I am author Joseph R. Alila, a native of Kenya living in Schenectady, New York, from where I have penned thirteen novels and two epic poems. My poetry and verse address a variety of areas of the human experience, and you are welcome if you love writings that go beyond the mundane of daily life. I’m a chemist and teacher by training, and I for a while considered my writing as something recreational, something I did to pass time (as was the case in the lost scripts of the staged plays, THE FRUITLESS TREE and WHAT A HUSBAND, written in the 1980s). Thirteen novels and two poems later, learning the art of writing on my feet, the literary bug has bitten me, and friends and fans say that I’m a good novelist with strengths in the narrative and analytical forms and with a penchant for stinging dialogue. I laugh at such suggestions, but the readers may be right. Sages long gone were right in their observation that writing is like wine: an author’s output gets better with his or her age, where the wine in a bottle gets better with time in the cellar.
I started writing about what I knew well, and that was telling stories about life in a traditional Luo home, in which I grew up before I flew to national and then multinational diaspora destinations to pursue scholarly dreams. I have written extensively on my Luo people’s polygamous marriages and other cultural practices, criticizing them where criticism is due and shedding a sage’s light to put meaning to old traditions. My mournful caution against the practice of polygamy in the era of the AIDS virus came to light in SUNSET ON POLYGAMY and THE THIRTEENTH WIDOW.
My writings have tended to be anthropological–treating my subjects as actors or victims of their social, spiritual and physical environments and times. The novels, WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART, SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER, NOT ON MY SKIN, BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY), THE WISE ONE OF RAMOGILAND, MAYA, and lately A FISHY MATTER and REBELS are informative anthropological treatises on peoples and their physical, spiritual, political, cultural, and social circumstances.
I must admit that when I set out to write my earlier novels, for example SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, I had no voice or agenda. My objective was to tell stories about my Luo people and my experiences as a Christian, a Luo, an African, and a world scholar uprooted from his Luo home base to chase scientific dreams abroad. But fifteen novels and two Epic Poems (RATENG’ AND BRIDE and THIRTEEN CURSES ON MOTHER AFRICA) later, I find myself increasingly speaking for the burdened and voiceless peoples wherever they are in the world:
I speak for the African women and widows (in THE THIRTEENTH WIDOW, SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, THE MILAYI CURSE, WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART, and REBELS) whose perilous yokes are the marital culture and practices whose original intentions were novel, and protective (as in WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART, REBELS and THE MILAYI CURSE), but which cultural practices turned spiritual death traps, from which they have struggled to escape.
I have found a mournful political voice in two of my works: In RATENG’ AND BRIDE, I visit with and relive, in poetry, Kenya’s tragic 2007 Presidential contest, pointing at errors from which the nation hasn’t recovered). In the epic poem, THIRTEEN CURSES ON MOTHER AFRICA, I mourn increasingly dependent Africa, which has become an old shadow of its pre-colonial self. Africa is inundated with perilous crises, a lot of which are due to amnesia, nature, poor leadership choices, greed, dictatorships, and brother-on-brother conflicts, with Ebony (the African Woman) and her children bearing the brunt of the deadly forces.
In THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER–a novel inspired by and about the Obama Presidency–I endeavor to make a tortuous historical-cum-spiritual fictional march of my Luo people from their slow fifteenth-century times in Old Sudan to East Africa, only for one of us to occupy the world’s only citadel of power. If some of my predictions came to pass, they must be taken as illustrations of what thoughtful fiction (science or literary or otherwise) can achieve.
Collectively, in the novels, THE WISE ONE OF RAMOGILAND, THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER, and BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY), I shed a sage’s torch, liberally illuminating various aspects of the Luo journey, Luo cultural practices, Luo spirituality, Luo politics, and Luo thought. No wonder, my literary breakthrough novel BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY) has been a classroom text in African Anthropology and thought in universities.
Finally, the novels, NOT ON MY SKIN, THE AMERICAN POLYGAMIST, SINS OF OUR HEARTS, THE CHOIRMASTER (A SPIRITUAL TRAGEDY), and MAYA, I explore our day’s very dynamic American experience, consciousness, and attitudes at street level, inside houses of worship, and at the workplace, through the eyes of diaspora wanderer.
My readers are right, my literary journey no longer is recreational; like aged wine, it has come of age, to quote sages gone before us. Welcome, sample it, and however it tastes, let others know, and holler here on amazon.