The Uganda Female Writers’ Association (Femrite) last week literally sealed and stamped its grip of the writing arena as the most vibrant writers’ umbrella in Uganda, coloured with a cocktail of events, spanning three days of intense activity and bringing to Kampala some of the continent’s noticeable names in the industry. What came out from the literary conversations and congregations in those three days is that Uganda, as Jennifer Makumbi recently told the BBC in an interview, is far from the literary desert it is painted as.
Public reading at National Theatre
In conjunction with African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), on Monday July 28, Femrite staged a three-hour public reading at the National Theatre, featuring Mamle Kabu (Ghana) Yewande Omotoso (South Africa), Dr Susan Kiguli (Uganda) and Melissa Kiguwa (Uganda). Dr Kiguli, Makerere University’s literature department chief, reciting some of her poems in Luganda, stirred murmurs mixed with amusement. For a poet largely acclaimed for her powerful, insightful and deep-in-art poetry, often recited with a tad of polished, slow spoken English, the cake could never have had any sweeter icing.
The two organisations, Femrite and AWDF, with a bias for female writers on the continent, also facilitated an intellectually engaging and reflective public dialogue on the crucial and timely theme: “African Women Speaking For Ourselves; What Difference Does It Make?” It featured Theo Sowa - AWDF’s chief executive officer, Mary Karoro Okurut - president and founder of Femrite, Dr Lina Zedriga - director Regional Associates for Community Initiatives (RACI), Mamle Kabu - author of The Kaya Girl and Caine Prize Nominee 2009, and Yewande Omotoso, author of Bom Boy and Etisalat Prize Nominee 2014.
One participant challenged female writers to, “stop hiding under fiction and write nonfiction, which causes more practical and faster change on the issues we raise.” Another writer from Zimbabwe wondered if playwrights have a place anymore on our writing stage.
And then came the bonfire. Yes, and then came the poetry bonfire themed; “Redefining Womanhood: A Celebration of Maya Angelou” in which the epic poetess’ works were performed with Femrite’s Ssegawa Nakisanze translating Phenomenal Woman into a stimulating Luganda performance.
This was at the Uganda Museum on Friday August 1, from 6pm to 10pm. Unlike its sister events, this was quite low key, save the hard attempt by award winning poet Beverley Nambozo to keep the flame of the night. The night attracted renowned personalities in the arts industry but also feminists and activists like Jacqueline Asimwe Mugarura, who came to pay tribute to the life well lived that was Maya Angelou’s.
Whatever lens one uses, the indisputable fact is that the spoken and written word movement in Uganda is growing strong by day. How soon and stronger it can grow is something time will best judge.