Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Lessons Learned in 2013, by BNN

I have learned in 2013, that good friends do not always live close by. The pattern of your friendship is evident in the way you feel about each other.

Writers will most likely get more writing done if they vary their time with farmers, dancers, gymnasts, architects, pilots and market vendors. They do not have to do this for research but just to be human.

If you are constantly apologizing for someone’s unkindness towards you, then you have to check your self-esteem and valiantly walk away.

If you are not getting paid for your creative energy, ideas and what you love, then what you love may turn into what you hate.

There is a palpable difference between constructive criticism and criticism from detractors. Steer clear of the latter.

In this age of political correctness, it is still important to keep friends who truly celebrate your success.

Good social skills will take you a long way. There are those who may not understand but the majority will and you will receive a great reward.


Happy New Year

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Re: Love Letter 2014

Re: Love Letter 2014

I’m breaking up with you. Last year, you sprinkled jelly beans on my hunger for knowledge. You misunderstood my ambition for desperation. You treated my kindness as if I was your barber. After I worked to your perfection, neat and exact, you tipped me with a nickname.

“I would not have done it with you, my popa-shay-la-di—ra-ma-mi-sha…” I cut you off.

“I’m breaking up with you. Let’s make this break up amicable and mature. Voices in my bosom warned me about you. I ignored them because you promised we would save the world together. And then I heard Les brown. He said I need to detoxify my life. I’m sure you understand. I’m hungry. I’m unstoppable. You’re in my way. And my name is not popa-shay-la-di—ra-ma-mi-sha.

It’s Confidence. Thank you for leaving me. Respectfully.

This time I expect to win. In 2014.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

visa for america, poem by Carol Leff

visa for america

during my mother’s visa interview they asked why she wished to visit my sister. her flow of tears hid unspoken fears as she explained they had not seen each other for six long years.

my interview a year earlier had gone more smoothly. they only made me walk barefooted and drink my bottled water in front of them.

every last drop.

Poem by Carol Leff, Published in Botsotso, jozi spoken word special edition, 15.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Writivism 2014 workshops-Apply now!

The Writivism 2014 workshops will be held on the 8th of February 2014, simultaneously in five different African cities. The one-day workshops are planned for Abuja, Harare, Kampala, Nairobi and Cape Town. Applicants will attend workshops in the cities closest to their residence.

The Abuja workshop will be facilitated by Ukamaka Olisakwe, Kampala; Beatrice Lamwaka, Cape Town; Rachel Zadok, Nairobi; Okwiri Oduor and Harare; Monica Cheru alongside other writers.

The workshops will include a short master class on fiction writing, a reading and writing exercise. Each participant shall be assigned a mentor at the end of the workshop, with whom they shall work on a flash fiction story to be published in newspapers and a short story for submission to the Writivism African Short Story Prize.

The workshop aims at identifying emerging African writers.

Application Guidelines •Applicants must be resident on the African continent;

•Applicants must not have published a book before

•All application material must be put in the body of the email; no attachments whatsoever

•Deadline for submission is 31st December 2013 midnight, East African time

•Applications must be made to cace.directorATgmail.com

•Those accepted to the workshop will be notified by 20th January 2014

•The workshop is non-residential and participants are responsible for the transport to and from the venue

•Application Email subject should read ‘Writivism 2014 Application’

•Include Address (including phone contact), Country of Residence, Full Legal Name, Gender, a 100-word maximum bio and a 400-700 word writing sample in the application

•Participants in past Writivism workshops can apply if they have since not published a book

•The writing sample must be fiction

For updates and to respond, Keep checking writivism site and the Writivism Facebook Group.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


The judges: Richard Ali, Joanne Arnott and Kgafela oa Magogodi.


THE WINNER WILL RECEIVE 1,000 US DOLLARS Submissions to be received from January 6th to May 5th 2014 midday, East African Time. Guidelines for submissions:

• It is open to ALL African poets who will not have published a full-length collection of poetry by May 2014

• Submissions should be original, in English and not more than 40 lines. Times New Roman or Arial, single-spaced and size 12. Local languages are accepted only if English translations are sent alongside them

• Send a maximum of three poems and a minimum of one poem to bnpoetryaward@mail.com as a word attachment. DO NOT include your name or contact details on the poem itself

• The subject line should read, “BNPA 2014”

• Include your name, email address, country or birth and country of permanent residence, telephone number and the titles of your poems in the body of the email

• The submissions will be accepted from January 6th to May 5th 2014

• More details on the face book page, Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, on the blog http://bnpoetryaward.blogspot.com and website www.bnpoetryaward.co.ug

The judges Kgafela oa Magogodi: South African poet, director and musician. He is currently completing a co-writing project for a musical stage play, The Book Of REBELATIONS . Published books include Thy Condom Come (2000) and Outspoken (2004).

Joanne Arnott: Award-winning Canadian poet and writer. Her first book of poetry, Wiles of Girlhood (1991) won the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry (1992). Her newest publication of poetry is, A Night for the Lady (Ronsdale, fall 2013)

Richard Ali: Author of City of Memories, Chief Operations Officer of Parrésia Publishers Ltd and Publicity Secretary [North] of Association of Nigerian Authors. Richard is also Editor-in-Chief of the Sentinel Nigeria Magazine and was a runner-up at the 2008 John la Rose Short Story Competition.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lamu-there's no place like it.

Internet source.

Lamu far exceeds them all. A visit to this part of Kenya’s east coast is incalculable. Historically unfamiliar to me before I disembark from the Fly540 carrier from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport, I step onto the stony sandy soils of what I call, Africa’s Little Giant Wonder. The transition from the potholed clouds to the disturbingly hushed welcome at the mini landing site jolts us into an unnecessary panic. What happened to the endless oceans and beaches that the brochures talked about? Waiting in unbudgeted for anticipation, we hear a rusty voice yelling, Jambo!

“Jambo Bwana,” someone from our pack responds. “The boat is ready to take you. My boys are coming to carry your luggage.”

Trudging along, we line up our luggage on the gaping rickety dock. The boat tilts as we all clamber on board. At the tip of the dock, the Indian Ocean is a tiny rivulet searching for an outlet to its magnificence. The boat steadies on the waters while gaining the trust of the wide ocean. The boat shakes in excitement of carrying twenty or more writers to a festival on Lamu Island. The secrets of Lamu’s realities are concealed from the naïveté of our pens. Each of us looks ahead at the island not so far off, scratching our minds for an opening paragraph to describe the ugly beauty of the unknown.

Interestingly, Lamu does not spread out its vanity with white sands, blue oceans and setting suns-no. It deceptively creeps up on you and hypnotises you with its intoxicating simplicity and selflessness. There are not placards to welcome us for our week long writing festival. There are no minivans guided by manipulating tour guide companies to drive us around the block to our lodges. The boat stops near the water’s edge and springing out of nowhere, hundreds of beach boys jump on and start heaving our luggage onto their bronze (not proud of the word bronze) backs. Lamu’s community must have like 30% beach boys. This is yet to be statistically proven. I look on as the sturdy young men whose orange dreadlocks dance about over their sweaty backs carry our luggage calling out the different names of lodges and hotels.

“Petley’s!” “Peponi!” “Lamu Palace!” “Manyalenge!” (Definitely wrong spelling). “Jannat!”

All twenty of us have been scattered in the various slots of accommodation. I join the boy yelling Manyalenge with two other friends. He hoists the luggage on his back which is our cue to follow him. We follow him through the narrow corridors between the closely packed peeled off buildings. He waves at the children riding on donkeys. We follow him. He manages to avoid the generous cakes of donkey droppings that are everywhere. We still follow. Someone pours a bucket of dirty water which lands on my now tired feet. “Pole sana.”

Finally we get to a large wooden door which can easily fit into the tale of Ali Baba and the forty thieves. It has an ominous looking brass knocker. Opposite us is a video stall. The boys manning it smile at the three of us ladies. I wonder if they will be our inspiration to write. The ominous looking door opens. There is space. There is sparse and yet exquisite furniture. High ceilings. Fans. Lots of space. Gold and silver lined cushions. Craft. The housekeeper ushers us in. The coolness from the fans and fresh banana juice are our first real treat on the island. We realize then that Lamu does not adjust its taste to suit its guests; we have to fit into its gentle stride. Our beds are protected by mosquito nets but not from the heat as we realize later that night.

I reckon that I will need at least five baths a day as I take my first one soon after arrival. The heat settles on my inside like a big sleeping baby. Unlike my usual travels where I am restless to sightsee, the slow pace of Lamu diminishes my touristic anxiety and I sleep the afternoon off.

It is difficult to distinguish the evening from day in Lamu. Promptness and urgency are but luxuries. At 2am, people stroll to the nearest bar and pack themselves on a boat as they set off to another island. The giggly girls who throughout the day are hidden under veils allow the men to tease their hair. At night, spectacularly and inconceivably, luminous bugs cruise alongside our boats. They illuminate the dark coloured ocean and marvellously appear as if out of nowhere. In the day time, the invisible bugs elude us and at night, tease our imagination and come to life in this amazing way like tiny fish the size of mustard seeds. Simply incredible.

We forget our invitation to the writers’ festival and allow ourselves to be led by Lamu and its beach boys. Mornings begin with a 9am shower and for breakfast, we have what is arguably East Africa’s best brewed coffee. This is followed by pancakes and syrup, fruit, juice and then of course another nap. Our walks take us through different routes on the old town. The buildings are so close by and the narrow streets look the same to us. However, our curiosity takes us to other places. And we discover Aly King. Now, being December and a few days to Christmas, Aly King is someone everyone on the island needs to know. Aly King is a coastal who is a master at tailoring. He sits at his machine and within record time, has tailored outfits that Elle magazine would be jealous of. We stumble upon Aly King by accident. Drapes of airy print, tie and dye, baby suits and others hang outside his shop. Tantalised by the colours, we move in. Aly is like a wizard at the wheel. Customer after customer lines up. Aly sews clothes for families over Christmas; he weaves together outfits for tourists to boast of as they return home. Our job is just to watch and wear. Lamu is not Lamu without Aly King.

The donkeys attempt to pick up the pace at the otherwise unhurried Lamu Old Town. They trot past us dropping their leftovers to guide us to the next stop. The medieval 14th Century settlement of Lamu has a canon that stands motionless hiding stories of conquests and war. The dhows remind me of my primary history. The Lamu Museum ,built in 1891, has wooden doors carved locally in the Omani and Indian styles with old Lamu kitchen utensils.

