Mali shares writing tips and what she’s been up to

OCTOBER 27, 2022 – We caught up with Mali Kambandu, winner of the inaugural 2018 Kalemba Prize (A hand to Hold).

We wanted to know what she has been up to and her advice to writers entering the 2023 Kalemba Prize.

What have you been up to since winning the 2018 KSSP?

Winning the Kalemba gave me the confidence to continue writing. After Kalemba, I was shortlisted for the Writivism Short Story Prize, a regional prize; this was quite an accomplishment for me.

In 2020, I took some writing classes through Lolwe and the Nairobi Fiction Writing Workshop (NaiWa), which helped me develop further and introduced me to incredible networks of writers — a very valuable resource for me and any writer, actually.

Since 2018, I’ve had a number of my pieces published in several literary platforms (some of my work is available to read here). In January 2022, my novel (in-progress) was longlisted, along with 9 other first-time novelists, for the Island Prize. I was thrilled, but didn’t make the shortlist. It was still really encouraging for me. 

This year, Lolwe asked me to guest edit Issue 5 of their literary magazine. This was such an honour for me but the most work I’ve done in ages! Making a selection from so many well-crafted, beautiful stories was very hard. I am grateful for that opportunity.

And also in 2022, one of my stories gained me the honour of being selected Brittle Paper Writer of the Month June 2022. It was so exciting and I’m so touched that my work stood out on such an incredible platform.

I’m still submitting stories and my novel to various platforms, hoping for as many “yeses” as I can get! Lol!

What tips would you share with 2023 Kalemba writers?

In the words of Namwali Serpell, “Read, read, and then read some more.” Meaning you cannot read too much! Read anything, especially in the form you want to be successful in — short fiction, in this case. Reading a variety of works helps you learn and grow as a writer.

Make sure you actually have a story — a beginning, middle, and end. A short story isn’t a few beautifully written paragraphs. If someone else read your story, would they be able to see the narrative arc?

Give yourself time to edit and rewrite your first draft. Don’t submit your first draft. Editing and rewriting will make your draft stronger.

Trust your instincts as a storyteller but don’t be afraid to butcher your story if it isn’t the best way to tell it or the best part of the story to tell.

Don’t think rejection is the end. A ‘no’ is not the end. Keep writing.

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