The excitement that comes with the folding of the year (2013) and the unfolding of the new one (2014), has not spared Uganda’s literature fraternity either. The writers’ major resolution is to release more books in this year and continue to grow the industry to high standards.
The death of literary guru Chinua Achebe in March 2013 was seen as the coming down of the curtain on the old-school writers, whose works have dominated the industry for decades, and the beginning of the real shining of a new generation of African writers whose works are enjoying rave reviews worldwide.
Setting the pace
Setting the pace is Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie, 35, whose newest book, Americanah, is a must-read in 2014. When Adichie released Half of a Yellow Sun after her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, she was described by Chinua Achebe as “A new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers.” No doubt her star will continue to twinkle this year.
In my opinion, however, NoViolet Balawayo of Zimbabwe is better than Adichie, and if you haven’t read any of her works, you must do so this year. If you are looking for one African novel to read this year, I recommend We Need New Names, which made the 2013 Man Booker Prize shortlist, making Balawayo the first black African woman and Zimbabwean to make it there.
For the non-fiction lovers, you must not miss The Hero Within, the autobiography of Dr Jane Kengeya Kayondo. Released in November last year, this is a brutally honest odyssey of her life from poverty to becoming the first Ugandan woman epidemiologist, and the first to study Aviation Medicine. The autobiography also inadvertently serves as a commentary on Uganda’s politics, especially in the 1970s. A must-read, I tell you.
Last year saw the launch of Writivism, an initiative aimed at spotting and nurturing new writing talent. The participants were taken through mentoring process and wrote short stories, which were published in the local press. The finest of those have been anthologised as Picture Frames and Other Stories. The initiative is continuing from where it stopped, and this time is involving the rest of Africa.
According to Brian Bwesigye, the brain behind the programme, they have already received 120 applications from emerging writers across the continent. Ten training workshops will be held; two in each of the countries of Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and South Africa. It is in these workshops that the emerging writers will be paired with writing mentors and a short-story prize will be introduced. Such initiatives are timely in positioning the emerging African writer to relay the African story with experimentalism never before imagined.
Fermrite at it
The Uganda Female Writers Association (Femrite) also continues in pushing the woman writer into the arena of excellence. Just last year, Femrite launched African Violet and Other Stories, an anthology of 15 stories, including the five short-listed for the 2012 Caine Prize at an event in Kampala attended by the 2012 Caine Prize winner, Rotimi Babatunde. This is an anthology worth reading for its exceptional variety, including Babatunde’s hilarious hit, Bombay’s Republic, and Beatrice Lamwaka’s Pillar of Love.
Uganda’s literary industry, though still held back by low participation in local prizes, and blinded by the search for western/outside approval by the writers themselves, will perform way better this year than it did in 2013.