Each day the beach boys call out to us. With only one thought and that is to have fun, we allow them to take us to Shelah. Shelah is one of the more posh islands, about an hour’s walk away from Lamu Old Town. This crystal blue part of the ocean is inviting. Here, there are limited or no inhibitions about Islam tradition and so we feel free to walk in our costumes and while the time away, swimming while gazing at the equally leisurely Lamu sky. The henna ladies come eagerly and shyly towards us. Speaking little English, they show us pages of patterns which they are willing to draw on our hands and bodies at a minimal fee. We marvel as they transform our palms into flowers and ship anchors until our fingers are soon singing the songs of henna.

Lamu has the knack of letting you let go. Chatting with the beach boys’ stories of instant happiness, chewing mira to let go of pain and taking part in the Swahili weddings. I learn that many have met their aspirations of getting married to an Australian, Norwegian and Dutch and so spend half of the year abroad and the other half on the island chewing mira and making sure everything is just as they left it on the island. Nothing to worry about. Time stands still in Lamu. Apart from the 4am alert of the Imam and the impatient donkeys, everything remains at the same dawdling stride. I shudder to imagine if rumours of investment are true. There is no need for that in Lamu; it is an investment of history and pleasure in itself.

By Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva First published in The Sunday Vision newspaper.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Two Gloves, extract from short story, by BNN

The first person to give a testimony after the break tea is a young gentleman. His trousers are a bit big and I can see his boxer shorts showing through. He has one earring on and is wearing a black waistcoat. His hair is very neatly shaven to the skin. He stands up to the microphone. “Good morning to you all. Some of you know me. My name is Rebecca Sengendo.” I almost drop the cake that is still in my mouth. This man is a woman. Or is Rebecca a man’s name as well? “I came with my partner Judith.” A tall woman with curves everywhere walks up to join Rebecca. They kiss each other on the lips Rebecca continues. “We would like to thank you so much for your support as fellow women. Many others look at us and they shun us. We have been chased out of our own homes. One time somebody stoned us and almost raped Judith. Another woman stole my briefcase which had all the money I had for the week. Many times I find rude notes stuck at the car window telling me to stop living with another woman or I will be killed. Thanks to you and other supporters, we got a house where we plan to adopt and raise two children. People see women with other women and think they are mad but we are normal people and we also have a right to live in this world like you.” Some women at the workshop begin to cry at this testimony. “Do we have another testimony?” ******************************************************************************** “Yes, Praise God.” A young lady jumps from her seat and hands me her handbag to keep for her. “Praise the Lord Brethren.” “Amen,” we respond. I look at the lady and feel very excited. I like it when people give testimonies. It encourages me so much. “Brethren,” The lady continues. “You all know that last week I almost died, Amen.” “Last week I became paralysed and could not walk for three days. The doctors could not diagnose anything and I knew that my end was near. Some of you came to hospital to see me and I could not recognize some of you. During those dark days, I waited for the Lord to take my life. I was not sure where I was going after that. However, The Lord decided that I should live and now I am here to testify. Praise the Lord.” “Amen,” we all answer; amidst a clap of hands. Gloves, extract from short story by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

ASIIMWE, Novella by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

“Teacher, will we also be studying Islam because according to some world prophets, in the year 2000 when computers will crash, Islam will be the new religion? So, will we also be studying Islam so that we keep with the times?”

The teacher listens with her head tilted towards Dora. She takes long to answer the question but asks Dora to kindly bring the source of the information so that they can have a healthier discussion on that.

The class is in an uproar when the teacher leaves. “Dora, how could you ask that?” Hanifa, a Muslim girl asks. “Hanifa, many people ignore Islam and yet that is your religion. You should be thanking me for standing up for you. Why are we only told about Adam and Eve and Creation, what about Prophet Muhammad?” Dora is now speaking with both her hands on her hip.

“But this is a Christian school and we should only talk about Jesus,” says another girl.

It is getting heated. “Yes, but there are Muslims in the school. Can you imagine how people like Hanifa and Sadat feel if they have to learn about Jesus and yet for them they believe in Prophet Muhammad?” Dora’s voice gets louder each time.

“Wait, who told you we don’t believe in Jesus? In our religion, Jesus is a Prophet and…” Sophie’s voice is cut off as the French teacher walks in. It is one of the new British student teachers.

“Hello, is this Senior One B? Sorry, I’m late. I got a bit lost and then I heard the racket. Is everything all right?” By this time, the entire class is in their seats and quiet. Except for Dora “Hello, my name is Dora Nankunda and I am the class monitor. We were just having a healthy debate on religion but you are very welcome.”

“Thank you.” She writes her name on the blackboard. Mamzelle Francesca. Born and raised in Southampton. Studied a degree in Languages at Southampton University and fluent in French, German and Latin. Likes: Football, reading and catching butterflies Dislikes: Meat, Loud places and too much light

Extract from Asiimwe, novella by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

Monday, November 4, 2013

Soft Tonight by Lillian Aujo (First ever BNPA winning poem)

Soft Tonight

I feel so... ... soft... tonight...

I feel like... ...butter... under the sun...

...on hot stone... spreading out... melting...

...flowing... a yellow rivulet... sliding down that slab...

...towards you...

I hope you catch every t...r...i...c...k...l...e...of love I hope you catch every d.......r......o......p......of me when I d...r...i...p...intoyourpalms

'cause I feel so... ...soft... tonight.

By Lillian Akampurira Aujo

This poem was the winning poem of the first ever Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award in 2009, the first poetry award of its kind for Ugandan women. Lillian Aujo won a cash prize of 250 USD. This award was proudly sponsored by Uganda Women Writers’ Association (FEMRITE), WordAlive Publishers, Uganda Clays Limited and Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG).

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Stories Through Photos

England, The Verb, June

This is us at The Verb, BBC Radio, October 10th 2013.

“I have not read a single book in my life except the bible,” she said. I looked up from Teju Cole’s Open City which I was reading. The lady. Elderly. Tall, with cropped grey hair. “Hello,” I said. “Hello,” she said. “I’m dyslexic you see but I’m a Christian.” Then she burst into tears.

I turned around to see if it was common in England for people to walk up to strangers and burst into tears at the train station. No. It wasn’t. People around me were either reading papers, listening to music, sipping coffee or reading the platform map. “I need someone to talk to.” she said. “Me husband’s so mean to me. My name’s June and when I’m upset, I start shaking. This morning, me husband was so mean to me, so mean,” she went on. I was waiting for someone with a hidden camera to surprise me. Candid Camera. No one seemed to notice June or I sitting on the station bench. “Are you a Christian?” she asked me. Yes, I said.”

Then she burst into tears again. “I had a best friend of mixed race and she left. I miss her so much. I miss me best friend. Me husband was so mean to me this morning. He was awful. I’m dyslexic you see. I also had a hysterectomy because of the cancer and so this morning I told me husband that I needed a blood test because I was feeling awful and he just screamed at me. Now, I’m waiting for my sister and she’s so mean to me. Where are you from?” she asked. “Uganda,” I said. “Is that one of the troubled regions?” she asked. I wanted to tell her that the coffee houses with free wireless were too few in Kampala and that the roads were not wide enough for the many automobiles on the road and also how the state of corruption has reached levels which are too embarrassing to talk about. I didn’t tell her that. I just told her that I am not in the troubled region. Thankfully, the train came. “I will pray for you,” I told her. “Thanks,” she said. I’ll pray for you too.

This encounter perfectly summed up how I appreciate the unapologetic and individual ways of North Englanders. The trip began in Lancaster. The Creative Writing Department, celebrating 30 years this year, invited me as an alumnus to be part of the grand birthday party. Lancaster is young by many traditional English university standards, it is a complex dominated by buildings whose character is defined by the students and faculty. I first made Graham Mort’s acquaintance through the Crossing Borders writing programme in 2002 and after that, as a student of creative writing from Lancaster. However, you can never really know an Englishman until you meet him for a pint of beer. Even though I don’t drink alcohol, I was quite immersed in the pub culture. The undergraduate students invited me along for an open mic session at Sainsbury’s coffee house. There was a fundamental familiarity with poets back home in Uganda. The confident and popular poets always seem to be able to control the atmosphere with their quirky and enjoyable topics. There were poems about everything from the frustration of the new regulations of recycling bins, to mice dancing to the hit, Thriller, to all of us humans having a 1% homosexual aspect in our DNA. What made it more fun than anything else was the way the humor united all of us under this space of creativity and free cheese. Plenty of free cheese which we took with us back to our rooms. And what’s a night in Lancaster without visiting a pub. There are quite a number in the petite cobbled corridors of the town. Filling an entire table, I seemed to be the only one who had children, was above 30, and who didn’t take alcohol but there is almost nothing that beats the fearless nature of university undergraduate students, planning out their lives and taking on the ills of the world with their endless energy. They are also not obsessed with Idi Amin. My only undoing was that I didn’t speak Yoruba.

The Verb on BBC Radio 3 programme which I participated in the day before was an informal yet intense way of sharing creatively with other writers from England and Scotland and seeing myself through their eyes. Together with Graham Mort, Phillip Pullman author of Grimm Tales, Hannah Silva playwright and poet, Stephanie Greer actress and novelist Susan Sellers who also gave me one of her novels. Ian, the producer was able to steer us through discussing about fairy tales and their similarities with many cultures world-wide, writing for performance first and the layers of poetry and their multi-faceted meanings.

Amidst current global discourse of writing and its challenges with readers, Phillip Pullman said something quite profound,
“When a story is simple and straight-forward, it is easier to be creative in the retelling.”
The writer’s journey never ends, does it?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2014 Commonwealth Short Story Competition

This year Commonwealth Writers turns its focus solely on the Commonwealth Short Story Prize as a unique award. The short story provides an accessible format as well as enabling writers to enter from countries where there is little or no publishing industry and to submit stories that have been translated into English. As a result it has become the main focus for Commonwealth Writers, a cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation. 'It would be wonderful to see submissions from bold stylists and stories that experiment with the form as well as more traditional approaches to the short story,' said Ellah Allfrey, who is chairing the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. 'This prize celebrates the power of the short story to spin a tale that concentrates experience and character in such specificity that the local is transformed to significance far beyond its borders,' said Allfrey, who is Deputy Chair of the Council of the Caine Prize, previously Deputy Editor of Granta and a senior editor at Random House. 'This is the magic of good writing, and this is what I hope we will find,' she added. 'Writers from across the Commonwealth will be encouraged to send us stories that bring us news of wherever they are, in the wide variety of voices and accents that make up the English language'. Regional winners of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize will receive £2,500 and the overall winner receives £5,000. Translators of winning stories will receive additional prize money. 'We’re proud to have such an accomplished team of judges and excited to be putting more resources into this year’s Short Story Prize,' said Lucy Hannah, Programme Manager at the Commonwealth Foundation. Commonwealth Writers continues its partnership with Granta Magazine, providng winners with an opportunity to have their story published online, while for the first time, selected writers will be offered a chance to work with the London-based literary and media agency Blake Friedmann. The judges are pictured left to right: Ellah Allfrey, Doreen Baingana, Michelle de Kretser, Marlon James, Courttia Newland and Jeet Thayil, reflecting the Commonwealth regions of Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The 2014 Short Story Prize opens for entry on 1 October 2013 and closes on 30 November 2013. Entry is via the online application form at www.commonwealthwriters.org - See more at: http://www.commonwealthfoundation.com/updates/2014-commonwealth-short-story-prize-open-entry-1-october#sthash.bpGjg7Q4.dpuf

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Where were you when Rehema Nanfuka and Slim Emcee were performing?

