Wendy Njoroge (L) and Muthoni Muiruri (R) – photo courtesy of SomaNami Books

Soma Nami Books was founded by Wendy Njoroge and Muthoni Muiruri in 2021 after meeting at book clubs and other literary events. The two found common ground both in literary tastes and in not being able to find the books they wanted to read in Nairobi.

The books that they were searching for were contemporary, pan-African, mostly female authored titles. That diversity didn’t exist in the book shops of Nairobi.  To solve the problem they took matters into their own hands and created Soma Nami Books, an intentionally curated book space. Soma Nami is Swahili for “read with me,” which is what Wendy and Muthoni are inviting the community of readers to do, to connect while they explore the diverse range of books from the continent and the diaspora that are on offer.

Originally launched in January 2021 as an online bookshop, by August of the same year it became clear that there was space for a physical shop. As well as the online shop, the two had been travelling to various pop-up markets to sell their wares. Doing these markets, they realized how important and pleasurable the in-person interaction between book seller and customer is. As Wendy said, the connection with readers was really beautiful and she and Muthoni realised they could do this every day. They relished having in-person chats about books, readers’ tastes and making recommendations. The idea for a physical shop began germinating.

photo courtesy of SomaNami Books

Soma Nami can be found at Greenhouse Mall in Ngong Rd., tucked away down a corridor, beside a photocopy shop. At first glace, it seems small, but that belies the number of excellent titles found within. You are always warmly greeted when you enter the ground floor shop, which appears like any bookshop, with shelves of books and a till. As you make your way upstairs you realise what a magical treasure trove this shop is. Colourful portraits of notable African authors line the staircase wall. Beautiful mid-century modern style furniture upholstered in gorgeous African print fabrics, invite you to sit and browse your choices from the surrounding bookshelves. Upon inspection, you realise the extensive span of the titles, and how many exciting new-to-you books there are on the shelves, with stock being constantly updated.

Pan-African female voices in fiction is still predominantly the vision of the shop. They also took a very deliberate decision of centering as Africans, and highlighting that African experiences and ideas are not marginal. However, some other international authors can also be found on the shelves..

Wendy says that they learned it is important to also follow what readers respond to. For example, a surprisingly strong growth has been Caribbean fiction, both female and male writers. What has surprised Nairobi readers is how relatable the topics are; that they feel like Kenyan stories, covering similar issues.

Genre is not limited to literary fiction and runs the gamut across non-fiction subjects such as politics, feminism, self-help, biography and history. On the fiction side, you’ll find fantasy as well as classics. There’s even an afro-centric children’s section.

photo courtesy of SomaNami Books

This cozy salon also serves as the location for the monthly Book Clubs that Soma Nami runs, circling the African continent through reading. When they founded the shop, Wendy and Muthoni knew they wanted it to be a social hub as well as a retail point. They wanted to connect even more with the book-loving community that they know exists in Nairobi. This space also serves for author events: book readings, signings, poetry nights or trivia nights all may happen here.

Wendy and Muthoni continually push the boundaries of Soma Nami, championing African literature and community, cultivating the pan-African spirit. In 2022, they announced yet another new initiative: The African Book Fair, last year held at Macmillan Library and presenting thousands of African books for sale, as well as a series of events in partnership with Storymoja and Book Bunk. This year’s edition will be held August 6-11th and Soma Nami hopes to bring in authors and publishers from across Africa.

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Further to their initiative to promote pan-African literature they have also launched Soma Nami Press, to address the challenges of acquiring African titles. Their first project will be an anthology of Kenyan writers, definitely something to look out for.  Exctingly for readers, they will bring pan-African works into the country through local publication, making them more affordable in the process.

Photo courtesy of Soma Nami Books

In case you are wondering what these champions of literature are reading right now, Wendy has several books on the go, including Shigidi by Wole Tabadi and Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Dubois and is looking forward to the newly re-published African Writers Series by Heinemann publishing company.

If you don’t have time to physically visit this gem of a shop, Soma Nami, of course, still does delivery.

Soma Nami Books, The Greenhouse Mall, Ngong Rd, Nairobi. info@somanami.co.ke +254 705 548 052 @somanami_ke