English doctoral candidate works to dispel Eurocentric misconceptions of Africa

Doctoral candidate Daphne Chemutai Kiplagat draws her inspiration for and love of storytelling from her family. PHOTO CREDIT: Daphne Chemutai Kiplagat

Traveling and writing are constant occurrences in University of Rhode Island teaching assistant Daphne Chemutai Kiplagat’s life as she dives into different perspectives of African culture through storytelling.

“The obvious stories that you deliver on Africa, it’s fixed in some time in place,” Chemutai said. “It’s a lot of places that are in poverty. So things like that, I deconstruct and to show other stories about Africa and their point of views and things like that.”

Chemutai is originally from Nairobi, Kenya and found her inspiration for storytelling in her family. Although she grew up in the city, she would often visit her extended family and they would tell her stories about their past.

With her high school education and a drive for writing under her belt, Chemutai set off to the United States to further her education.

At 19 years old, she attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts as an undergraduate. After that, she went for her Masters of Fine Arts at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Now, she is working on getting her doctorate at the University of Rhode Island.

The English department is what initially drew Chemutai to URI. The fully-funded programs offered her the financial support to solidify her decision, and the environment here at the university also helped her feel comfortable.

“I felt like it was right. It is very fast-paced and a lot of learning going on, but there’s a lot of faculty support and faculty check-up all the time,” Chemutai said. “It’s been great and really intellectually exciting.”

Chemutai resides in Providence with her partner, who attends Brown University.

As of right now, Chemutai is working on a project that focuses on a collection of short stories about being Black in America and issues such as domestic violence.

With real-life experiences and stories heard from relatives influencing her pieces, Chemutai chose to convey these issues and the Eurocentric misconceptions of African culture through her fictional stories. 

“I specialize in fiction, so like some parts I change the story,” Chemutai said. “For example, in my tribe, it was always ruled by men. It’s a very patriarchal tribe. But then in my stories, you’ll find that it’s a woman to add a new perspective and challenge beliefs.”

Chemutai’s work has already made an impact on someone she met during her graduate years at FAU. From colleagues to close friends, Aiden Baker believes Chemutai’s work is worth reading. 

“It is so exciting to read her stories, to fall into her voice,” Baker said. “The way she writes about Kenya shows how deep her love is for her home. The way she is writing the past into the present is important work, ambitious, and so exciting.”

With four years left at URI, Chemutai plans to pursue teaching as her full-time job in the future. Along with all of her projects and working towards her Ph.D., Chemutai teaches full-time here at URI. 

Currently, Chemutai is teaching two sections of ENG 243: The Short Story: Transnational Stories, Global Voices, which allows her to get some experience. 

“That’s the future plan, books and teaching,” Chemutai said. “Also, for teaching, I would love to switch between countries.”

Chemutai has high hopes in furthering her teaching career and sharing her knowledge with others around the world. She also mentions ideas for doing creative writing workshops in her home country. 

Her journey has been unique, and Chemutai is looking forward to continuing her career in writing and teaching, both of which are enormous passions in her life.