This photo is from the GZK-UGCS page, Kgafela oa Magogodi, Ermildo Panzo, Roshan Karmali and Carolin (director of GZK-UGCS). After being a part of a fabulous poetic panel with Warsan Shire, Dr. Neal Hall, Wally Serote and then Prof. Kwame Dawes, Nii Parkes, Fatou Were and Clifton Gachagua, I did not think that Uganda had anything to teach me. I had already crafted my official email to the spoken word performers to let them know beyond any reasonable doubt that Ugandan spoken word performers are above all, weak, unable to learn and just wasting time. And then I attended the African Spoken Poetry Competition where I was a judge with the charming Pamela Acaye and difficult to miss Peter Kagayi. I listened to them talk and swallowed all my pre-judgements. A line-up with Mark Gordon the indomitable, Winnie Apio the unforgettable, Rehema Nanfuka the lady who lives in a home called poetry and Slim Emcee. When I heard Slim, it was like I was seeing him for the first time. I listened, felt, triumphed and mourned as they performed their lines. Oftentimes I forgot I was a judge and just wanted to dream away with the poets’ words. The power of the performances on 24th September at the German Cultural Center was astounding beyond any performance I have seen in Uganda. It is incredibly difficult to combine poetry with spoken word. Rehema Nanfuka and Slim Emcee, first and second winners overall, outshone and demystified all theories. Their word power bore the strength of a mighty army of images. Have you ever been tugged into the jaws of a cake shop? You don’t want to go in because of all those calories and yet its sweetness is so compelling that you have no other choice. These poets can sit comfortably at the table of other greats because they are part of Uganda’s greats. I’ve said it. May they never falter or doubt their poetry abilities. May there be more opportunities for poets of the written word, poets of the stage and spoken word performers to sit together at the same table of poetic joy and just eat and dance together. Maritza, the third overall, was stunning. Her ending of the second poem almost made me fall off my seat. The way she held that imaginary gun and fired at us-that’s real poetry right there. The Goethe-Zentrum Kampala, the winner from Angola, Ermildo Panzo, and the patron of the Spoken Word project, Kgafela oa Magogodi from South Africa, you are all incredible. Thanks to Poetry in session for em-ceeing and planning and making poetry real once again. Natasha Emily, Rashida Namulondo, Shan Walugembe, Black Poet and Tina p’Achan-you are unforgettable. Continue blazing that trail. What can I add? Write these poems down. Can you imagine if Prof. Awoonor never wrote down his poetry? Or Okot p’ Bitek? We would have missed out on a lot. Write your poems down, so that the world may know of your power. BNN

BNPA will return to Storymoja in 2014

These photos are from Storymoja facebook page. BNPA will return to the Storymoja Hay Festival in 2014. This year’s Storymoja event was planned for poets to experience what is close to literary heaven, with carefully selected poets like Prof. Kofi Awoonor, Nii Parkes. Prof. Kwame Dawes, Fatou Were, Clifton Gachagua, Warsan Shire, Dr. Neal Hall, Sitawa Namwalie, Wangane Wally Serote and Michael Onsando. From the moment Warsan read from her collection, teaching my mother how to give birth and shared how words enable her to understand her own home and identity and Wally Serote on how poetry was all he had while in solitary confinement during the Apartheid regime, we knew there was a lot to learn. Prof. Awoonor’s death in the hands of such brutality on 21st September 2013 is a reminder of how fragile our lives are and how we should seize moments that come our way with liberty, strength, joy and peacefulness. The BN Poetry Foundation will continue working with Storymoja. In 2014, when the poetry award will include all poets from the continent and the winner will be announced at the festival in Nairobi. We will continue with literature’s celebration, poetry’s manifestation and honour the lives of those who paved the way like Prof. Awoonor, Okot p’ Bitek and many others. We stand with those giving in Kenya and the entire world. Every day, people are killed and we feel helpless. There is strength in comfort and joy in knowing that there are others standing with us. May we always have literature as our comfort and the words of poetry to help us make meaning of those times. Always, BNN.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Storymoja today 21st September and heart to hearts

Warsan Shire and Beverley at the storymoja hay festival, Nairobi. Photo by Juliet Maruru I have cried so hard because of the situation at Westgate Mall in Nairobi where many people were held hostage, others killed and scores injured in a grim, horrendous terrorist attack. It’s not because I was at the mall at the time. I was at the the Storymoja Hay Festival just minutes away. I have cried for the children shown on the media, being carried away to safety, mothers covering their children and the entire scene of horror, uncertainty and blood. I have cried because I realize that some of the sentiments from people in my past filled with, wish we could grow old together and love you always fizzled in the face of today. In Nairobi. They either conveniently forgot I existed or something else was trending, like a video of a celebrity’s post pregnancy body. Despite this, the festival was a raving success especially at a personal level because I met Kwame Dawes. What a profound poet. A genius. A man. I met Warsan Shire. Glorious. Gifted. Dr. Neal Hall. Strong. Convicted. Teju Cole. Enigmatic. I was able to reach my own depths and rip out the enemies of success, or at least discover where they lay. Lots of the sessions amongst poems carried sentiments on healing and forgiveness and how poetry plays a role in dealing with trauma. It resonates heavily after the terrorist attack. In no uncertain terms, 21 September 2013 will be embedded as a horrific reminder of this seige and at the same time, when I laid off the clutter in my life of excess people, pretenders, no-gooders. I’m done. I will return to the Storymoja Hay Festival next year most definitely. I pray now that those injured are healed and that the comfort that only come from a spiritual source connects with those grieving over the loss of loved one. May this uncertainty become clearer to all of us and may Nairobi, the entire Kenya and East Africa, never have to be a part of this again.

Friday, August 9, 2013


This information, apart from the Mulekwa quote, is from On writers and Writing, 1998 Desk Diary, by Helen Sheehy and Leslie Stainton. In Finnegan’s wake, he replaced the days of the week with “moanday,” tearsday, wailsday, thumpsday, frightday, shatterday. He estimated he spent 20,000 hours writing Ulysses. He advised a writer friend not to plan ahead. Jules Verne: He wrote a lot but never sold until he was involved in Nadar’s project to build a huge balloon and travel across Europe. The balloon was successfully launched but the flight failed which resulted in a depression and his first novel. This book became a bestseller. In writing his 90 novels, Verne followed Dumas’ advice. He wrote everyday from 6:00 until noon. After lunch, he rested, then walked his dog. Charles Mulekwa (Ugandan playwright). (This quote I not from the Writer’s Diary). Inspiration is a very mean thing. If it comes by and you play hard to get, it vanishes. Peter Mark Roget 1779-1869 The word thesaurus in Greek means treasury. “A misapplied or misapprehended term is sufficient to give rise to fierce and interminable disputes.” Jane Bowles Described as a writer’s writer’s writer. “When I was little, I had to imagine that there was some limit to physical pain in order to enjoy the day.” A nurse dropped her when she was a baby; later she broke her leg failing from a horse, and then she developed tuberculosis of the knee, which left her with a limp. She married Paul Bowles and at one time they lived with a cat, duck, parrot, kitten, armadillo. Fanny Trollope, 1779-1863 She wrote her first book, The Domestic Manners of the American which became a bestseller, to save her husband, herself and their 6 children from financial ruin. She began work punctually at four each morning and completed her quota of words before her family rose for the day. Her dedication was such that between 1834 and 1836, when she lost her husband and 2 children to illness, she wrote 3 books…She reaped for bread, and reaped that honour. Mary Webb: 1881-1927 She was 20 years old when Graves’ disease struck her, rendering her an invalid unable to eat, drink, or sit without help. As a child, she had learned from her father to pay attention to its minute parts: bees, flower buds, clover, the effect of wind on a field of grass. Marguerite Duras: 1914-1996 “When the past is recaptured by the imagination, breath is put back into life.” At the height of her career, she produced books at the rate of nearly one per year. She spent her last years in an unorthodox relationship with a young homosexual man. MY

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, Harriet Anena and Susan Piwang on the Poetry Foundation Ghana 2013 shortlist

Susan Piwang is the 2012 winner of the BN Poetry Award. Together with Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, the founder of this award, they have made it to the 2013 Poetry Foundation Ghana shortlist. Also, is Harriet Anena, a Ugandan poet who work for The Monitor Publications. Below is the information from the Poetry Foundation Ghana website. The Ghana Poetry Prize is a major new poetry prize of Gh cedis 2000 (approximately $1000) targeted at the celebration and promotion of poetry worldwide. The prize is sponsored by Poetry Foundation Ghana. The winner will be announced at an event hosted by the Department of Modern Languages and English (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology) and Poetry Foundation Ghana. The venue and date for the event will be communicated later. The Ghana Poetry prize in its first year was opened to the world but in the subsequent years it will be opened to only Ghanaians. An important part of our project is to give voice to fresh, new, unpublished poetry. The Longlist Anthology shall be made available in print during the event at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and the date will be communicated later. The Shortlist Below is a list of the poems selected for the 2013 Ghana Poetry Prize Shortlist. We appreciate the many that supported our poetry project by contributing in our very first year. The many admirable and beautiful entries made the final selection difficult but it was ultimately done. Woman Ezeiyoke Peter Nonso The Leashed Goat Bleats Daniel Kojo Appiah Gratitude To Papa Elizabeth Akrofi The Pretty Beads of Suma-Glory Crystal Tettey I Baptise You with My Child’s Blood Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva My President Mikail Oluwadare Bashir Passages on Kakum Canopy Walkway, Ghana (To Alba K Sumprim) Uzor Maxim Uzoatu Dylan was right Rehan Pochkhanawala OUR GOD, OUR DEVIL Delasi Livingston Senya We Arise Harriet Anena Grandmothers Kofi A. Amoako Man Bailer Wisdom Hanson A Day’s Work Omonegho Imoagene Negro Hate Samuel Osei Mensah Junior Losers And Abusers Kwaku Krobea Asante Resigned to Fate Susan Piwang I Do Not Have A Wife Tony Adebamiji The Picture on The Wall Sarah Nyarko Again Here? Philip A. Alawonde Beautiful Africa William Kumi Du Bois

