Tuesday May 17 2011

As women excel, where are the male writers?

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

The news of Ugandan writer Beatrice Lamwaka getting short-listed for the 2011 Caine Prize for African writing has generated excitement on social networking sites with more women lavishing praise on her for making women proud, and others boldly prophesying that she’ll on July 11 step into the shoes of Sierra Leone’s Olufemi Terry who scooped the prestigious award last year.

Of the five writers on the shortlist, three are women. Lamwaka’s achievement has resurrected the long silent debate about the whereabouts of Ugandan male writers who used to rule our literary landscape years ago.

In the recent past, Ugandan women are writing more and winning all the international literary awards while their male counterparts are disturbingly silent.
Last year, Ugandan playwright and thespian Deborah Asiimwe won the BBC African Performance Playwriting Competition. Her victory left Ugandan men grappling with envy seeing how the judge of the competition –Africa’s first Nobel laureate in literature Wole Soyinka –doled out praises upon Asiimwe’s quality of writing, which he said had left him enthralled. But Asiimwe is just one out of a string of indigenous female writers that have won literary accolades of global stature.

When Doreen Baingana’s Tropical Fish scooped the 2006 Commonwealth first book prize for Africa region, she was following in the footsteps of a hitherto unknown midwife from Wakiso District, Glaydah Namukasa who a year before, had amazed the literary world by winning the Senior Category of the Macmillan Writers’ Prize for Africa with her novel, Voice of A Dream. Ms Namukasa, now writing her third novel, is a recent beneficiary of the International Writing Programme at the University of Iowa, and is in the US, agreeing terms with a literary agent.

In 2007, Monica Arac de Nyeko unwittingly intensified male pressure by winning the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing with her short story Jambula Tree. Her stupendous achievement was symbolic of the ladies discovering their muse to unstoppable proportions! It was her victory that ignited the online debate among literary enthusiasts as to who was/is writing more and better among Ugandan sexes.
I can zealously vouch for the Ugandan male writer by citing Taddeo Bwambale’s Die, Dear Tofa, which won the 2008 Commonwealth Short Story Competition Africa Region, plus Kenneth Bashir Atwine’s Kitu Kidogo which tied with Julia Child’s Coffin Factory for second position in last year’s African BBC playwriting contest but that pales compared to the international recognition our women writers have basked in for more than a decade today.

Recently, UK-based erbacce press published a collection of poetry by Beverly Nambozo Nsengiyunva, and further recognised her quality of writing and contribution to the poetry genre by awarding her a scholarship to master in Creative Writing. This is the lady who initiated the annual BN Poetry Awards in 2008 to propel poetry by Ugandan women writers to greater heights.

The Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite), which continues to hold its annual week of literary activities, takes the plaudits for giving our creative women the motivation and self-belief. When it was founded in 2005, hardly any female voice could be heard in the neighbourhood. Today, it not only runs a weekly readers and writers club on Monday evenings, but the other active Book Club is also run by the very Lamwaka who’s lined up for the 2001 Caine Prize.

The grapevine has it that a group of male writers have stirred from their laurels to form their own “Men-rite” to show Ugandan women writers the “write” thing in a literary battle that is bound to enrich Ugandan literature like never before. But until the world begins to see the results of that group, we men have to doff our hats for the women and accept, however grudgingly, that they are on top!