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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

“A person tells a story that is closest to their hearts”

Femrite – the Uganda women writers association celebrated their ninth edition of the annual week of literary activities in Kampala. Femrite coordinator Ms Hilda Twongereirwe talked to Dennis D. Muhumuza about the event and the woman writer’s story.

The focus of this year’s event is, writing the unfamiliar story. What is an unfamiliar story?
That statement has different dimensions. It can be an unfamiliar story because it has been unread; or because people think that it’s not important. So we are looking at the woman’s story; when we write, people say we write women stuff but women stuff is a familiar story to the woman but we want it to be a familiar story to the man as well.

Why did you choose “Harnessing Uganda’s Literary Heritage” as the first discussion of the literary event?
Because other countries respect their literary heritage; they have literary festivals, they encourage the teaching of their home-grown literature in their schools but for Uganda, it has not been the case at all. So we are advocating that a section of Ugandan literature is created on the national school curriculum.

But how is that going to work if school-goers are not inspired enough to love works from their home writers?
We’ve been doing that. We have a programme where we visit schools and encourage children to write and read, and especially read their own literature because we think we are facing a lot of challenges because children are reading what comes from the outside before they read what is their own. Perhaps if you allowed people to borrow Femrite books, it could help more.

We’ve a resource centre and if you are a member of Femrite or Femrite readers/writers’ club you can access books. We don’t lend to the public because it would be difficult to follow up and we may lose the books but the public is welcome, people come and read from the resource centre but they are not allowed to take the books away.

Do you have a programme that targets rural women who want to write in indigenous languages?
We have outreach programmes but we don’t have branches in villages. We have a programme where we go out to collect women stories – the women who can’t read and write but can tell the stories.

What do you think has been the most outstanding achievement registered by Femrite?
It comes from our training programme in creative writing where we have 22 publications now; we have our women who have gone through those skills training workshops who have won international awards. We are very known, we’ve students from outside who have come to Uganda and they have looked out for Femrite to do dissertations on our work. The other day at office, an American lady came looking for the author of Where do I belong and that is one of the short stories I wrote. Out there, they are teaching our literature and Femrite is now a name to reckon with.

But then the country’s reading culture is still down, one of the reasons being that many can’t afford books.
In that case you need to join us in pressuring the government to make the printing materials cheaper by removing taxes levied on paper and other materials. Besides, the highest priced book at Femrite is Shs10,000, how many beers of bottles are those? A beer costs Shs2,500, so a book is one seating of beer. So it’s about choice.

Some say Femrite demonises men…
Maybe they think so because you’ll find that most of the male characters in our books are so harsh, they are killing their wives, but a person tells a story that is closest to their hearts. So the women are telling the stories that are closest to their heart. Really, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

What has been the greatest challenge to the women’s literary journey?
I think the biggest challenge is support from development partners, because culture where literature falls is one of the areas where you don’t get a lot of support. Most of the development partners are interested in good governance, politics and you know what they forget is that you can use literature to cut across all these areas.

--Daily Monitor, Saturday, August 2, 2008