Kistrech International Poetry Festival in Kenya is currently the most popular and largest literary event in Africa. Started in 2013, its aim is to bring local and international poets together on one platform every year. It promotes poetry and cultural exchange between local and foreign artists. Spoken-word, rap, song, poetry reading, oral poetry, music instrument-playing, & performances are featured.  Students and upcoming poets, especially those from Africa, get an opportunity to learn from visiting poets. Established poets also get a chance to learn and get raw materials for their poetry writing. Literature students in Kenyan Universities have been advantaged as they get to learn of writers and literary works from other continents that they didn’t know existed. Academic papers on poetry and related genres that are presented alongside the festival activities benefit the post-graduate students.

 Rural Town of Kisii

Held in the small rural town of Kisii in Western Kenya, the event is aimed at providing the visiting poets with an experience they will not forget. The rural town is occupied largely by Abagusii people whose tradition and culture is comprised of oral poetry and dance.  Kisii University, situated in the heart of Kisii town, provides a conducive atmosphere for the festival and enables visiting poets to interact with students and lecturers of literature, culture, history, theatre and music. The event is not only held at Kisii University but is taken to Kenyatta University and University of Nairobi as well.

Support

Kistrech International Poetry festival gets support from art agencies and embassies around the world. These art agencies include Dutch Foundation for Literature who funds Dutch poets.  NORLA (Norwegian Literature Abroad) whofunds Norwegian poets.  Danish Arts Foundation who supports Danish poets. Canada Council for the Arts and Artsnb.ca supports Canadian poets to the festival. Israel Embassy-Nairobi supports the Israeli poets and also gives a ‘small’ support to the festival. Ministry of Education and Culture of Cyprus supports poets from Cyprus. Goethe Institut-Nairobi funds poetsfrom Germany.Kisii Universityin Kenya provides transport and venue. In trouble are the poets from African countries that don’t seem to have any funding for their participation -- any support for them out there?

 A Poetour

The event has become a poetour festival, and thus an annual destination for every poet from around the world.  Foreign poets who participate get an opportunity to go site-seeing. They visit the village and learn how Africans live, share in their indigenous foods and local brew, watch African oral poetry and experience the tradition and culture of the people. Poets also visit Maasai Mara Game Reserve to quench their thirst of the enthusiasm to ever see the Big Five. They also visit Tabaka Soapstone Mine in which they view soapstone carvings and its artistic expression, and buy some to take home assouvenirs. A visit to Lake Victoria and boat-riding is one of those activities that, not only provide an opportunity to sight-see, but also create an interaction space among local and foreign artists. Visits to colleges and Universities in Kenya create space for meeting other poets and upcoming student-artists, and therefore expand the experiences and knowledge of our visiting poets.

Founder

Dr. Christopher Okemwa
The Founder of Kistrech International Poetry Festival is Dr. Christopher Okemwa. He states that he got interested to start the event after he participated in various festivals around the world. In 2013 he invited a handful of poets and had its inaugural edition. It was this time when Okemwa learnt that it was not easy to start and sustain a poetry event. He was utterly discouraged. In this first editionOkemwa spent approximately USD 2, 500, money which belonged to the family. He had to make posters, banners, pay hotel for some poets and pay ground transport during the week-long festival. It was utterly a huge stress and he was headed to giving up. He didn’t know whether to go on holding this event for the second time or to stop altogether. He was confused and undecided. But with the encouragement from his wife, Okemwa decided to hold the event in 2014. Fortunately, this year, Okemwa was lucky: Kisii University came in to provide a bus to ease transport constrain.
In the same year, poets who came were very supportive. All of them paid for their food and accommodation, something that was a great relief toOkemwa. Some even contributed 10 dollars, 20 dollars, 25 dollars, etc towards the event- money Okemwa used to pay for the venue. With transport and hotel expenses covered, and small contributions here and there, Okemwa was encouraged. He only spent USD 1,800 that year to publish a festival magazine. That was still big money from an individual. However, he felt much better than a year before and was ready to give another try the following year. In 2015 another surprise came along: Kisii University came in again, not only to provide transport, but to provide lunch and the venue and to pay for the festival’s magazine. Wow! How could that happen? That was unbelievable. In 2016 the University gave the same support.
In 2017, the Israel embassy came in full force and contacted embassies in Nairobi to give support.  Most of the embassies have responded. However, the festival is still looking for more permanent support/sponsor(s) to finally establish it as an annual event with lasting structures and reliable budgets.



Israel Embassy-Nairobi

We are writing to give our gratitude to the Israel embassy-Nairobi for coming out to support this event. The ambassador, H.E. NOAH GAL GENDLER, and his deputy, H.E.MICHAEL BAROR have made effort to reach out to other embassies in Nairobi to support this event.Let me say that this is a gesture of kindness and generosity, a love for mankind and the spirit of Godliness.