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Grace Ogot  

J. Roger Kurtz

Grace Emily Akinyi Ogot (1930–2015), a leading Kenyan writer and politician, was a pioneering figure whose professional accomplishments spanned the independence and postindependence eras in East Africa. Until her death at age eighty-four, Ogot was an acclaimed cultural leader within her Luo community, as well as in her nation of Kenya. While she also worked in the fields of nursing and journalism, Ogot is best remembered for her political success, her groundbreaking achievements as an author of short stories and novels, and being chronicler of Luo folk tales. In all areas of her work, Ogot developed a reputation as a prominent advocate for women’s concerns. As an author, Ogot belongs to the first generation of Kenyan writers. This group may be defined as those writers who were born and educated during the colonial period, but whose writing continued into the postcolonial era. She was the first Luo writer and the first Kenyan woman to win international acclaim for her creative writing. Other well-known Luo women writers from Kenya include Asenath Bole Odaga, Margaret Ogola, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. Ogot wrote both in English and in Dholuo, the language of the Luo people. She is best known for her works of realist fiction, her promotion of traditional myth and folklore, and her books for children. She began publishing short stories in East African journals in the 1960s. Her best-known works are her novel The Promised Land (1966) and her short story collection Land without Thunder (1968). These were the first creative works written by a woman to be published by the East African Publishing House, the region’s first locally owned and managed publishing firm. In national politics, Ogot represented her region as a member of parliament, and she served as an assistant minister in the national government. She served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly in 1975 and to UNESCO in 1976. She was married to Bethwell Ogot, a leading Kenyan historian. Together, they represented one of Kenya’s most influential and publicly recognized couples due to their prominent national positions. Through her writing and political activities, especially as she used those activities to promote positive social change for women, Ogot will be remembered as someone whose life both reflected and influenced the social dynamics of 20th-century Kenya.