Books

The story of the online, pan-African Magunga Bookstore

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Arunga and Williams

Abigail Arunga and Magunga Williams in Nairobi, Kenya.

Credit:

Courtesy of Magunga Williams
 

Magunga Williams grew up in Kisumu, a Kenyan city that’s home to more than 300,000 people but to only two major bookstores.

There, Williams told me recently, “people depend on books that they find in supermarkets.” Most of these books come from the United States and Europe. “These supermarkets do not have a rich African collection,” Williams said. But there was one place where he could always find a wider range of books. It was the personal collection of a local man, whose house became a neighborhood meeting place and an unofficial sort of public library.

“It helped so many of us,” Williams, who is now 25, said. “There are people who used to skip school so that they could go to the library and read comics.”

Eventually, the library in Kisumu closed. Williams moved to Nairobi and began an undergraduate program in law, but he never forgot the way that a house full of books, in a city with too few, became an escape. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Williams said. “The dream has always been to have a library.”

So Williams, while he was in school, started a literary blog, Magunga.com, and when he received his undergraduate degree he decided not to take the necessary final steps to become a lawyer in Kenya. Instead, he made it his mission to create a space like that library — not in a house but on the internet. The result is a fledgling online pan-African bookshop: the Magunga Bookstore.

This excerpt is reprinted with permission. Read the rest of Daniel's story on the New Yorker's website.

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