Against all odds, my book, currently titled, Choosing Hope: 1 Woman, 3 Cancers., will be published in the spring of 2020 under the banner of Mawenzi House Publishers Ltd. Woot, Woot!, Whoop, Whoop!
I signed the contract with Mawenzi House Publishers Ltd. on August 19th (which by happenstance also marks my 33rd anniversary of being a Canadian citizen). Starting October 2019, I will be working with the esteemed MG Vassanji, a two-time winner of the Giller Prize, who will edit the book for publication. I am giddy with the thought of learning from the very best and getting the book out into the world. MG has warned me that he is a “tough editor.” I told him I was equal to it. I am going to be a published author! For real.
But let me start from the beginning. The very beginning.
When I was a little girl, about 5, I would pretend that I was an author and had written a book. I would gather all my dolls in our home in Moshi, Tanzania and read my pretend books to them, always ending with “story written by Munira Kurji” (my maiden name). Sometimes the stories were about princes and princesses, and castles, and other times, about real-life things that I found extraordinary, like how to make macaroons.
The idea of writing a book resurfaced after I created this blog (https://www.i-will-survive.org) in March 2012, shortly after being diagnosed with two cancers. The blog started simply as a venue where I could pour out my thoughts and share my stories of life on the cancer journey – the good and not-so-good parts. It meant showing myself to others without holding back for fear of rejection and judgement. This blog challenged me to share the deepest parts of myself.
Over time, the readership of the blog grew to some 200,000 hits from people in 80 countries, and became more than just my own personal “journal”. I made new friends and reconnected with old ones whom I had not seen in decades. In the early days, when I spent so much time in the hospital and was too sick to go out, the blog became my salvation, my way to be part of the rhythm of life.
There were times when I didn’t have much to say, or didn’t feel like writing. I started to get phone calls and emails from people asking if I was okay. Many worried that the absence of a blog post meant my life had come to an abrupt end. Then a few friends suggested I write a book, and in the spirit of living fearlessly, I decided to formally make it a “bucket list” item.
I knew I could not embark on this project alone so I called Sabrina to ask for help. Sabrina said that this was my story and that I needed to do the hard work and write the first draft. She encouraged me to take a year to do this, which I found a terrifying prospect. She offered to provide support, brainstorm ideas, be a cheerleader; anything I needed. It took me two years to write the first draft of the book.
I shared it with Nagib, Shayne and Sabrina. The feedback was luke-warm. Shayne offered me 8 single-spaced pages of brutal feedback. He said that the book had the potential of being great, but it fell short. I converted his 8 pages into a project plan and took a full year to rewrite the book following his suggestions. Sabrina worked closely with me during this time. We would set up meetings on weekends – she in Nairobi, me in Toronto – and go each page in detail. Each time I rewrote a chapter, I sent it to Sabrina. Sabrina asked me tough questions, challenged my thinking, jogged my memory and made me re-live the difficult parts. This was a difficult process for the both of us as it forced us to go to dark places we thought we had left behind. Sometimes Sabrina would reframe the narrative, sometimes she would add a paragraph or a phrase or a twist and a few times she would ask me to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the chapter. With each revision, she breathed life into my story. We finally finished the book in June 2019 and we knew that we had something special in our hands. Something we wanted to see published.
That’s where Mawenzi House came in. I submitted the new and improved version of the book to Mawenzi House in June 2019, a publishing company recommended by my friend, Shairose Popatia. I was not expecting to hear back from them for 6 months, as is customary with most publishing houses. Within weeks I was astounded to hear back from the publisher at Mawenzi, Nurjehan Aziz, saying that they had read the book and that she and her husband, MG Vassanji, wanted to meet us. Nagib came home early from work to pick me up so we could meet them together. I think I changed my outfit at least 3 times, so that I could look and feel my best. I was equal part confident, equal part a nervous wreck. They said that my book was an inspirational memoir and it was a story that needed to be shared with the world. I heard Nagib take a gasp, while I almost passed out!
This news could not have come at a better time. It has diverted my attention from the cancer and focused my attention on fulfilling a life-long dream. It has created an excitement in our family that is palpable. It is giving me the momentum to want to get better quickly to give birth to this book in the spring of 2020. Can you believe it? Munira Premji, Author.