Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, 1928-2015

Volume 12, Issue 3  | 
Published 01/03/2016

Marjorie is no more, Kenya has lost a literary icon. But that is not all and perhaps not the most important. Kenya has lost a role model par excellence – a woman who rose above colour, creed and class to demonstrate, in her humble way, the true meaning of ‘humanity’. Marjorie was MOM not just to her children but to the countless Kenyans who crossed her path; and to whom she gave her caring, her generosity and full attention. Her unquestioning trust in human goodness was truly remarkable.

Having experienced in her growing up years two World Wars and the crippling economic Depression in the country of her birth, England, she came to Kenya in 1954 as a Christian missionary and remained a most devoted member of the Anglican Church until her death. Her first job here was as a bookseller in the CMS bookshop – so apt as her life revolved around books and literature. At the age of seven her first poem was published in the London Mirror and she went on to get a Master’s degree in Literature and foreign languages.

In Nairobi she deliberately moved out of a whites-only residential area and went to live in the African area of Pumwani. There she met prominent African visitors such as Tom Mboya and her husband-to-be, Dr Daniel Oludhe-Macgoye. After their marriage in 1960 they moved to the Alupe Leprosy Mission Hospital and this gave her the opportunity to integrate into her husband’s family, learn Dholuo and get to know Luo customs and attitudes; and to raise her sons George, Francis and Lawrence and daughter, Phyllis.

In 1963 Marjorie and Daniel visited the UK, and in 1971-75 Marjorie went to Dar es Salaam to manage the University bookshop. These were the only times she travelled out of Kenya since her arrival here. In 1975 she returned to Nairobi, took up the management of SJ Moore Bookshop on Government Road (now Moi Avenue) and settled down in a ground floor apartment in Ngara next to the people’s market. And there she lived the last 37 years surrounded by street vendors, semi-permanent kiosks and homeless kids.

In the early days she would cycle between Pumwani and Church House, later she would ride in matatus or just walk, meeting acquaintances and making new ones. Marjorie lived amongst the people and was one of them, she empathized with them and abhorred injustice. From them she drew inspiration and gained insights into the lives, cultural traits, thoughts, needs, joys and fears of ordinary Kenyans. And then, with her brilliant intellect and mastery of language, she captured it all in the beautiful stories she wrote, the poems she crafted and the songs she ‘sang’.

This fun story teller who mentored so many aspiring young writers, this ‘Grand matriarch of Kenyan Literature’ has touched our hearts and shown us a way forward. May we continue to learn from her writings and her memory.

Last modified on Wednesday, 09 March 2016 14:56
More in this category: Chimusoro Sam Moyo, 1954-2015 »

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