Like most of us, Beatrice Lamwaka, a published writer, never thought of writing as a profession one would make money from, especially here in Uganda. But she has crossed paths with women that have travelled the world and make money from this passion. She talks to them and shares their writing journeys’ stories.
Goretti Kyomuhendo: Director of African Writers Trust, author of novels First Daughter, Secrets No More and Waiting, and several children’s books, including Sara and the Soldier Boy.
“Writing came to me – I did not choose it. I did not plan to start writing. I found myself writing because it felt like the natural thing for me to do. I started writing in the early 1990s and the publication of my first novel in 1996 was a huge turning point in my writing career. I have had to deal with rejections from publishers, criticism from my readers and disappointment when my stories fall below what I had expected them to achieve. I am always hopeful that my next novel is going to be the best yet so I don’t tend to dwell on the negative.
I conceived the idea of starting The African Writers Trust in 2009, to connect and bring together African writers in the Diaspora and writers on the continent for mutual exchange of ideas, experiences, skills and other resources.
I have also just finished a writing guide for beginners entitled: The Essential Handbook for African Creative Writers. It is expected to come out both as an e-book and in print at the beginning of next year. Ideas for stories are everywhere; they surround us. I usually like to pitch my stories around events that either happened in the past or are happening. I relish working with words: words have the power to change the world, more than guns and money put together. Words are my trade and they give me the same satisfaction, I guess, money gives to a businessman. Writing is like falling in love because I believe that good writing comes from a part of us that can love. It’s also a joy for me to put on paper what I feel, what I carry in my head, and the freedom it gives me to be someone else.”
Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva: founder Beverley Nambozo Poetry Foundation that awards poets, to open up more creative writing space for female poets to excel.
“I am a poet, stay home mother, and a daughter. From the age of four years, I was taken to excellent schools that preserved and promoted arts, literature, reading and writing and I embraced it, discovered my gift, impressed my teachers and received a lot of encouragement from my father to continue.
I had to go through taunts from people who did not understand the ways of an artist, and they most likely never will. I also had to go through financially daunting times. I also went through self-doubt, thinking that my imagination was not wild enough to persevere in the unexpectedness of literary audiences. Where I am today is a sum of all the doubts, hopes, misfortunes, births, loves and strengths that have made me the mistress of myself, sure of what I want and certain that my future is dazzling because I chose the road not taken.
There used to be times when I didn’t want to write anymore, when the bitterness of life was eating at me and leaving sores like a leper. Now, I want to write. I do. I wake up and think about writing. I have stories in my head, songs in my pen, verses for my husband and daughters and I want to write.”
Glaydah Namukasa: member of the Uganda Women Writers Association (FEMRITE), Honorary fellow of the International Writing Programme, University of Iowa, USA.
“I am a midwife, writer, a wife and mother-to-be. Midwifery is my profession. And writing is my passion. I discovered my talent in secondary school. So, I must say writing came before midwifery. I make sure that work doesn’t compromise my writing. I am resilient too. And I am so lucky to have such a supportive husband.
I discovered my story telling abilities in primary school. It was always easy for me to forge a fictional story once I climbed the platform. Later in secondary school, I started putting my story-telling abilities into writing.
In the beginning, I did not have sufficient computer knowledge. I would type pages, discard the hand-written copy, forget to save, and then lose everything. I lost a lot of work on faulty floppy disks which I naively trusted. Exposing my work to people was a challenge too at first. When I finally did, accepting criticism made me sick. My first rejection made me ill for two weeks. Until I finally understood the real world of writing and what it entails.
Ugandan writers are not only appreciated locally, but they are also already doing well on the international stage. My book, Voice of a Dream, was used as a supplementary reader for the study of contemporary African literature in Haverford College, Philadelphia- USA, where I was invited to give a reading in 2008. I have completed my third novel, Jumping the Kayukiyuki Hedge, which explores the disintegration of Uganda’s cultural history. In February 2013, I will be travelling to the Bellagio Center, Milan, Italy where I shall be working on my latest novel, My New Home.
The future of Ugandan literature is developing. A time will come when the demand for reading material is high. We, as writers, have to be ready for this time. So, we keep writing.”
Mildred Kiconco Barya: Writer, poet and teacher of creative writing at ASFA-Alabama School of Fine Arts, USA.
