david nandi odhiambo recognizes black authors George Elliott Clarke and James Baldwin as his mentors, but perhaps he also owes a debt to lower case poet bill bissett. Like bissett, odhiambo [oth-e-ambo] initially rejected capitalization in diss/ed banded nation (Polestar 1998 $16.95), a first novel about a lead singer in a Vancouver jazz ensemble who faces deportation back to Kenya. odhiambo's preference for lower case spelling reflects his resolve to alert the reader to the extent that the English language frequently carries the seeds of colonialism. The novel about singer Benedict Ochieng balances memories of Kenya with depictions of urban life in Vancouver.

Born in Kenya three years after its independence from Britain, Odhiambo was enrolled in one of the first British private schools to integrate with the black community. He later arrived in Winnipeg at twelve and struggled to adjust to a predominantly white environment. "It wasn't till I read James Baldwin's essay The Fire Next Time that I figured out where my future would lie,"; he says. "He appeared to have found a language, steeped in the rhythm of the African American Church, which suggested a direction I wanted to pursue. Trying to find a language which would do justice to a tumble of confusing emotions."; Odhiambo studied writing in Amherst, Massachusetts and moved to Hawaii to complete a Ph.D in English.

Odhiambo's second novel entitled Kiplagat's Chance (Penguin 2003 $24) concerns a 16-year-old Kenyan who immigrates to Vancouver. The protagonist pursues a track scholarship to escape poverty and family strife.

His third novel The Reverend's Apprentice (Arsenal 2008) features a graduate student from a fictional central African nation studying a fictional American city after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.


diss/ed banded nation (Polestar, 1998)
Kiplagat's Chance (Penguin 2003)
The Reverend's Apprentice (Arsenal 2008)

[BCBW 2008] "Fiction" "Afro-Canadian"