K-State First Book author shares inspiration for ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’

William Kamkwamba, author of K-State First Book "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind," shared the story behind his book Tuesday night through Zoom.

Kansas State staff and students welcomed William Kamkwamba, author of this year’s K-State First Book “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” for a virtual lecture Wednesday night.

Kamkwamba was introduced by Tara Coleman, associate professor and K-State web services librarian.

“When the pandemic started, I was sad we wouldn’t be able to meet the author,” Coleman said. “While doing everything virtually isn’t ideal, I’m really glad we have the opportunity to hear him tell his story and get an update on his life.”

Kamkwamba shared his backstory, from growing up in a farming village all the way to becoming a globally recognized author.

There was a point in Kamkwamba’s life when his parents, who were farmers, weren’t able to afford his schooling because a drought killed their crops. Rather than giving up, he went the extra mile to stay ahead of his education.

“I didn’t want to become a farmer like my father,” Kamkwamba said. “[The people from my village] are not farmers by choice, but because of the circumstances they are in. That life was very difficult for me to imagine myself in.”

To stay on the right track, he would ask his friends what they learned at school each day and try to solve the homework by himself, later comparing the graded assignments with his.

After realizing he was interested in science, he decided he wanted to create a windmill that pumped water to help the farmers in his village. He was soon able to go back to school in Malawi to build solar panels and build windmills with students as a learning lesson.

“The idea was to teach others how to build [the windmills] too. They can take care of the windmills when I’m gone,” Kamkwamba said.

Kamkwamba said he wanted readers to know you don’t have to start too big to make an impact in your community.

“I was hoping people who are going through the same situation that I went through, or even a completely different challenge that they are facing, that they are going to be able to learn from my book,” he said.

Faculty shared the impact Kamkwamba’s story had on them, as well as their students.

“’The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’ is an inspiring tale from which we can all learn,” Jeannie Brown Leonard, vice provost for student success, said.

Gregory Eiselein, professor of English, taught ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” in his first-year seminar this month.

“After talking about it with my students, I was impressed with how much the book resonated with them and with our own moment,” Eiselein said. “They saw it as a book about how great things can emerge from hard times and adversity, for those with a vision and a desire to make life better for their community.”