“I think I started writing when I was five years old. I wrote a long passionate letter to an imaginary friend. I told him about my world, my family, school, whether we could meet someday. So the letter-diary style was my first form but I really did not know at that time the relevancy or bigger picture. In primary one and two, I was exposed to rhymes so I started writing my own rhymes, modeled against Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty and so on. In high school I wrote plays, which were acted in Scripture Union and Drama clubs. I wrote poems that I pasted on the notice boards too. I guess I was experimental. Any form and outlet I could find, I utilised.
I studied Literature for my BA at Makerere and wrote two dissertations: one in creative writing (poems and short stories) and the other on proverbs, sayings, and fables of the Bakiga people. The creative writing one opened the way to my first poetry publication. I had a wonderful supervisor, Dr Susan Kiguli, whose passion for poetry fed into my own.
I write mainly because I cannot stop writing. It is also a profession I have loved and chosen for myself, come hail or fire. I am poet of three collections: Men Love Chocolates but They Don’t Say, The Price of Memory: After the Tsunami, and Give Me Room To Move My Feet. Most memorable moments are seeing my works in print. Meeting other writers too.”
Grace Atuhaire: Freelance writer. Winner of this year’s travel grant with Rising Voices to the Global Voices Summit
I was born in Bushenyi in 1988. I always move with a pen and paper (still doing the old school of taking notes) and I sometimes use my phone to write my notes for later reference. I make sure the time I get an idea I write it down lest I forget it and that would not be good. Sometimes I’m hanging out with my friends and all of a sudden I start asking them questions to help build my story. I get my stories from my daily life and surroundings. I do not like writing about myself so I like using others as subjects - an old habit that I’m not about to stop.
I wrote without understanding that I was actually writing. I used to spend a lot of time with my father who was a teacher. He valued his study room, so, to be of value, I would sit next to him and start thinking of what to write on the paper. I started off with poems and before I knew it, I was writing about my family members and sharing the notes with them later on. It did not go easy since it involved my personal opinion about everyones’ lifestyle.
I am an honest junk who loves being around positive people. For the time I have not been writing is when I am around people who either do not read or write and that is never good for any wanna-be-writer. So my world revolves around writers and those who read.
You cannot be a good writer until you receive rejection emails and letters. This is where it started from but I acknowledge the people that have groomed me. I am working on having my poetry anthology published, hopefully by the end of this year or early 2013.
I’m now working on some radical memoir along with seven friends from different countries defining meanings of certain components of daily life- and finding the unique elements.”
> A Journey of Endurance
Right from the beginning, I knew that more than any other profession, writing was what would give me satisfaction. It was my life. But I also knew, from interacting with some writers, that I was not going to make money from writing. But today, I know that you can make money and travel the world as a writer.
I received lots of rejection letters from editors and publishers but I had friends at Femrite who were going through the same expereinces. Sometimes one person would get a rejection letter and another friend an acceptance letter so we celebrated rejection and acceptance letters because we knew where we wanted to be. We began to meet writers across the world and we shared information on writing opportunities and edited our writings. The acceptance letters began to increase. Recent contemporary African short stories anthologies bear names such as Glaydah Namukasa, Mildred Kiconco Barya, Monica Arac de Nyeko, Jackee Batanda, among others. We know that we must continue to write and send stories wherever there are publishing opportunities.
The role of support systems
Most of these women attribute their success to the existence of support organisations like Uganda Women Writers Association (Femrite), founded by Hon Mary Karoro Okurut in 1995. The organisation has nurtured her members to find space in the literary arena, which was initially occupied by men, such as Okot p’Bitek, Austin Bukenya, Timothy Wangusa, John Ruganda and Arthur Gakwandi, whose work still dominate the school curriculum.
There is an upsurge in the literary arena; writers can get published in Uganda, abroad and online.
Writers have founded organisations to promote writers for instance the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Foundation, which awards women writers, Goretti Kyomuhendo and a number of writers founded African Writers Trust which coordinates and brings together African writers in the Diaspora and writers on the continent to promote sharing of skills and other resources.
About four years ago, I started a book club so as to learn from contemporary african writers, and a writing club was born out of it. We critique our stories before we send them to editors and publishers. Most of the stories we have critiqued have found homes in other anthologies and journals, including my story, Butterfly Dreams, which was shortlisted for the 2011 Caine Prize for African writing. I received lots of rejection letter from editors and publishers, and each of these writers has gone through this stage. We however, know that we must continue to write and send stories wherever there are publishing opportunities.