Monday, July 29, 2013

Birthday Wishes Riding Upon the Waves, poem by BNN

Birthday Wishes Riding Upon the Waves I want my birthday wish to open up the graves of my dreams To make my Daddy come back and for crocodiles To have the jaws of a thousand grains of corn, So that our fear is devoured by perception. I want the skin of the serpent to change into a mirror. I want us to look at our reflection in that mirror and See that we were the predators all along. And watch as the serpent sheds off its skin. I want my birthday wish to ride upon the waves of my life To be my surfboard; so I can play with my troubles And then burst them like bubbles. I want my birthday wish to make you come to me So that we can be Free to make love on a bed of our dirty thoughts And our repentant hearts Because life has taught us that there is nothing As incoherent as desire And nothing as liberating as you and me. If my birthday wish could cure me of cancer If chemotherapy could be a party of afros and models If consultation fees went into consultation If marrying me was your highest manifestation Then my birthday wish would ride upon the waves of my life. © Bev Nambozo Nsengiyunva, July 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


THE DAVID T. K. WONG FELLOWSHIP DEADLINE 13TH JANUARY 2013 AWARD £26, 000 A year-long residential fellowship with an award of £26,000. Applications will be considered from established published as well as unpublished writers of ANY AGE AND ANY NATIONALITY and will be awarded to a writer planning to produce a work of prose fiction in English which deals seriously with some aspect of life in the Far East. Applicants must submit 2,500 words of unpublished work which they plan to undertake during the fellowship. Application fee is £10.00. All application forms and full details are available at: http://www.uea.ac.uk/lit/fellowships/david-wong-fellowship [1]

Monday, July 8, 2013

Babishai Niwe Poetry Award 2013 in words and pictures

Celebration of words is so meaningful when many literary minds are together. That was the atmosphere during the 2013 BN Poetry Award ceremony. It took place on 28th June at the exquisite Biriyani House in Kampala. The Indian cuisine did far from disappoint. This year, being the 5th and final poetry award for Uganda was a launch into the next continental phase. Yes, the BN team is taking the poetry award around the continent and this time including men. That was the new that greeted the close to150 guests that evening. Amidst memorable, entertaining and reflective performances from Rehema Nanfuka, Harriet Anena, Gilly Willy and Slim MC, Ntakky Bright, Kushemererwa, Iga Zinunula who also the MC, Ife Piankhi, Rashida Namulondo and violinist Serubiri, U.G.L.Y MC, Susan Piwang (2012 winner) and Justice Ogoola, former Principal Judge, the event was a great 5th anniversary and award giving for the winners of 2013. Being a fundraiser, Honourable Flavia Kabahenda who was chief guest steered the auction well and bought a framed poem, Unjumping, by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva at 380,000/-. This set the auction going and Bev’s mum, Betty Mugoya, won an evening out with Ife Piankhi, the poet who sings. Ambassador Otunnu Olara, former Presidential candidate of the UPC party and literary lover, gave the audience a treat with his appearance. This year, unlike any other, was coupled with the compilation of poems for an anthology which will contain poems of all the winners of the past 5 years and poets from the rest of the continent. It was the most colourful, lively and fun-packed award ceremony by far and no one was more surprised than the winner herself, Rashida Namulondo, upon hearing her name. Her poem, Time, encapsulated the theme of Innovation so well with its unexpectedness, imagery and enchantment. Rashida won 500 US Dollars, and a fully paid trip to the Storymoja Hay festival in Nairobi. The second poem, A face like mine, written by Pamela Orogot, was soulful, deep, melancholic and almost sad, as people said. Clemence Taremwa was third for Innovation, which was a reflection of the new inspirations around us and how they have affected our individual and public lives. The second and third winners won 300 and 200 US Dollars respectively and will also join Rashida for a fully sponsored trip to the Nairobi Storymoja Hay Festival. Amongst the prizes were also autographed copies of Diaries of a Dead African, by Chuma Nwokolo Jr., Home Floats in a Distance, a bi-lingual poetry collection by Dr. Susan Kiguli (also in German), Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana and Songs of Paradise by Justice James Ogoola. A big congratulations to the organizing committee, a huge appreciation to The High Commission of Trinidad and Tobago for sponsoring the dinner, to Prince Claus Fund for supporting the publication of the anthology, the media, well-wishers, financial contributors, poets and poetry groups and to big dreams.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Uganda's Jennifer Makumbi wins the Kwani? Manuscript prize

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi wins Kwani? Manuscript Prize (From Kwani? website) Date: 01/07/2013 Uganda’s Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi has won the Kwani? Manuscript Project, a new literary prize for unpublished fiction by African writers, for her novel The Kintu Saga. 2nd place has been awarded to Liberia’s Saah Millimono for One Day I Will Write About This War and 3rd place to Kenya’s Timothy Kiprop Kimutai for The Water Spirits. The winners were selected from a shortlist of seven by a high-profile panel of judges chaired by award-winning Sudanese novelist Jamal Mahjoub and including Deputy Editor of Granta magazine Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, leading scholar of African literature Professor Simon Gikandi, Chairman of Kenyatta University’s Literature Department Dr. Mbugua wa Mungai, editor of Zimbabwe’s Weaver Press Irene Staunton and internationally renowned Nigerian writer Helon Habila. Chair of Judges, Jamal Mahjoub said: “All three titles chosen by the judges display an urge to engage with the complexities of modern day Africa. They tackle issues such as civil war, the struggle against poverty, and the continent’s historical heritage, among other themes. As a manuscript award this prize naturally seeks to focus less on finding a perfect finished product than work which shows literary promise as well as a breadth and depth of vision. The winner and two runners up all reflect these values. The winner, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi‘s The Kintu Saga, is an ambitious attempt to bring the history of Uganda into the present lives of the novel’s protagonists. Through successive generations, the author sketches out the continued relevance of the past in the present. In 2nd place, Saah Millimono’s One Day I Will Write About This War provides a moving portrait of a young boy in Liberia who finds the hardships of his life relieved by the family of a girl he meets at school. Their lives are turned upside down with the arrival of the civil war. In 3rd place, Timothy Kiprop Kimutai’s The Water Spirits shows great maturity in its depiction of characters and the relationships between a single mother and her two children. The author deftly manages to tread a fine line between the state of the mind and the world of the imagination.” The winner will receive 300,000 Kenyan Shillings (equivalent $3500), with 2nd place receiving 150,000 KShs and 3rd place 75,000 KShs. Judge, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey said: "Reading the entries for the Kwani Manuscript Project afforded the greatest of luxuries - a sneak peek at the publishing possibilities of a continent, the novels that will, all good things permitting, find their way to readers in the near future. There were historical novels, domestic-focused dramas, tales of war and of love. Even a steam-punk narrative that especially delighted this reader's heart. The aim had been to prod the ambitions of writers across Africa and her diaspora and the ambition, talent and skill exhibited in the long list was exhilarating. Even beyond the very deserving winner and the two runners-up, there are books on the longlist that deserve to find their readers in the wider world. It was a unique experiment, that will, I believe, culminate in reading pleasure for many, on the continent and beyond." The Kwani? Manuscript Project was launched in April 2012 and called for the submission of unpublished novel manuscripts from African writers across the continent and in the diaspora. The prize received over 280 qualifying submissions from 19 African countries. In 12th April 2013 a longlist of 30 was announced and on 17th June a shortlist of seven was announced. Also shortlisted for the prize were: Ayobami Adebayo, Stay with Me (Nigeria) Ayesha Harruna Attah, Saturday’s People (Ghana / US) Stanley Gazemba, Ghettoboy (Kenya) Toni Kan, The Carnivorous City (Nigeria) Kwani Trust’s Managing Editor, Billy Kahora said, "In reviewing the shortlisted stories, I’m blown away by the potential these manuscripts hold, the different styles, concerns and voices that they bring to new contemporary African literature, and further add to Kwani’s fiction list. We can’t wait to bring them out as novels in the region and partner with publishing houses across the continent to make them available across Africa." Kwani Trust plans to publish the winners, as well as additional manuscripts from across the shortlist and the longlist , with the first titles planned for publication in April 2014. The Trust will also be partnering with regional and global agents and publishing houses to secure high profile international co-publication opportunities. We wish to thank the following organisations for their support, advice and help launching this new literary prize: Africa Book Club, African Books Collective, African Writers Trust, Arterial Network, Association of Nigerian Authors, Bakwa Magazine, Black Book News, Book Slam, British Council, Caine Prize, Cassava Republic Chimurenga, Commonwealth Foundation, Femrite, Ghana Association of Writers, Ghana Book Publishers Association, Goethe Institut, Granta, Jungle Jim, Malawi Writers Union, Mazwi, Pambazuka, PEN Sierra Leone, Royal Africa Society, Samandari, Saraba Magazine, Sea Breeze Journal, Spoken Word Rwanda, Storymoja, The Star, Uganda Modern Literary Digest, Wamathai, Wasafari, Writers Association of Botswana, Writers International Network Zimbabwe, Writers’ Project for Ghana, Zambia Women Writers Association, Zimbabwe Women Writers. Kwani Trust is also indebted to Lambent Foundation for financial support towards the administration of this project, as well as the Prince Claus Fund for a Euros 25,000 prize in recognition of the Trust’s work that acted as seed money for this project.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bev is Blogging the Caine, America by Chinelo Okparanta

