngugi, 1971-
Mukoma Wa Ngugi is a poet, professor, and author. The writer was born in Illinois and raised in Kenya. After completing his high school education in Kenya, Ngugi returned to the United States to begin his college education, eventually receiving his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. While earning his doctorate, he researched how standard and non-standard English influenced literary works. Currently, Ngugi is a professor at Cornell University.
Many of Ngugi’s books have been critically acclaimed, including Conversing with Africa: Politics of Change (2003), Hurling Words at Consciousness (2006), and The Rise of the African Novel: Politics of Language, Identity, and Ownership (2018). Ngugi currently writes a column for BBC Focus on Africa.
“I think poetry is for questions that are too big for words. I can’t completely account for the love that I have for my child or, even though I politically understand it, why people go to war.”Mukoma Wa Ngugi
Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best Brazilian authors!