Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor


Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor is a Kenya-born prizewinning author. Her most recent work, Dust, won the Jomo Kenyatta Prize, Kenya’s most prestigious literary prize, and was shortlisted for the Folio Prize. Owuor also won the Caine Prize in 2003 for her short story, “Weight of Whispers.” Her travel and landscape writing focuses on the African continent and highlights its liminal spaces, people, and experiences. In 2010, along with eleven other writers from Africa, she participated in the Chinua Achebe Center’s “Pilgrimages” project and went to Kinshasa. Owuor graduated Kenyatta University and holds an MPhil in Creative Writing from the University of Queensland, Australia. She lives in Nairobi, Kenya.

Three years ago I heard the story of certain earth birds. It was murmured to me by a lean, lined elder draped in a red shuka. His more than two hundred cows seeking pasture in a dry Kenya spring season browsed close to him. It was an October that was as this October 2016, when the short rains have failed and the land is golden and red stained with dust, an elegiac beauty. Passing by, as passers-by can still do in a land such as ours, we paused to greet each other. And then we stood in silence, the wind in our soul. A Ngong Hills’ sunset is the substance for poets and a site of contemplation for mystics.

The birds.

A moving cloud weaving this way and that, a grayish sky accordion, like a song set free. On any other day this would have been a reason to rhapsodize.

Except the elder’s gaze is bleak.

They are beautiful, I say, trying for shared delight.

He answers. They are lost. He indicates westward. Someone has cut their trees. For a road. He gestures. That was a forest . . . over there.


Some of my favorite people on earth are in this book,
Dear writers and grand spirits.

Annie Dillard