(PHOTO FROM INTERNET) As part of the Caine Blogathon, Aarn Bady, who blogs at The New Inquiry and several other writers have been blogging the Caine prize shortlisted stories of 2013. Amercia is the last one on the list as we await to hear the winner. America is an extremely well-told story. It is layered with hope, Foreign policy, destiny, and two worlds. It is a compact story, complete, circular and entertaining with a few Geography and Environment lessons there and there. While the desire to live and study in America may not be intriguing since we read it in Foreign Aid and Miracle and also because that novelty has worn off, it is the character’s journey to attaining her visa which is the essence of the story. Her family’s involvement, bus-rides to the visa office and blossoming friendship with Gloria and her life as a school teacher. There is so much going on but each scene is interesting. Nnenna, whose name we hear of once, is a captivating person to follow. She is a proud teacher of Federal Government Girls’ College in Abuloma, a proud teacher with a wealth of knowledge. The meeting with Gloria Oke, a Curriculum Development visiting expert to the school, is an intrusion to Nnenna’s otherwise routine but noble existence. Gloria and Nnenna become fast friends and before long, their friendship escalates to sleepovers and eventually a lesbian affair. It is a gradual development, from licking icing from cake and feeling under each others’ blouses. Nnenna’s mother, though not religious admonishes her only child warning against this relationship that is criminal in Nigeria. Her father is calmer about it. As a reader, I feel there is authorial intrusion where the development of the reaction of parents has been summarized too quickly without us feeling the enormity of this affair. Secondly, while Nnenna appears to come from an enlightened family, her description of the snow reflects a more naïve person. And I think of Gloria playing in the snow-like I imagine Americans do, lying in it-forming now angels on the ground. I think of Papa suggesting that perhaps America would be the best place for me and my kind of love. (Page 18) Gloria represents a desired future. She is the love of Nnenna’s life, educated on the crude oil economics of Nigeria and America and she lives in America. She is the sole reason Nnenna’s acquires a visa and also ignites her desire to leave. Her mother begs her to return and not get lost in America but Nnenna almost hopes that she actually does get lost and separate herself from the hardship of Nigeria. The introduction of the bus ride out of Port Harcourt is a little bit touristy. An excerpt is below. We drive through bushes. We pass the villages that rim our side of the Bonny River. There are hardly any trees in the area, and the shrubs are little more than stumps, thin and dusty, not verdant as they used to be. This, Mama has told me: that the vegetation around the Bonny River once thrived. That the trees grew tall, and from them sprang green leaves. And their flowers gave rise to fruit. Of course, this memory is hers, from a former reality, one too old to be my own. The roads are sandy and brown, with open gutters, and with wrappers and cans and bottles strewn about (Page 1). It is almost as if it is the protagonist’s first trip to Nigeria. I understand the need to distance herself from the filth, just like when he left the Embassy after attaining her visa, but there I nothing unique about the place because trees are expected to have leaves and flower expected to bear fruit, just as shrubs can often look like stumps. Possibly the knowledge of Bonny River would have helped, but it does not. The knowledge of Shell’s involvement in the oil spill and the different reactions in America and Nigeria is not uncommon but an interesting tale to tell in this story. It does make it appear like too much is going on in the story though from lesbian relationships, parent to daughter relationships and this obvious important oil spill issue. I am a bit uncomfortable too with the fact that America does seem to answer everyone’s problems and has been placed on an unnecessary pedestal. The proverbial story tries to alleviate that, along with the Mother’s plea for her daughter to return. When Nnena’s father though, tells her that America is the place that will manage her kind of love, I feel that it is not the love he is talking about, but her lifestyle, it will meet her dream and hopes as compared to a more hopeless Nigeria. That again, appears to be the author’s intrusion because the parents’ characters were not developed enough for us as readers to agree with their sentiments. The readers should have been left to decide whether or not they agreed with the lesbian affair without it being prescribed to us. The mother is by far, the most memorable character. Her reaction to the relationship is real and characteristic of a mother who cares. On Page 111, the excerpt below shows a lot. A woman and a woman cannot bear children, Mama says to me. That’s not the way it works. As he stomp out of the room, he says again, The wind has blown and the bottom of the fowl has been exposed. Further along, she complains about how he will never have a grandchild. It is easy to be moved to pity for the mother and shake some sense into Nnena for breaking her mother’s heart. This bond is quite pivotal in the story and is an interesting dynamic. The love of lovers against the love of parents. I would be interested to read other stories by Okparanta because she is obviously gifted.Thi story was first published in Granta Magazine. Review by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva Ugandan writer

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Short Story Day Africa 2013; The Interview

Short Story Day Africa 2013; The Interview The team at Short Story Day Africa has compiled twenty one questions their followers want to know about writers in Africa as part of the Short Story Day Africa 2013 celebrations. Do you actually enjoy writing, or do you write because you like the finished product? The situation varies. I think I mostly enjoy thinking about writing and imagining the finished product. I enjoy the beginning and end of my writings always but not the in-between because then I am too far from the start to change and too far from the end to stop. What are you reading right now? And are you enjoying it? (No cheating and saying something that makes you sound like the intelligentsia). I am reading the abridged version of David Copperfied. Charles Dickens was moved my love and romance and I’m a hopeless romantic, it never gets old for me. I’m also reading one of the 2010 issues of Oprah’s O magazines and looking at clothing for women. I like to imagine what my dream body image would look like in those clothes. Have you ever killed off a character and regretted it? Yes, I have. I killed off a boy in a school dormitory and my regret was the he died from AIDS related causes without a proper understanding of its dynamics. I also regret the melodrama that ensued. If you could have any of your characters over for dinner, which would it be and why? There is a character called Tom, who is a Caucasian Ugandan and has an enthralling relationship with his neighbour. They have a very alluring sexual interaction and he takes decaffeinated coffee which means he looks after his health. I just detest his relationship with his cat. Which one of your characters would you never invite into your home and why? I would never invite a certain mechanic who robbed a lady of Nine hundred thousand shillings because he could rob me too. Ernest Hemingway said: write drunk, edit sober. For or against? For, a million times for. It is in our deepest angst and uncontrollable states that words tear from our hearts to the page. My writing needs it. If against, are you for any other mind altering drug? I am not for any mind-altering drugs, except mind-altering past-times like reading, praying, talking etc… Our adult competition theme if Feast, Famine and Potluck. Have you ever put food in your fiction? If so, what part did it play in the story? In my most recent story, leftover Turkey was served to a cat to make it go away. What’s the most annoying question anyone’s ever asked you in an interview? So who is Beverley Nambozo? (huh?) If you could be any author other than yourself, who would you be? Maeve Binchy, (when she was alive.) She died last year on my birthday. If you could go back in time and erase one thing you had written from your writing history, what would it be and why? I would erase an erotic poem I read before youth in Mbarara town in Uganda, where the Mayor was present. What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told? Can’t zero on any, there are several. If someone reviews you badly, do you write them into your next book/story and kill them? I wouldn’t kill them, just make them suffer. What’s your favourite bad reviewer revenge fantasy? Naught. What’s the most frustrating thing about being a writer in Africa? Coping with many standards, the standards in Uganda, the standards set internationally, standards from peers, standards of the continent and trying to embrace and find my own place. Have you ever written naked? Do you mean there are people who haven’t? Does writing sex scenes make you blush? If I’m reading it before many people but not if I’m on my own. Who would play you in the film of your life? Gabrielle Union or Sharon Leal. If you won the Caine Prize for African Fiction, what would you do with the money? For me, the better question would be, what would I do with 10,000 GBP. High unlikely I would even be shortlisted for Caine. I would take my family on holiday to South America and invest in my literary project that promotes poetry and verse. What do you consider your best piece of work to date? I am reluctant to say because the readers usually think otherwise. What are you doing on 21 June 2013, to celebrate Short Story Day Africa? I wasn’t planning on any celebration but now that you ask, I may visit a place I have never visited before and start a story with that very setting. Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva END

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

HELLEN NYANA, ON WRITING HER TRUTH(interview by African Writers' Trust)

(SOURCE: AFRICAN WRITERS' TRUST) It has taken me a while to introduce myself as a writer. Sure, I may tell my family and friends that I write but I rarely introduce myself as a writer. So when I was invited to participate in the Uganda international Writers’ Conference that was organised by the African Writers Trust in March 2013, all I was looking forward to was quietly admiring real international writers. Most of us who live on the continent look at our friends in the Diaspora with envy. And we definitely look at writers in the Diaspora as some privileged lot. Not only do they have faster Internet and quaint little coffee shops from where they create their amazing works of genius; they are also exposed to renowned publishing houses. We quietly covet them and force smiles through our teeth as we get autographs for their bestselling novels. When they tell us that winter was hard to get used to, we brush that off as one of their many not-so-serious problems. Malawian writer Dr Jack Mapanje, who has been living in exile in Britain for a while now, told us about his experiences in the Diaspora and they were anything but rosy. Weather aside, their audiences back home, the few that read their books anyway, question the plausibility of their writing having not been home in a long time. The murram roads they write about have been tarmacked and that remote village in their childhood memory now has cell phone reception. Which Africa then are they writing about? But then again their audiences in the countries where they stay question the Africa they write about that has no kwashiorkor-ridden children. Most times, rather than concentrate on the skill of their craft, their African-ness is questioned. This and the debate on Afropolitanism helped put my writing into a bigger context. That I am no longer writing for just me but for an audience that would perceive my work however they want. That wherever I am writing from, whichever country I am in be it in Africa or in the Diaspora, Afropolitanism should demand that I am more concerned about the quality of what I am writing than slapping in contrived idioms to make the work appear “more African”. It is then that I understood what writers mean when they say, “Write your truth.” Marketing my writing was another aspect that made me think of writing being just beyond me. When most writers think about getting their writing out there, their options are only limited to publishing houses. We never think of the options that blogs, individual websites and websites like Amazon give us to self-publish. We spend more time whining about Africa’s poor reading culture instead of building our Wikipedia profiles that could guide our audiences on what they could read. And now, surprisingly, we have E.L James of the Fifty Shades of Grey fame to look up to as an example of the power of self-publishing. But there was no moment when the far-sightedness of Africa Writers Trust shone through than during the session with Barclays Bank and DOEN Foundation. The topic for this session was “Supporting the Arts: Donor Funding and the Case for Corporate Financing Integration”, which explored new forms of collaboration between the artists and their supporters and discussed new funding patterns by donors, and the possibility of integrating corporate financing in the arts. Thinking of the monetary side of my writing emphasised the need for quality and impactive material. But to listen to people say they are willing to support my craft, was more than the push I needed. This conference gave me an opportunity to learn from some of Africa’s best writers, to hang out with upcoming story tellers and to think of my writing beyond my limited view and into a bigger picture. Interview by African Writers' Trust

