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Marjorie Oludhe
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye: Kenyan Poet, Novelist, and Missionary Bookseller

Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye: Kenyan Poet, Novelist, and Missionary Bookseller

Marjorie was a Kenyan poet and author who wrote novels, short stories, poems, and essays for children. She moved from her home in the UK to pursue the noble work of teaching Africans literacy and was able to champion women’s rights, rebuke social ills and reduce the stigma on people living with HIV/AIDS.

Through her writing, Marjorie reminds us of the power we possess as women and encourages us to use our voice to positively impact the world. Whether it’s through her articles or her popular books, Marjorie continues to be an inspiration to women everywhere with her writing.

Early Life

Marjorie was born on the 21st of October 1928 in Southampton, United Kingdom. Her father worked as an apprentice at a shipyard while her mother was a teacher. Marjorie was an only child. In

1945, she finished her secondary education at the Royal Holloway College, University of London. She had studied English in college, and soon after finishing, she started working at the Foyles bookshop in London. She later received her Master’s in English from Birkbeck College, University of London, eight years later.

Career and Marriage

In 1954, after landing a job running a bookshop for the Church Missionary Society (CMS), Marjorie moved to Kenya to start her missionary work. This was during the time Kenya was going through political conflict and was trying to get its independence from its colonial masters, the British.

Marjorie started getting involved in literacy projects for Africans. She would give out Christian literature to female prisoners at the Remand prison in Nairobi. There she would meet her soon-to-be husband, Daniel Oludhe Macgoye, a medical officer who worked at the prison.

They got married in 1960 moved, and settled near the Kenya-Uganda border. They had four children, Phyllis, George, Francis & Lawrence.

Marjorie would go on to teach in Kisumu – a major city in Kenya. She began to learn her husband’s mother language, Luo. This made her understand the traditions, culture, and history of the Luo people. She became a Kenyan citizen in 1964 after living in the country for 10 years. In 1971, she and her children moved to Tanzania after she landed a job running a university library in Tanzania, leaving her husband behind.

She conducted many literary readings and workshops for many Kenyan and East African writers. She decided to focus on writing entirely in 1983 and participated in national debates to speak against social ills and women’s rights.

Activism & Notable Works

Marjorie wrote lots of literary works during her time in Kenya. Her works were about the many problems faced by Kenyans, the fight for independence, women redefining gender roles, and the truth about the causes, spread, and prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS, among many other social issues faced by Kenyans at the time.

In her notable novels, Victoria and Murder in Majengo, Marjorie reconstruct the image of the women played in her novels by assigning them attributes like courage, strength, and resilience. In any patriarchal society, these qualities would otherwise be assigned to men.

The women in her novels also take on masculine roles like being the sole financial provider for their family and leaving marriages when the marriages no longer offer love and respect.

In another novel, Coming to Birth, the protagonist, Paulina redefines traditional gender roles by receiving an education and building her career. Paulina was able to earn an education and work her way up and finally achieve financial independence.

Marjorie has represented the voice of the oppressed woman in her work and has helped address societal power and authority imbalance. She has also addressed the issue of child labor, a rampant issue in African society.

In her church, Marjorie was able to provide refuge to those individuals seen as outcasts and unwanted. These included people with mental illness, HIV/AIDS victims, sex workers, abandoned children, and victims of abuse.

Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye died on 1st December 2015 in her home in Nairobi.

Achievements

Marjorie is celebrated as the ‘mother of Kenyan Literature’. She was internationally recognized for her novel, Coming to Birth which won the Sinclair Prize for a novel of social and political significance. The novel has been incorporated into the Kenyan school curriculum.

From writing about love and relationships to tackling tough issues like feminism, Marjorie’s writing has inspired countless women around the world. In her writing, she fearlessly shares her own experiences and perspective, offering relatable and empowering insights for her readers. She delves deep into difficult subjects, encouraging women to find their own strength and speak their truths. It is easy to see why Marjorie is an inspiration to women everywhere, and also why we chose her as today’s Smart Girl.

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Hannah

Hannah

Founder, Smart Girl, Survivor, Champion of womens rights and kids rights

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