- He was later transferred to the Curriculum Development Centre (later Kenya Institute of Education) before ending up at the Government Chemist’s in 1964.
“I don’t really want to talk about literature.” That is how one of Kenya’s oldest surviving popular writers answered us when we approached him for an interview this week.
Nicholas Muraguri, aka Mwangi Ruheni, an extremely private and reticent man who is averse to giving interviews, has left an indelible mark on Kenya’s literary scene. His novels, The Minister’s Daughter (1975) and Future Leaders, were received with huge acclaim, making it to the coveted African Writers Series.
“Those are things that happened a long time ago, and at any rate my last published title that appeared three or four years ago had nothing to do with fiction,” he added before hanging up.
Why would a man who so captured and enthralled young readers across many generations be so disillusioned and disinterested?
Yet this disillusionment is apparent in some of his non-fictional works, particularly Random Thoughts Book 1, a rather voluminous collection of his musings over the years published in 1995.
That was the same year when he finally revealed, during an interview with this writer, that he was the man behind the pen-name ‘Mwangi Ruheni,’ under which he had for years published an impressive collection of titles mostly during the 1970s.
Incidentally, The Future Leaders, the 224-page novel published in 1973, entered the African Writers Series long before Meja Mwangi’s Kill Me Quick and Carcase for Hounds, as well as Secret Lives, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s collection of short stories.
To further illustrate his early prominence on the Kenyan literary map, Muraguri’s seminal title and its follower, The Minister’s Daughter (1975) also preceded Ngugi’s Petals of Blood, Devil on the Cross, Detained and Ngahika Ndeenda in the famous series. Both titles were also far ahead of Rebeka Njau’s Ripples in the Pool and Meja Mwangi’s Going Down River Road.
The amazing thing about Muraguri’s fictional works is that, like his compatriot Meja Mwangi, he wrote them enthusiastically despite being a professional scientist with no serious literary background, and his books were never hits in serious academic circles.
Still in print
It is on the popular front that he ruled the roost, with his titles doing remarkably well on the market, which explains why, according to his publishers, many of them are still in print decades after their first publication.
The two novels published in the African Writers Series aside, Muraguri had also in the course of time published other titles that were no less popular.
Still in print today, they included such titles as What a Life! (1972) and What a Husband! Both published by Longman, the two titles were followed in 1973 by In Search of their Parents, a children’s book that dealt with the vagaries of urban life, including crime.
That title was followed in quick succession by The Mystery Smugglers (1975) and The Love Root (1976), both fast-paced sizzlers published by the then Heinemann Kenya under their popular Spear Books easy reading series.
Having first become an author in the early 1970s when aged around 40, Muraguri had his heydays as a writer upto mid-1970s. Then he had a lengthy hiatus until 1995, when he produced the self-published Random Thoughts, which he intended to follow up with a second volume after three or four years.
“Self-publishing was expensive, yes, but after dealing for many years with commercial publishers, I decided to go into it,” he said in an earlier interview.
Pointedly, he wrote anonymously — courtesy of his senior civil service position — and generally avoided the media.
A scholar, eminent scientist and senior civil servant, Muraguri only revealed his identity as the man behind the Mwangi Ruheni pen-name during an interview with this writer in October 1995, the only interview he ever gave in his creative career.
By then retired from his post as the Chief Government Chemist, in which he had served for 22 years, Muraguri was already in his 60s and had avowedly hung up his creative writing tools. Clearly, he was no longer prepared to deal with publishers, who he considered fraudulent to a fault.
That was apparently why he had instead decided to go into self-publishing, and had just issued the non-fiction tome titled Random Thoughts, a compilation of his musings over the years.
Today, already in his twilight years, Muraguri can proudly look back at a lengthy writing career during which he left his footprints on the Kenyan writing scene, albeit under a pen-name, whatever critics thought of his decision to produce popular literature.
Tracing his illustrious career, it becomes clear that he was capable of writing more serious stuff.