Columbia Global Centers | Nairobi invites you to our new virtual book talk series, featuring African Authors! With this series, we hope to offer a platform where African writers can engage a global audience, offering not just their work, but exciting perspectives on how personal, political, and cultural experiences drive their storytelling.
‘Dance of the Jakaranda’ by Peter Kimani is the first book in our African book talk series. Set in the shadow of Kenya's independence from Great Britain, Dance of the Jakaranda reimagines the special circumstances that brought black, brown, and white men together to lay the railroad that heralded the birth of the nation.
The novel traces the lives and loves of three men--preacher Richard Turnbull, the colonial administrator Ian McDonald, and Indian technician Babu Salim--whose lives intersect when they are implicated in the controversial birth of a child. Years later, when Babu's grandson Rajan--who ekes out a living by singing Babu's epic tales of the railway's construction--accidentally kisses a mysterious stranger in a dark nightclub, the encounter provides the spark to illuminate the three men's shared, murky past.
With its riveting multiracial, cast and diverse literary allusions, Dance of the Jakaranda could well be a story of globalization. Yet the novel is firmly anchored in the African oral storytelling tradition, its language a dreamy, exalted, and earthy mix that creates new thresholds of identity, providing a fresh metaphor for race in contemporary Africa.
Mshaï Mwangola, is an oraturist / performance scholar who uses the lens of culture in her work as an academic, artist and activist. She holds a doctorate in Performance Studies from Northwestern University (USA), a Masters of Creative Arts from the University of Melbourne (Australia) and a Bachelor of Education from Kenyatta University.
Mwangola chairs the Board of Uraia Trust, which is the biggest non-state facilitator of civic education in Kenya. A member of the Executive Committee of the Council of the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), she is also a founder-member of the intellectual collectives, The Elephantand The Orature Collective. Through the latter’s artistic arm, The Performance Collective, she co-facilitates the monthly Pointzero Bookcafé, which features public performances and conversations around literature.
Peter Kimani is a leading African author of his generation. He has published three novels—including Dance of the Jakaranda, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Dr Kimani has taught at Amherst College and the University of Houston. He chaired the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing—the continent’s preeminent literary prize and mentorship programme. He is on the faculty of the Graduate School of Media and Communications, Aga Khan University. His research cuts across four main areas: journalism, creative writing, African literature, and postcolonial studies.