Bayan Layi's Kuka Tree, Review of Bayan Layi

(INTERNET PHOTO) Review of Bayan Layi, short story written by Elnathan John, published in Per Contra. We all look forward to a simply told story which we can enjoy from the start to the end. Bayan Layi is exactly that. Because of its simplicity and Elnathan’s powerful gift of story-telling, it is also easy to sway with the motions of the words and miss the different nuances. Let’s begin with the Kuka Tree, which is the place of shelter for the gang of boys who play the bigger part of the story. It is their place of freedom from adults and authority, who antagonize their dreams, and a place where they can boast about their past while planning for their future. The boys are seated under the Kuka and Daltan, our narrator introduces his own internal conflict at the beginning. While the other boys can boast about men they have killed, he can’t. This immediately makes one think of someone weak or physically and mentally incapacitated in one way or another. The Kuka Tree, their place governed by its own rules unites these boys who have been estranged from families and idealized structures for various reasons. Their life is one of unpredictability, high-risk and excitement. As they sit and talk under the tree, Godedanisa one of the gang members is boasting about a kill which our narrator knows is false. The narrator, Daltan is furious at the tale but he is aware that it is not in his place to reveal the truth. There are many things that come to light here, is Daltan fearful because he is small? Why does he belong in the gang if he has never killed anyone? Is he searching for something bigger than just belonging in a gang? Many of those are answered as we read the story which I have summarized below. Significantly, even though he is the most feeble, he also bears the most strength because he carries the entire narrative in his voice. This gang does not belong to any formal home setting or attend formal schooling, their world views have been shaped by finding cunning ways of surviving on the streets looking for food and shelter. Daltan in particular is driven by a quest for life’s truths through Allah or otherwise, and because he has never seen his father or brothers in a very long time, his new family is made up of the boys under the tree and Banda who is his father-figure. Banda is the most revered because of his connections in the town, his physical strength and his ability to supply the popular drug, wee-wee amongst the boys. Sadly it is this strength that lets him down when he breaks into a fit of coughing during the raid of the office of a Big Political party which leads to his subsequent death. The struggles of the boys to maintain their honour, sense of loyalty to Allah, to the small political party and to one another is what carries this beautiful story through. Being a very strong Muslim community, it is no wonder we hear the strong voices of males without the narrative of a female. Had it been different, it may have caused a shift in the story and possibly not have served its purpose. What we can appreciate is that even the toughest of them, Banda will not take any insult to his mother lying down. When Gobedanisa insults him with the words, Gindin Mama ka! Your mother’s cunt, it is enough to start a brawl. Honor is a strong theme in this story because while Daltan, the smallest and most incapable of fighting is called a cikin shege, a bastard by Alfa, it is this dishonourable word that brings more tears to his eyes than the death of his father. Banda, Daltan’s surrogate father is able to ward off Alfa in a fight after which he also introduces Daltan to his first taste of the drug wee-wee. The feeling of the drug makes him light-headed and gives him a weird physical strength. It is Allah, apparently who decides who lives, who suffers and who dies in Bayan Layi. From the boy who stole groundnut oil from Maman Ladidi’s house, another female character, to the scores who have died in riots. Maman Ladidi is an interesting icon of a woman’s power. After the boy thief is able to escape a beating from this gang, his body is later found in a gutter. One can believe that Allah desires justice for women here. The dichotomy between the two political rivals, The Small Party and The Big Party presents a great finale to the story. During the pinning of campaign posters and during political rallies, Banda is sought after to collect boys to support the process. It is after an election fraud meted by the opposition Big Party that the boys are paid to cause havoc on the property of this opposition. They burn the main office buildings; kill an old and familiar security guard, loot and burn lots of property within their sight. Daltan tastes the real bitter-sweet pleasure of hacking and burning a man to death. At this point, Banda’s physical strength fails him and because of his serious cough, is unable to outrun the policemen that fire at him. He dies from gunshot wounds. It is no wonder that Daltan flees, even after the sound of gunshots ceases. He flees past the Kuka Tree, far from Bayan Layi because now that Banda is dead, there is nothing really left for him. It is also a manifestation of a young scared boy who cannot manage well without an older person to guide and protect him. This is a great story for telling and re-telling. Reviewed by Beverley Nambozo

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Bev is Blogging The Caine, Sometimes all it takes is a Whisper.

(source: FACEBOOK PHOTO AND NEWBOOKS NIGERIA) “The Whispering Trees” is a story that carries so much weight in words that you don’t even have to know who the author is. That story where at the end, it doesn’t feel like a story but like a passage in your own time. You go back to that quotable quote and you return to that character that dared manifest itself as your mirror image. “The Whispering Trees” is a summary of all our lives. It does not coerce you to believe in a particular faith but allows you to step by step be part of the human experiences, not just the shell of the characters but a part of their existence, their purpose. The opening paragraph is so vivid and will make you sit up to follow what happens. “It’s strange how things are on the other side of death. I fear I am incapable of describing the experience to you because I do not know what word to use. One simply has to die to understand the enigma of death.” This paragraph above is the perfect ingredient for powerful story-telling. It appears effortless with the use of simple words to explain such profundity. “The Whispering Trees” is like a parable. It uses death to symbolize eternal life, it uses mortals who become immortal in order to serve humanity better and it uses the different types of love, Platonic love, Agape love and Eros to unite all the things that should matter in life. In summary, Salim finds himself in a realm between Heaven and Hell after a car crash which killed his mother Ummi. In that state, he is able to reconnect with Faulata, his love. Blinded from the crash, Faulata’s love and strength bring him back to phyical recovery. Salim is infuriated by his new station in life and reciprocates by being physically and mentally abusive to the patient and endearing Faulata. He is also impossible to live with and his siblings and neighbours bear the brunt of that. When he finally accepts his physical state, Faulata quits her martyrdom and runs to the hands of another man. Once again, Salim retreats into the darkness until he finds a place of reconciliation with The Whispering Trees, the woods that speak deep into his soul and into the souls of past dead friends. The trees offer the pivotal point of the story and enable the readers to also reconcile with their own past before they can move ahead to a better future. In the story, the metaphysical state is part of our own consciousness and the dialogues reflect our thought processes as readers and expose our deepest needs. The author blends the mortal and immortal experiences so well. From the start, the smell of the awful antiseptic jolts him from his surreal presence back to earth. He hears the melodic voice of Faulata before he is brought back to the car with Ummi his mother and the stark truth of the law enforcement officers who frisked his body after the accident leaving him for dead. This blend of the two worlds through such simple incidents is one of the many reasons that make the story an authority on life. The dialogue below between the Corporal and officers who rob Salim focus on the central theme of hypocrisy and corruption which the story expertly depicts. “…Oga see. This one too don die.” It was as if removing my money from my body had settled the little matter of my being alive.”… “…How much you find for ‘im body?” The first man said, “Four thousand naira, Sir.” “…Oya, put ‘im body with the others but hide the body with the others but hide the money before people come.” A third one said, “God O! This accident is bad, eh! See how everybody just die. Chei!” The oga replied angrily, “Shut up Corporal. If them no die you got fit get this kind of money wey you dey get just like that? Na this kind thing we dey pray for, no be say na we kill them.” After this episode of the tragic car accident that claims Ummi’s life, we feel the full impact of the accident on Salim. He has two fractures and three broken ribs but real damage is to his eyes leading to blindness. This is when Faulata’s friendship and love are put to the test. Faulata represents our own earthly pleasures and needs. She is patient throughout his predicament, nursing him, bathing him, encouraging him to attend the school for the blind and live his life fully. She even readily attempts to burn the house of the unscrupulous Saratu, the beguiling friend to Salim’s younger sister Jamila after her endless taunts at Salim’s accidents due to his blindness. ‘Saint’ Faulata is an avid protector of Salim’s dignity. It is here that we realize again how foolish our emotions are compared to the bigger picture. It is Salim’s anger that makes him march towards Saratu, leading to the subsequent stumbling over buckets. He is enraged at the taunts from a young girl. This is the real blindness that the story wants us to relate with, the blindness in our nature that makes us unforgiving and constantly irate. Faulata, a representation of our earthly pleasures, lashes so strongly at Saratu’s relatives when the real person she is upset with is Salim, the initial cause of this predicament. Her saintliness is also called to question and there is a deep silence that engulfs after the incident. Faulata, a representation of our earthly needs, lashes so strongly at Saratu’s relatives when the real person she is upset with is Salim, the initial cause of this predicament. He begins to question every possible cause for his blindness from the Government, the driver, his sister, all but The Almighty. It is not until Faulata introduces the idea of applying to the school of the blind that he lashes out at God and their argument reaches an all time high and she makes her first exit. Just as our earthly needs do not satisfy us, Faulata could not fulfill the real spiritual need that Salim sought. After her departure, The Whispering Trees, the voices that speak to the souls of the characters, enter the story through a flashback of Salim’s childhood. The trees are part of the woods where he and his friends played and created their lifelong memories. It is also the place where Hamza, one of his friends, died in a pond that was really too shallow for anyone to drown in. The incident resulting in rumors of a spirit, which in effect led people to stay away from the woods. Hamza could easily symbolize Jesus who in certain faiths is believed to have died for mankind. After Hamza’s death, people stayed away from the woods and the woodland creatures and animals were able to live in harmony and the flora and fauna in peaceful co-existence. They thrived without the tampering of human nature. Jesus likewise had to die for the removal of mankind’s sins. After Salim agrees to go to the school of the blind, Faulata has to go to prepare for her University studies. Despite this he is able to gain strength in the new revelation from the memories of the woods and his ‘second chance’ at life. He becomes more accustomed to his blindness and is very pleasant to his classmates and professors, enjoying the outdoors and relishing in the gift of a new beginning. His newfound happiness and strength are really a depiction of his spiritual life. At this point, Faulata appears less and less before announcing her upcoming marriage to another man. Once again, Salim falls into despair and we are able to see how frail we are as humans, and how limiting our saintliness is in the face of a much bigger picture. He implores death to take him and his relatives bring a healer to anoint him with oil and cast out evil spirits. After three days when he comes round, Salim is able to see into the spirits of humans and understand their plight and life’s greater purpose. The three days before his reappearance is also like Jesus who rose after three days in the grave. With his new spiritual lenses, Salim is also able to notice the trees screaming in agony when they are felled, he notices hues around peoples’ hearts, each representing an actual human condition. After a nightmare where the whispering trees caution him about seeing with his spiritual eyes, Salim enters into the real purpose of his life. On meeting Hamza who died in those very woods twelve years ago, he is able to reconcile with Hamza’s mother and bridge the gap between her loneliness and the comfort that her son is in a better place, which could have been Heaven. Hamza is the sacrificial lamb in this instance. The one who is able to forgive Tanimu, the young boy whose actions led to Hamza’s physical death. Forgiveness is one of the ultimate lessons in this story. “The Whispering Trees” can be explored through the eyes of an artist, an anthropologist, a philosopher and a realist. One review is certainly not enough and I look forward to hearing more from other readers like Harriet Anena below, Ugandan writer and social critic. The words in Whispering Trees guide you to a seat and ask you to listen – to a message not so new but so deep and real you wouldn’t want to object. The writer raises critical cross-societal issues that I have read about and, some experienced, – corruption [of police officers who rob corpses], stigmatisation [of blind Salim when he goes blind], and the survival of genuine relationships [of Salim’s sister and friend Hamza] amidst intruding hypocrisy. The only difference is that Ibrahim has a fearless grasp of words and almost mercilessly uses them to his advantage. The aggressive use of imagery, especially in the robbery scene, and the use of the First Person narrative, makes the characters visible and issues raised, believable. For instance, in his blind state, the main character - Salim appears more alive visually, than the people around him. Harriet Anena As a reviewer, my only misgiving is the very last quote in the story; Happiness lies not in getting what you want but in wanting what you have. This is unbefitting for such an important story that stands on its own merit without the use of such quotes. Reviewed by Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva The Whispering Trees was written by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and shortlisted for the 2013 Caine prize.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bev is Blogging the Caine-Foreign Aid by Pede Hollist

