RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Femrite gives a voice to Ugandan writings


When Monica Arac de Nyeko won the Caine Prize for Literature in 2007, a Daily Monitor reporter then, Glenna Gordon, drew on other women writers celebrated internationally who are members of the Uganda women writers’ association (Femrite), and wrapped up her argument: “For once, the women are at the head of the pack and the men are limping behind, manuscripts in hand.”

That statement spurred ire from men as passionate about writing. They fumed, it’s just that we lack an equivalent of Femrite to publish and promote our works otherwise we are writing more and better. For a simple newspaper article to incite such exchange gave credit to Femrite for engendering the debate on women writing.

At the time it was founded in 1996 there was hardly any audible literary female voice at home. Men had led long, and the women headed by Mary Okurut, having felt the pinch, formed Femrite with a desire, according to their website, “to change that situation and build level ground for Ugandan women creative writers enabling them to contribute to national development through creative writing.”

Femrite instantly became a magnet that attracted a pool of talent that have had it stamped that Ugandan women can sustain good prose and poetry by winning several writing awards beyond the border. Take the story of Glaydah Namukasa. She was an unknown fish-eating, baby-delivering and writing-loving midwife in Wakiso District who knew not that one day something big would come of the little pieces piled in her exercise books in a metallic suitcase under her bed.

“Femrite made me appreciate women writing, it gave me the inspiration and engaged me with the writing world,” she says. “When I joined their readers/writer’s club in 2002, I came with a story which members did critique and that story became a book and that book won a prize.”

The book Glaydah fondly cites is her second novel, Voice of a Dream that won the 2005 senior category of the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa. She has since authored a string of other short stories now found in prized anthologies and is writing her third novel and will this August attend the International Writing Programme at the University of Iowa.

You might argue that Glaydah was more than Femrite shaped by Crossing Borders – a British Council creative writing programme where budding African writers are mentored by established UK writers. But then, apart from the Sanyu FM radio phonics programme in late 2006 which brought to our ears some of the best short stories, little has been heard of other Ugandan writers that benefited from the same programme.

As Femrite celebrated the ninth edition of its annual week of literary activities last week, many lauded the association for going above the call of duty to transform the country from a literary wasteland to a verdant terrain where the pleasure of reading and writing are today passionately enjoyed.

“In helping us tell our stories,” said Pamela Elizabeth Acai, “Femrite has shaped and refined the quality of writing that’s coming out of Uganda and we are getting to that world class level.”

Said Doreen Baingana, 2006 winner of the Commonwealth First Book Prize (Africa region) : “Although I’ve done most of my writing while in the United States whenever I’ve come back I’ve found a literary home; I’ve a community because we do our work in isolation, but it’s always good on the other hand to find people who think like you do, who share your interests.”

Addy Beukema who was part of a Femrite organised poetry programme for schools said before she came to Uganda the only Ugandan author she knew was Moses Isegawa (author of Abyssinian Chronicles) because he’s based in her country –the Netherlands.

“I’m now really proud of the Ugandan female writers,” she said. “I like the anthology, Tears of Hope and I love Cassandra.” The latter is a novel by Violet Birungi, another Femrite member whose play, Over My Dead Body, won the British Council International New Play Writing Award for Africa and the Middle East in 1997.

Incidentally, the highlight of the literary week was the Wednesday public debate in which members engaged Zimbwabwean visiting writers –Keresia Chateuka and Eresina Hwede –in a debate: 'Writing the Unfamiliar Story: Engaging the Political Arena.'

It proved one thing, that Femrite writers though resilient in finding their voice, have not tackled issues of democracy, cultural invasion, religion, human rights violation, dictatorships, corruption or politics as closely in depth as their male counterparts such as Prof. Timothy Wangusa (in his poetry), Alan Tacca (The Naked Hostage), Arthur Gakwandi (Kosiya Kifefe), Austin Bukenya (The People’s Bachelor) among others, have.

Save for Dr Susan Kiguli’s The African Saga, many Ugandan women writers concentrate on issues of sex, domestic violence, famine, friendship and emancipation and are yet to have an impact like the works of authors like Wole Soyinka, Okot p’Bitek or Ngugi wa Thiongo have had.

Thankfully they seem aware – the reason they chose to conclude this year’s literary week with the launch of Today you Will Understand, a collection of stories of women’s experiences in armed conflict.

“It’s exciting that we are moving from a smaller setting of fictionalised pieces to momentous issues of peace and stories of conflict,” said Jackee Budesta Batanda, another award-winning Femrite writer and Communications officer of Refugee Law Project. “Members of Femrite going to northern Uganda and identifying women who have gone through these experiences who could not have a voice to tell and making them know that their stories were important to tell, that in a way was very empowering.”

When they get intoxicated with such contentious issues and heed the advice of Keresia Chateuka to “keep fighting on and writing without ceasing”, and then development partners hear the cry of Femrite coordinator Hilda Twongyeirwe to bolster their activities, only then will Ugandan women writers convincingly walk hand in hand and side by side with their male counterparts.

--Daily Monitor, Saturday July 27, 2008