Catherine Foulkrod, the director of the Traveling Foundation, was recently in Kenya looking for local writers to participate in a residency in Italy
Where do you come from?
I’m from Colorado in the United States. For 11 years I lived and worked in New York City as a fact checker for GQ magazine, then as an editor for Random House, as well as independent publisher Tyrant Books. I currently live in Naples, Italy.
How would you describe yourself?
I write short stories that have been widely published in literary journals in the United States. I also write creative non-fiction essays on contemporary art and culture for various magazines, museums and galleries in the US, UK and Europe. Currently, I am finishing my first novel and also working on a book-length non-fiction project.
What brings you to Kenya?
When opportunities arise to expand my experience, I can’t say no. So when Mikhail Iossel, director of the Summer Literary Seminars and professor at Concordia University, invited me to Kenya, I said yes without a second thought. I had never been to East Africa and wanted to experience both the cultural vitality and the natural beauty of Kenya.
I am also a board member of the Giancarlo DiTrapano Foundation for Literature and the Arts in Sezze, Italy, which offers writing residencies for writers and artists, offering time and space to produce new works and expand their community. The nonprofit foundation pays tribute to the late publisher Giancarlo DiTrapano. His publishing house, Tyrant Books, has been called “the vanguard of progressive literature” by The Washington Post. DiTrapano was always on the lookout for new literary talent who challenged ideas of what literature could be. Likewise, I was perhaps hoping to find new voices in the Kenyan literary scene – emerging writers who might be interested in a residency in Italy.
What are your impressions of the Nairobi literary scene?
There’s a refreshing enthusiasm and seriousness to the sometimes jaded New York scene. I felt a real energy of exploration, play and mutual support. I also felt that there is a readership here that is very eager for new work.
What has been your experience of literary retreats?
My Summer Literary Seminar (SLS) in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2019, where I met Iossel, was an inspiring and enriching experience. I worked with a mentor, Dawn Raffel, whose ideas helped me with my novel. Because writing is a solitary sport, finding community is one of the most important things a writer can do. I find that the SLS community has helped my literary training as much as the actual feedback on my novel.
Losssel then said that SLS has run month-long literary seminars over the past 20 years, from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Montreal, Canada, and Kenya, Nairobi and Lamu, working with writers. like Binyavanga Wainaina (now late), Billy Kahora and Martin Kimani, the Kenyan Ambassador to the UN.