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Melea G'Rina

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About a Writing Life
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Simmon Mwangi: Mediator and Motivator
By Melea G'Rina   
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Last edited: Thursday, September 23, 2004
Posted: Monday, August 16, 2004

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Excerpts from my interview with Simmon Mwangi. The entire interview, including two of Simmon’s poems—“Whether or Not” and “I Could Be That Roach”--appears in Breathing the Same Air: An East Tennessee Anthology, Copyright © 2001 by Celtic Cat Publishing

Simmon Mwangi is a native of Kenya who began writing poetry at an early age for the theater.  Many of his poems won awards in his native country, and he is currently working on a manuscript for a five-part series of newspaper articles.  He moved to Knoxville three years ago to attend the University of Tennessee where he is pursuing a degree in public affairs. 

 

When he’s not in class, Simmon works at the Olive Garden restaurant and in the human resources office for the University of Tennessee Dining Services where he authors an employee newsletter.  When he graduates, Simmon hopes to work for the United Nations, preferably in the human resources area.

 

… Simmon Mwangi realized for the first time in his life as he glanced at the crowd milling around the baggage claim area of Knoxville’s McGhee-Tyson Airport that he was a black man.  Yet it was hard to believe that this confident young man who laughed and waved after visiting with friends on the steps of the Golden Roast coffee shop just a few minutes before my interview with him was that shy person one night three years ago.  Simmon addresses the issue of skin color in his poem “Whether or Not”…

 

How long have you been writing, and how do you characterize yourself as a writer?

 

Actually, I’ve been writing for a very long time.  I started when I was maybe twelve or thirteen back in Kenya—just stories and short lines or quotes.  I performed in a theater group in Kenya, although I’m not a part of it anymore.  I was asked to write their poetry…

 

The way I see myself right now, from a human relations point of view, is being able to deal with people or to be given a problem or a project to work on.  I have thought about being a writer or journalist…

 

…I’ve been thinking of working for the United Nations.  When I think about the United Nations, I see myself as a solution seeker or a mediator or peace seeker.  I’m somebody who tries to reconcile two warring factions or groups.  I’m telling myself I’ll take my time and see how things go out.

 

Some writers use their talent as an outlet for social statement.  Do you see yourself in that role?

 

Well, basically in human resources, the way I see myself or the way of expressing myself either in works or in writing is gearing the employees toward their own goals or to enable them to see achievements in their lives.  I write a column called “Simmon Says.”  

 

… Several people have come up to me and said, “You know what, you wrote basically what I am feeling.  That is exactly what happened to me.  That is exactly how I feel.”

 

Does thinking about solving problems at the societal or even international level motivate you to write?

 

… When I write I just write about things that directly affect me or directly affect someone else.  … For instance, about a year after I arrived in Knoxville, I wrote a poem about my first apartment.  When I first came to my apartment, I saw a roach.  I thought about how they felt so free.  They go anywhere without any barriers…  So I just sat down and wrote about it one day.



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