Toni Kan in conversation with Angela Wachuka who says “I’m going to need more than one book” if I am going to jail for 10 years.”

Angela Wachuka is a Founder and Managing Trustee at Book Bunk, a firm driving the restoration of some of Nairobi’s most iconic public libraries. She was the former executive director of Kwani Trust. She spoke to TLR on the sidelines of the 2023 Ake Festival in Lagos.

 Toni Kan: Tell me your name

 Angela Wachuka: My name is Angela Wachuka and I’m from Nairobi, Kenya!

TK: Yup, what do you do?

 AW: I build Libraries

 TK: How many have you built so far?

 AW: None. (General laughter). On a serious note, I am the co-founder of an outfit called the ‘Book Bunk’ that the Kenyan author Wanjiru Koinange and I formed in 2017. We’re six years old. We have a great team and we have been restoring public libraries in Nairobi

TK: How’s that going?

 AW: It’s going great, we have restored, architecturally, two libraries already and about to start working on our third one, we are in the fund raising mode at the moment for it

TK: Well done. So, what is your favourite book ever?

 AW: I have many, but one of my absolute favourite ones- which is why my handle on social media is  ‘sisterkilljoy’  is ‘Our Sister Killjoy’ by Ama Ata Aidoo

TK: Why?

 AW: Because of the story, it’s a very universal African story that captures so many realities and dualities for women and shape shifting and the story is immediately familiar if you grew up anywhere in Africa during a certain time. It is a story that resonated very deeply with me about the shape shifting of women and about the kind of dual identities that you take on as a woman.

TK: So when you say shape shifting; you mean that skill of moving from a human form to animal form and stuff…

 AW: Yes

TK: You’re talking about the ability of women to take on different roles, yeah?

 AW: Yes

TK: Ok.

 AW: I think it reminds me a lot of my mother and her generation. My mother was probably the first or second generation- well, second generation in her family to achieve a certain level of success whether it’s education, professionally, all of these things and I watched with wonder, especially in the eighties and nineties as I watched her maneuver being a woman, being a mother, being someone who was professional and someone who could still speak the language fluently of being back in her village with her people and also function – move in a very functional way in the city

TK: What’s the last book you read?

 AW: What what?

TK: Last book you read..

 AW: The last book I read… I’m reading Vagabonds at the moment

TK: By?

 AW: …Shoot, the name has gone over my head…

T: Don’t worry, I’ll find it. So if you’re packing for a journey?

 AW: -Huh?

TK: Say, you’re packing for a journey, yeah?

 AW: Yes

TK: And you’re going to jail for…ten years and you had to take one book, what book would you take?

 AW: Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

TK: Ah, why not Our Sister KillJoy?

 AW: …Can I take two?

TK: (Laughter)

 AW: Why do I have to take – how long am I going to prison for?

TK: Ten years

 AW: Ten years?

 TK: And one book, yeah

 AW: I’m going to need more than one book

TK: Just one book

 AW: Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

TK: Why?

 AW: Because it was…it’s a book I feel very strongly about, and I read it at a particular time when I was transitioning from being a teenager to a young woman. So, again it resonated very deeply with me. The themes are things that I really really recognise and appreciate, and I can never get tired of revisiting them

TK: So, who’s your favourite author? Is it Tsitsi or is it Ama Ata Aidoo?

 AW: I have favourite authors depending on time-

TK: One

 AW: Depending on mood, depending on place

TK: Right now.

 AW: It is very difficult to pick one…Wanjiru Koinange

TK: Alright, why?

 AW: Because of the boldness with which she has confronted a very dark time in Kenyan history and packaging it in fiction, in a way that has been distillable to people of a much younger generation who maybe were not around to witness what happened in Kenya in 2007 and 2008.

TK: So you’ve been here twice?

 AW: This is my second Ake

TK: Do you think Nigerians read?

 AW: I do, I do. Every time I come to Ake I see it. Every time I see the books being sold out at Ake festival, I see it, every time I’m online, and all the different people that I follow on Instagram, on booktok, on other social media platforms [shows] that there is definitely a hunger for reading and that hunger is being fulfilled by such a growing wealth of very talented writers

TK: Thank you

 AW: That’s it?

TK: Yeah

 AW: [Ahh, the author is Eloghosa Osunde. Vagabonds.]

TK: There you go…

 ***Transcribed by Kunmi Akande

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