Michael is the fourth author in our launch collection. His lyric poem is an expansive exploration for the human experience, focusing on the nature of time and it’s impact on the way we relate to one another. In this interview, Michael talks about he works with characters and imagery in his work, as well as his optimism about how technology is creating opportunities for creative collaboration across the Diaspora.
THE JELI: Tell us about yourself (educational background, work background, where you’re from, etc.)
MICHAEL ONSANDO: I am a Nairobi based writer. My first chapbook Something Quite Unlike Myself is available on Amazon. I have worked on several projects spanning TV shows and publications, most notably The New Inquiry and The East African.
THE JELI: When did you start writing?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: As most writers I have been writing since I could remember. I have, however, been writing professionally since 2008. I started off with a small poetry blog where I’d post my poems while I was working on storylining a tv show called Mali.
THE JELI: When did you begin writing this story/these poems? How did you come with the idea?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: I began writing this series in June 2015. The initial draft took a few weeks after which I let it breathe then edited for the next couple of months. The idea itself came to me while I was thinking about what time means as a resource. And the many ways in which time bends and changes to fit itself into our lives.
THE JELI: Where & how do you write? Do you have a particular writing spot, a writing buddy or any writing rituals?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: I write at my writing desk in my house (which is also my general workstation). I make sure to have a drink by (usually coffee or lemon tea). Other than that I have no real rituals. I just sit down and get to it.
THE JELI: How do you create your characters?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: I often take traits of people I know and amplify them or tear them apart. I basically start with “what do we know” and move towards “how would what we know look like if we completely changed it?”
THE JELI: What did you enjoy most about writing this story/these poems?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: I really enjoyed bringing the images together. The hardest part of writing this type of poetry for me is keeping the line of thought that I intend to explore. It is very easy to find myself getting lost in the sideshows.
THE JELI: Apart from this story/these poems, what other things have you written recently?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: I’ve been working on several other similar poems. Currently working with a designer to get another designed in a heavily visual way. The idea is to have a series of long poems that explore different topics. Hopefully in a way that provides insight.
THE JELI: What are your ambitions as a writer?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: I’d like to be able to help people think differently. Or at least see whatever situation that they are in, in a different light. As long as I am offering perspective, I’m doing my job.
THE JELI: What are your thoughts about the writing publishing scene in your country?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: The publishing scene in Kenya is growing steadily. There is much work yet to be done though. There are no poetry presses in the country, for example. This is something I’d like to change. There are also only two really serious literary publishers in the country which really limits the access that many people have to a reading culture. This is the work though, and these are the things we are trying to change. Small victories remind us that we are on the way. A new online bookshop that sells book by African writers, for example. Or better attendance at literary festivals. It’s a journey, we’re making it?
THE JELI: What are your thoughts about the writing publishing scene in your Africa and the Diaspora?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: I like what the internet is doing. Writers are talking to each other and helping each other produce work. I’m really hoping to see some interesting collaborative work from writers across the continent over the next few years. This is already actively happening with publishing collectives such as Jalada and young festivals like Writivism taking the continent by storm. It’s an interesting time to watch publishing unfold.
THE JELI: Who is your favourite writer?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: This is a tricky one. I’m currently re reading Teju Cole’s Open City and can’t get over how his prose unfolds in the book. I also really like Anyidoho’s poetry and Shailja Patel’s work. (and I realise I could make this list for a long time).
THE JELI: What is your favourite piece of fiction?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: Allah is not obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma
THE JELI: What are your biggest creative aspirations?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: I’d like to write and put to stage a musical theatre production that incorporates elements of slam poetry. And, whatever else comes up along the way.
THE JELI: What are your biggest creative challenges?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: It’s really annoying when characters just refuse to reveal themselves to you. Like, I could be working on something and the characters just refuse to develop for weeks, even months. That can be very frustrating.
THE JELI: What else have you got coming up that you would like people to know about?
MICHAEL ONSANDO: Currently working on a chapbook on music and the art of creating music called Forever. Really excited to get it out.