For a true story lover, it is a great feeling being so near writers of fine fiction; listening to their diction and vocal modulations as they read from their works, watching their facial expressions, and wondering what notions rotate in their ever creative minds.
For that, Uganda’s literati could miss anything but not last Tuesday’s launch by the British High Commissioner in Uganda, Alison Blackburne, of African Violet and Other Stories, an anthology of 15 stories including the five short-listed for the 2012 Caine Prize, published by the Uganda Women Writers Association (Femrite), one of the eight co-publishers of the Caine Prize anthologies.
All eyes were on last year’s winner, Rotimi Babatunde, as he read an excerpt from his winning entry, Bombay’s Republic, a hilarious, albeit poignant account of a Nigerian soldier whose heroic exploits in World War II gets into his head so much that upon return he forms his own republic.
Uganda’s only flag bearer in the anthology, Beatrice Lamwaka also read from her story, Pillar of Love, about a lesbian who seeks to divorce her spouse because she wants to have children, but changes her mind when a date with the only man she has some interest in goes wrong.
The book launch was part of annual Caine Prize workshop – the first of its kind in Uganda – that took place from April 16 until April 25. It brought together 12 writers from seven African countries, with Uganda represented by upcoming writers: Lillian Aujo, Davina Kawuma, Hellen Nyana and Daily Monitor’s Harriet Anena who earned applause after reading from her work-in-progress, The Small World of His Highness, an exposé of the intrigues and sexual politics in Uganda’s corporate world.
“We believe in the intrinsic value of artistic interaction,” the Administrator of the Caine Prize for African Writing, Dr Lizzy Attree, said of the importance of the workshop. She meant a comprehensive interaction that involved serious writing, critiquing each other’s works and learning from the more experienced writer Veronique Tadjo and animator Pam Nichols – brought to sharpen the participants each who at the end of the nine-day workshop were expected to have completed writing a story for inclusion in the 2013 Caine Prize anthology to be published on July 1, 2013.
These stories are automatically entered in the 2013 competition. Hopefully one of Uganda’s four, will swing us back to the front page and save Monica Arac de Nyeko from the ‘lonesomeness’ of being the only Ugandan Caine Prize winner for her story Jambula Tree in 2007.
Schools out reach
Not that we are doing that badly. Dilman Dila is on this year’s 2013 Commonwealth Short Story Prize shortlist just a couple of months after Angella Emurwon won the 2013 BBC World Service International Playwriting Competition. It is clearly not by accident that Uganda was chosen to host the 2013 Caine Prize Workshop. Our literary stature is considerably growing from glory to glory, thanks largely to the consistent efforts of Femrite.
Although no male Ugandan writer participated, Femrite in collaboration with British Council, took the participants early on the day of the book launch, to St Mary’s College Kisubi to “highlight the importance of creative writing and literature to people of all ages and backgrounds,” said Femrite Coordinator Hilda Twongyeirwe, and “inspire the next generation of writers.”
The launch also coincided with the International Book and Copyright Day, which celebrates the role of books in civilisation and promotes copyright. Charles Batambuze, the Executive Secretary of Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO) discussed the copyright question, urging all to respect the intellectual property of others by not pirating or even photocopying for personal benefit without seeking permission from the rights owner.
The combination of literature, at the launch, with other art forms like music and poetry performances is an acknowledgement that literature cannot flourish in isolation and that interdependence is important for the industry to develop. Spoken Truth freak and culturalist Nakisanze Segawa put up a rhythmic and forceful performance in Luganda, of a political poem about corruption and selective justice that excited many.
Then Ife Pianki who describes herself as “a poet who sings” first gave the artists some advice of sheer significance and timeliness when she challenged them to always “take creative risks and try new things.” She unlocked the emotions of her audience with a moving performance of a motherly poem on how to treat and not mistreat children.
Overall, you could tell the future for Ugandan literature is more promising. African works are likely to infiltrate every part and inspire the world to look at our works with new, profound interest.