Words move the world
May has been an eventful month thus far in Uganda’s literary scene. The African Writers Trust (AWT), a non-profit entity that brings together African writers — both from the continent and the diaspora — to share skills and knowledge, held a writers workshop in Kampala. Nii Ayikwei Parkes, a London-based Ghanaian writer and experienced performance ...
May has been an eventful month thus far in Uganda’s literary scene. The African Writers Trust (AWT), a non-profit entity that brings together African writers — both from the continent and the diaspora — to share skills and knowledge, held a writers workshop in Kampala.
Nii Ayikwei Parkes, a London-based Ghanaian writer and experienced performance poet, led the workshop. For ten days, Nii Ayikwei mentored emerging Ugandan poets and university students, conducted poetry workshops, and shared his personal writing and publishing experiences with the writing fraternity.
"Poems move the world," Nii Ayikwei told his students. He stressed his belief that it is ambiguity, rather than big words, that moves a poem and makes it stronger: "If you know what you’re writing about from the beginning, then there’s no complexity, no emotion."
When asked by FEMRITE, the Uganda Women Writers Association, about his role as a cultural activist, Nii Ayikwei replied:
"When you write from a marginalized literary culture, you feel compelled to do things such as hosting the African Writers Evening in London, which I do every two months, because there are hardly any platforms for African writers in the UK to express themselves. I also started a Writers Fund in Ghana to help develop the writers there."
Regarding performance poetry, Nii Ayikwei shared his view that this is something that cannot be taught. A performance poet has to learn to listen to the poem. It’s all about giving life to the poem.
Goretti Kyomuhendo, a leading Ugandan author also living in the UK, set up the African Writers Trust in 2009. She realized that most successful African writers live in the diaspora, and that there is a disconnect between them and the writers living on the continent. The aim is to bring together established writers to share advice on writing. The trust has since attracted Nigerian writer Sade Adeniran, winner of the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the multiple award-winning Zambian writer Ellen Banda-Aaku. The organizers are also hoping to include Ellah Allfrey, a leading publisher known for discovering African writers, and David Goodwin, a well-established London literary agent.
Kyomuhendo used her migration experience to give something concrete back to Uganda. Formerly the coordinator of FEMRITE, Kyomuhendo’s heart beats for the future of writing in Uganda.
Writing in Uganda is not an easy venture. People do not understand if you say that you’re a writer; they will immediately ask what newspaper you write for. The idea that one can write fiction as a profession is not prevalent, and there are limited grants or opportunities for writers to develop their skills. In this breath, FEMRITE started a novel project, The African Women Writing Residency. In its third year, the residency brings together women writers from all over Africa: In 2011, 15 writers from Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tunisia, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon, and Botswana were invited to participate. The end product was an anthology, Summoning the Rains, released this month.
Maggie Gee, author of The White Family, shortlisted for the Orange Prize for fiction in 2005, has described the anthology as "a deft, witty, stylish anthology by the exciting new generation of women from all over Africa, writing about rapid change and the unchanging: love, violence, burning ambition, endurance."
Celebrated Ugandan author Julius Ocwinyo described the anthology as "a rich tapestry of stories that transport you into worlds that are at once fantastic and real, stories that seamlessly blend the visceral and the intellectual. Many of them will hold you in thrall from start to finish, because of the exquisite telling and imagining, as well as the surprises that seem to lurk around every corner."
Bringing writers together, and encouraging discussions between writers in the diaspora and on the continent will go a long way to improve the art of writing for Ugandans.