Interestingly, the only non-Nigerian on the 2013 shortlist has written a story called Foreign Aid. When I read it, I felt, what a quirky character this Balogun is, the protagonist who spreads his two-decade sojourn from Sierra Leone to America and back to Sierra Leone, or Salone for the latter part of the story. His physical appearance on his first arrival to America undergoes a fundamental change. He was a feeble looking twenty something with one pathetic suitcase but on his trip back to Salone, now in his forties, he is a much sharper dresser, with two brimming Samsonite suitcases and a chubbier belly. While in America, Balogun’s pivotal moment is when he pushes his fortune too far after being kindly hosted by a cousin and he is discovered in bed with his cousin’s wife’s teenage sister. Kicking him to the curb, literally, he finds his African wit tested in inner-city America. Gaining a few credit hours, he works his way to a well-paying job as an on-call operator in the midst of two failed marriages and three child support payments. His promises over long distance calls to bring his sister Ayo to America become far from the reality in the face of the turmoil of his existence, thankfully later as a documented citizen. The story is riddled with similes which can be a distraction because the images are jarring. For example, when he is thrown out of his cousin’s home, “With the eagerness of an only child on his first day of boarding school, Balogun disappeared into the gray, half-boarded apartment complex…” Page 1. The image may have served better with more specifications since this was a specific moment in Balogun’s life. As he hoards enough money and regains his lost ego, he is able to find the obedient and unflappable Yamide, also from Sierra Leone, who he marries. Their relationship is just enough to seal his troublesome manhood before returning to his home. Overflowing with good intentions, his enthusiastic father meets him at the airport. Regrettably, the readers miss this critical interaction between father and son because of the unnecessary similes. One of them is, “Logan returned the hug with the affection of a child instructed to greet an overweight uncle with bad breath.” Page 3. Further down, “Are those your bags?” Father rippled with the excitement of a refugee at the sight of a Red Cross vehicle.” Ibid. However, on further analysis, this image of Red Cross and refugee does reflect the title, Foreign Aid because the father is one of the main recipients of Balogun’s foreign currency and benevolence. Driving home in two cabs, the cab with his more valued luggage is lost during an incident of a convoy led by The Minister of Mines who cuts through the traffic to make it in time for the ferry, regardless of the drivers in the cars who have been unduly inconvenienced. The interaction with his father is the first major one, the second is this, the latter being of a more impudent nature with no consideration of his American status. On arrival at home, his mother shows a more realistic homecoming, hugging him warmly and appraising him. As a reader, I am personally doubtful if a traditional woman from Salone would welcome her son wearing a cotton nightdress but then again, the characters are rather eccentric. Her gauntness and rusty cavities expose a difficult life-style and sets the stage perfectly for Balogun’s foreign aiding. When the father introduces Tunde, the boy they have been looking after since his parents were killed in the war, once again it is a perfect set up for aid and Balogun (Logan) dishes out his first wad of 20 Dollar bills for a round of beer. Given the way Logan demanded his luggage back at the ferry incident, he seems to be unaware of the realities in Salone and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had asked, which war? To him, that did not seem to matter, it was an opportunity to show off his status. And then he bestows more hundred dollar bills to his parents for medical checkups. Another instance where the title Foreign Aid comes into play is when he determines to confront the Minister of Mines over the incident at the ferry. Waiting outside the office long enough to realize that he is being cheated once again by others cutting the line; he approaches the receptionist for an explanation. In a humorous response, a Ministry official gives him some money as is the usual custom for people who wait outside that particular office. Logan is disinterested in this type of aid and is extremely disappointed yet again. As is expected in many African communities when there is a returnee from the West, visitors and relatives come in large numbers with open hands to hug and receive their share of the foreign aid. It is Ayo, who is ironically one of the main foci of his visit, because he means to return with her to America. She is not engrossed by the prospect of America anymore and prefers to remain in Salone to care for her unborn baby whose father is a Lebanese man whose children she tutors. Foreign Aid revisits with a nuance when Logan meets head-on with the man who it appears has been paying for the livelihood of his parents as well including the car. Despondent at the emptiness of his pockets, the after effects of unchecked kindness and at the face of his parents’ lies, his own Yamide is adamant when he asks her to send him more money. With literally one final surge of manhood left, he makes an appointment to spend his final night with Tima, a timid girl whose character is similar to Yamide’s when they first met. Tima’s failure to make the appointment is the perfect closure to a string of one disillusionment after another. The occurrences also echo a man who is far removed from the realities of his home and also how a lot of Foreign Aid coming to Africa does not reflect the real needs of the people. Coincidentally, Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian economist and author, has been in the public eye this week (27 May to 31 May), defending her stand in her well researched and relevant book for our times, Dead Aid. The youth cab driver in whose vehicle Logan lost his Samsonite suitcases appears at the very end of the story with one of the suitcases, and promises to return them to Logan’s father. This ambiguity offers the reader more insight into Logan’s defeated attitude where before he would have publicised his Americanness and told the youth off. The youth by the way was more interested in pursuing a career in Nigeria than America much to Logan’s disbelief, showing that aid in whichever form does not always come from across the oceans. Of all the shortlisted writers, I have not been in touch with Hollist but from his brief bio, his short stories, Going to America and Back Home Abroad reveal a man who is deeply moved by the journeys to and fro the two homes of Sierra Leone and America. Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


The 5th and final BN Poetry Award for Uganda. Theme: Innovation Deadline for submission extended to June 1, 2013 As we celebrate the 5th and final BN Poetry Award for Uganda, the theme of Innovation is most suitable because 2013 is about originality, modernization, freshness and in 2014, we’re taking the award to an international level. Guidelines for the award: • The theme is Innovation and you may submit a total of three ORIGINAL poems in English, under this theme • The award is open to Ugandan women above 18 years and who are residents of Uganda • The poems must be sent as word attachments in Times New Roman Size 12, single-spaced • Previous first winners are not eligible to apply • Submit poems by email to bnpoetryaward@mail.com or post to P O Box 34942 Kampala, Uganda • For more details, follow the facebook page, Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation or blog: http://bnpoetryaward.blogsot.com or website: www.bnpoetryaward.co.ug DEADLINE EXTENDED. Submissions will be accepted up to June 1 2013 at Midday, East African Standard Time. PRIZES: • The first 3 winners will attend a fully sponsored trip to the Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi alongside cash prizes of 500 US Dollars, 300 US Dollars and 200 US Dollars respectively. • The first 3 will also win autographed copies of Home Floats in the Distance / ZUHAUSE TREIBT IN DER FERNE, Dr. Susan Kiguli’s second poetry collection which is also bi-lingual, autographed copies of Diaries of a Dead African, by Chuma Nwokolo, Jr. and autographed copies of Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana Sincerely, Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, Founder and Director, BN Poetry Foundation

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bev is Blogging the Caine, Miracle by Tope Folarin

This blog is a couple of days old. I needed a space to outside my poetry work. I found Tope Folarin’s Miracle like a passage through ‘humourdom’ with sign-posts telling you where to go for which particular miracle. I felt like I had been there before and in many ways I have. The story was a complete analysis of the ‘antics’ in churches and fundamentalist sects, also a revelation of what measures desperate people take. Tope told me that he does respect the church and the story represented the larger spectrum of desperation. The story is quite precise and detailed and can only be told by someone who recognizes it and is a part of it. It veers from the usual anecdotes of pastors asking for money and delves into deeper issues. “…and we ask that you bless us abundantly, we who have made it to America…” This certainly places us in a specific emotional and physical context raising our expectations as well. I was amused because America is a desire for many and the church no doubt receives countless prayer requests world-wide from people who desire to travel to America in particular. On arrival, more prayers are necessary to continue living that dream. The vicious life of prayer and miracle searches doesn’t end, which could also mean that we are always searching for something more. The miracles are all so physical and urgent like green cards, American passports, good grades and good jobs, some of which could be attained from hard work as well. There is no request for the greater good, to give back to America, which is also interesting. They left their homes to travel to America but even in America they are still clinging to home by attending a church whose structure and congregation is homogeneous. I enjoy the fact of the Prophet’s blindness and that his physical blindness only opens his spiritual eyes even more. I felt this similarity in The Whispering Trees as well but we’ll get to that story later. However, he distances himself in case of any miracle errors, …And the only thing that will prevent you from receiving your share is your unbelief…” The main character of the story, who the Prophet says has become accustomed to his deformity, is an easy target because of his age and thick lenses. And when this young short-sighted man screams out that he can see and guesses the correct number of fingers during the eyesight restoring miracle test, it is like an extension to the physical miraculous falsehood of leaving poverty in Nigeria to America only to still be met by poverty. The spiritual falsehoods of healing also affirm our need to fit in, especially in a place that is alien to us. There is a paragraph which could have been eliminated because it explained what was already obvious to the reader. The second last page, “This is what I learned during my first visit to a Nigerian church: that a community is made up of truths and lies. Both must be cultivated in order for the community to survive. Miracle is certainly an entertaining story. It is difficult to tell which story will win because each of them is radical, and with its own literary merit.

