Dr. Gichora Mwangi, Leading Kenyan Theatre Artist and Mentor of New Work, Dead at 38

Obituaries   Dr. Gichora Mwangi, Leading Kenyan Theatre Artist and Mentor of New Work, Dead at 38 Dr. Gichora Mwangi, an influential force in Kenyan theatre, passed away on Sept. 24. He was 38 years old.

Dr. Mwangi leaves a short, yet inspired, legacy of theatre advocacy in Easy Africa behind him. A leading teacher, actor, playwright, and director, Dr. Mwangi had dedicated his life to the advancement and fostering of the theatrical arts in his native country.

Having studied theatre at the University of Nairobi, Dr. Mwangi went on to receive at PhD from the University of Leeds in England. His thesis, entitled “Oral Literature”, dealt with the fact that most literature in his native Africa, although rich with tradition and heritage, was mostly oral, while at the same time, conforming to accepted notions of written literature. Using this as a basis for future work, Dr. Mwangi set out to harvest the vast oral literature around him and bring it to the stage through both his own writing and by supporting young Kenyan playwrights.

At just 28 years old, Dr. Mwangi contributed text to “The Cambridge Guide to African and Caribbean Theatre”, published in August 1994 by Cambridge University Press. He served as Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Kenya for a short time and in 2001 was named to the same post at the Nairobi Arts Centre. His theatrical work over the years ranged from fresh experimental pieces to established classics of African and European theatre.

As his work began to receive a modest amount of international attention, Dr. Mwangi traveled to the United States several times. He attended the Sundance Institute's Theater Lab in 2002 and 2003 as part of the international observer program. Dr. Mwangi was so highly regarded in the Sundance community that the 2005 Theater Lab will be dedicated to his memory.

In recent years Dr. Mwangi founded the Karamu Trust, what some would call his grandest achievement. The organization, which received a $175,000 grant from the Ford Foundation earlier this year, aims “to support the development of vibrant playwriting in Kenya and East Africa by providing writers with a forum and to help muster any resources that will be of benefit to all writers.” On Oct. 2, members of the Kenyan theatre community joined Dr. Mwangi's family on the grounds of the National Theatre of Kenya to celebrate his life before attending a memorial service at Lang'ata Cemetery, where his body was laid to rest.

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