Meja Mwangi's first novel, Kill Me Quick, was written in 1973. This young adult novel displays Mwangi’s talent for writing lively stories depicting rural youth and societal problems in Kenya. It narrates the experiences of Meja and Maina, two youths who have come to the city with the hope of bettering their lives, confident that their high school diplomas will lead to success. However, they are unable to compete for jobs in the city and, ultimately, they resort to petty theft and crime, and being exploited by employers. Vivian Yenika-Agbaw, in her article ‘Half Education Is Madness!’: Mwangi’s Teenage Characters Battle Poverty in a Post colonial African City,' states that the novel shows the failure of the educational curriculum in post colonial Africa. She writes that it is 'a typical story of a dream deferred because each pays the price of daring to hope for a better life' (15). Kill Me Quick was also made into a stage play.
Mwangi’s keen eye for the drama and humor in everyday rural life in Kenya shines throughout his work. Striving for the Wind, set in the drought years of the 1980s, contrasts a traditional farmer, who is dependent on oxen for plowing, with a wealthy neighbor whose imported tractor is incapacitated during a global petrol crisis. While this novel is suitable for young adults, it does not shy away from some painful realities. It includes the seduction of a young schoolgirl by a rich old man, and when the young girl becomes pregnant, his son says that he will marry her in his father’s place.
Other themes that are common to all his works are the difficulties young educated Kenyans face when trying to return to their rural homes to apply their learning and the impact of corrupt officials on the lives of the poor. The young adult novel The Last Plague, which won Mwangi his third Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 2001, offers a seldom-heard African male perspective on the impact of HIV/AIDS in rural areas. Again, it features a well-educated, well-meaning young man facing many obstacles as he tries to set up his veterinary practice in a small, dying town. Mwangi’s tremendous concern for the poor and disadvantaged—and his prescriptions for how they could really be helped—resonate throughout the novel.
Mwangi continues to be a prolific writer. His latest novel, The Boy Gift, will be released in 2006. Suitable for adults and young adults alike, it is about the confusion caused by the birth of a light-skinned, green-eyed baby in the Bush Hospital. While political aspirations and intrigue surround the birth of the boy, at the emotional and psychological levels the author explores a community’s reaction to the strange and inexplicable
Readers interested in fast-paced stories that impart considerable information on contemporary obstacles to rural development and healthcare are encouraged to continue reading the impressive list of novels published by Meja Mwangi.
After a successful career as a civil servant, the Old Man breaks ranks with the Big Chiefs and is banished to live in poverty in the Pit. In a bitter recollection, he reveals how the Big Chiefs set their subjects against one another in order to weaken and control them. Now, like the Old Man who made it to the top, romanced with power and came tumbling down into the Pit, the Boy and his generation are after the power that the Big Chiefs deem as theirs and theirs alone.
In this adaptation of Meja Mwangi’s apocalyptic novel, The Big Chiefs, the author has crafted a play that is just as inspiring. THE READER.