Article in The Guardian, Sunday 26 May 2013

Elizabeth Day visited Uganda in May, 2013 and interviewed female writers about their writing , in particular FEMRITE' role in giving women their literary voice. During the interview amongst other things, I also shared about the annual poetry competition I began in 2008, my Lancaster Masters, my chapbook collection of poetry and the current book I am writing which will be out later in the year. The article is below where she interviewed Doreen Baingana, Beatrice Lamwaka, myself Beverley Nambozo and Goretti Kyomuhendo. How Uganda's female writers found their voice A pioneering foundation called Femwrite has helped a new generation of Ugandan women tell – or at least record – often harrowing stories of daily life in the country Share162 Beatrice Lamwaka: 'The only way I could deal with [my experience] was to write the stories we hadn't been able to tell.' Photograph: Elizabeth Day for the Observer Beatrice Lamwaka was not yet a teenager when her 13-year-old brother, Richard, was abducted as a child soldier. The family lived in Alokolum, a town in northern Uganda, an area riven by civil war and brutal uprisings since the late 1980s, and Richard was snatched by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a militia group under the fanatical control of the murderous Joseph Kony. Under Kony's rule, child soldiers such as Richard were given automatic weapons and trained to kill. They were forced to commit atrocities against their friends and siblings. Those who attempted to escape were murdered. Against all odds, Richard survived, returning home some months later. Yet he never once spoke about what he had endured. Nor did his family ever ask him what had happened. They didn't know how to tell him that in his absence, they had assumed he was dead and had buried his "tipu" – his soul. Then, at the age of 15, Richard died of pneumonia. His mother couldn't find the words to grieve; she retreated into silence. Beatrice, too, knew not to say anything. Her childhood had been marked by violence. She grew so used to the sound of gunshot fire being exchanged between LRA rebels and government troops that she could distinguish when a bullet had hit a person and when it hadn't from the noise it made. The people in her village did not talk about such things. No one did. Silence was the only form of survival. "They would talk about almost anything else," Lamwaka says now, more than 20 years later, sitting on her bed in her modest, single-storey home an hour's drive from Kampala. "But they wouldn't talk about what was going on around them." It was only as an adult that Lamwaka found a way to express what she had been through and it came in the form of short stories. "The only way I could deal with it was to write the stories we hadn't been able to tell," she explains. Lamwaka, 35, is one of a new wave of Ugandan fiction writers. Her work has been published in several anthologies and she has been nominated for several international prizes. The tale of her brother's abduction inspired a powerful short story called "Butterfly Dreams", in which a young girl is abducted by the LRA: "You caressed your scars as if to tell us what you went through," Lamwaka writes. "We did not ask questions." Lamwaka says she has only had the confidence to turn her experiences into fiction because of the pioneering work of Femrite, an NGO established in Uganda in 1995 to promote and publish women's writing. Until that point, the literary scene in the country had been limited – publishing houses preferred to print profitable textbooks than novels that didn't sell – and what there was of it was dominated by men. Femrite has changed all that. The organisation holds regular writing workshops and residential retreats, as well as running its own publishing arm, and is one of numerous organisations in developing countries working with Commonwealth Writers, a development foundation in the UK, which aims to unearth and nurture less-heard voices from across the Commonwealth; it also awards an annual prize for a best unpublished short story worth £5,000. The winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Short Story prize will be announced this week by John le Carré at the Hay festival. The aim, according to Lucy Hannah, the programme manager of the Commonwealth Foundation, is "to give a platform to emerging talent, often writing from difficult places and about difficult issues. We work with local communities to ensure these writers get the recognition they deserve and can make crucial connections with other authors and publishers at an international level. In doing so, we hope to encourage a new generation of storytellers whose fiction will open up a new world to readers who might not otherwise come across their work." Back in Uganda, a light morning breeze causes the net curtains to billow into Lamwaka's living room. Along one wall, there is a bookshelf crammed tightly with dogeared copies of novels by Chinua Achebe, Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. One day, Lamwaka hopes her work will be there too. "It's so important for Ugandan writers to get international recognition," she explains. "We need role models." The act of putting words on a page, of telling the truth through fiction, is a brave one for women in Uganda. It takes a particular courage to do so in a society riven by the kind of silent trauma described by Lamwaka and where the struggle for gender equality continues. In rural areas, the education of boys is still prioritised and many girls drop out of school to help in the home or to get married. As a result, they have a lower literacy rate than men. Domestic violence is high. According to figures from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics in 2007, 68% of married women aged 15 to 49 had experienced some form of violence by their spouse or intimate partner. Most women do not report such abuse to the authorities through fear of social rejection and the police rarely intervene or investigate. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is in decline, but still a problem in the country's villages. According to Unicef, 1% of all Ugandan women aged 15-49 have been cut, leading to serious physical and psychological health issues. In 2009, Femrite volunteers travelled around the country to collect first-hand testimonies from women who had undergone female circumcision and who were, in many cases, illiterate and unable to write their own stories. The resulting anthology, Beyond the Dance, makes powerful reading. One woman, Judith, recalls being circumcised without anaesthetic in 1976, then forced to walk 4km to a local nursing home, where she slept on a bare floor for a week before she was allowed to bathe herself. "Unless a woman was circumcised, she would not get married," Judith says. "She would be subjected to all sorts of ridicule and, finally, she would be circumcised by force. Circumcision was not something a woman chose to do; it was what she had to do." Judith is now paralysed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair, a situation she believes was triggered by the botched circumcision. Her husband left her because "he had no use for a crippled wife". Without Femrite, her story would never have been told. Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva: 'In the villages, they feel that it's a betrayal to express themselves.' Photograph: Elizabeth Day for the Observer In a bustling cafe in the Kisementi district of Kampala, Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva, a Femrite volunteer and poet, describes it as "the voice of silence": the inbuilt fear and shame that holds women back from telling their stories. "In the villages, they feel it's a form of betrayal to express themselves because they're so used to silence, to just nodding without argument," she says. "They will think it's a betrayal of trust to their elders and society. But also they're scared. They think, 'If I tell the story of how this society turned against me and ruined my life through FGM, they will cast me out.' Femrite is really about creating a safe space for speaking out." Traditionally, Ugandan women are the storytellers and keepers of the oral tradition but it takes a considerable leap of consciousness to become a writer. "Some of these women have the basic talent to tell stories," says Goretti Kyomuhendo, a founding member of Femrite. "What is lacking is personal empowerment: self-belief, self-confidence and I think I would say they're suffering a kind of identity crisis. In many African societies, the woman's identity is constructed using that of another person: for example, if you're a woman with a baby, you become known as mama – it's a mark of cultural respect." At one of Femrite's early workshops, Kyomuhendo recalls a woman writing "a beautiful story in the first person. It started, 'I was raped on my wedding night.'" When the woman returned the next week, she had rewritten the story in the third person, in the voice of a character called Angella. "It had no impact," says Kyomuhendo. "I asked her why she'd done it and she said, 'Because my husband said people would think it was me.' So the challenge is: how do you empower that woman to tell that story?" Doreen Baingana: "I wanted my story to be a record of those who died [of HIV-related disease], who carried a social stigma.' Photograph: Elizabeth Day for the Observer Doreen Baingana, whose book Tropical Fish won the Commonwealth Writers prize for best first book in 2006, describes Femrite as "my literary home". "There are certain things in this society that are not meant to be said," she explains when we meet near her home in Entebbe on the Lake Victoria peninsula. "There are roles that women are not meant to play because of unspoken rules. Femrite provides a focus for those challenges because when we're together as women, we communicate differently." But it would be wrong to assume that these writers are trapped in the past. While many Ugandan authors are doubtless influenced by their country's troubled history – the turbulent political upheavals and decades of civil war, the dictatorial rule of Idi Amin and his ruthless oppression of dissent – there are also those, including Baingana, who are keen to move on. "I think we expect the African story to be one of tragedy and despair and how people overcame suffering," she says, sipping on her latte. "In fact, there are other stories. My experience growing up here wasn't horrific, even though Idi Amin was in power. For me, I just went to school and Entebbe was beautiful and green and peaceful like this." She sweeps her hand, taking in the acacia trees and the lush, verdant landscape. The themes in Baingana's fiction are more universal – Tropical Fish is a series of interlinked short stories exploring the coming of age of three sisters – and are influenced by more recent developments in modern Uganda. In one chapter, sexually precocious oldest sister Rosa writes a letter to a former boyfriend who gave her HIV. "Do you remember when exactly it got a name, became real?" Rosa asks. "How did we first hear about it? Rumours, whispers of strange symptoms in villages far away from us… Stories of its power spread and grew like tree roots, curling out of the ground; abnormal, ugly, strong." Baingana says that the character of Rosa was directly influenced by her experience of university in Uganda in the late 1980s: "So many people were dying and we didn't know why. There was a period when it was a complete mystery. People said it was witchcraft. It started off with village people but then it moved and ran through all society. I wanted this story to be a record of those who died, especially those who thought it was a crime, who carried a social stigma because of a lack of understanding. In families, it was a silent disease. If a child fell sick because of it, no one would say." Yet, despite an increased openness and awareness in the urban centres of Uganda, there are still some stories that cannot be told. Homosexuality, for instance, is illegal here. An anti-homosexuality bill currently being debated in parliament initially proposed the death penalty for those found guilty of "aggravated homosexuality", defined as when one of the participants is a minor, HIV-positive, disabled or a "serial offender". That was dropped in favour of harsher punishments for gay acts. Known colloquially as the "kill the gays" bill, it would also make it a crime not to report someone you know to be a practising homosexual, thereby putting parents, siblings and friends at risk. President Obama has described the bill as "odious". Gay men and women face harassment, extortion, vandalism, death threats and violence on a daily basis. They can be sacked from employment if they are outed, forced to enter into heterosexual marriage and detained by the authorities without charge or access to a lawyer. In some of the worst cases, they can be subjected to "correctional rape". Jo Jothams (not her real name) is a Femrite volunteer and a lesbian. She has known she was gay since she was 13 and developed a crush on a girl at boarding school. And yet, for more than 20 years, she has lied to friends and family about her sexuality for her own protection. "I fear to tell my mother," Jothams says. "I think I love her too much to tell her because she might break down and be like the rest of them. People here think homosexuality is for people who are bad or evil." The reality of being gay in Uganda is a terrifying one. Jothams talks in a low voice about a lesbian friend who was raped by a man she didn't want to marry, about her girlfriend, who was forced out of her rented apartment by the landlord and about the people she knows who have lost their jobs because of their sexuality or their perceived inability to fit in. In the midst of this climate of paranoia and despair, Jothams has found a release of sorts in her writing. At Femrite, she has attended creative writing workshops and has been inspired to produce several short stories. She has ambitions to write a novel about her experiences, "so that people can understand", but, as yet, her work remains on her laptop – unpublished and unread by others. In the current climate, no one – not even Femrite – will print her words. It is too dangerous; the risk of reprisal is too high. Yet the act of writing, Jothams says, is its own form of rebellion. It is necessary for her to put her story down, to show that it exists and to document what is happening. "I feel if you don't tell those stories, you are partly to blame," she explains. "We need to keep writing so that, some day, people will know the truth." It is a gradual process but, word by word, these women are breaking through Uganda's voice of silence and making their own stories heard.