RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ugandan writer short-listed for an African literary award


After a somewhat long spell, Ugandan writing is back in the limelight, thanks to Beatrice Lamwaka who has been short-listed for the 2009 PEN/Studzinski Literary Award.

This award replaces the HSBC/SA PEN Literary Award which was formerly exclusive to South African writers until it was opened in September last year to all Africans - to encourage new creative writing on the continent by offering gifted writers “an exciting opportunity to develop or launch a literary career.”

The interested creative writers had to submit original, previously unpublished, English-language short stories of between 2500 and 5000 words. 827 did, and among them was our Lamwaka with her story The Star In My Camp. Little did she know that this true life narrative of a 10-year-old girl, who is defiled by her uncle believed to be sick with HIV/Aids, would sail through.

Well, when the final list was recently announced by the South African Centre of International PEN (SA PEN), Lamwaka was thrilled but not surprised. “I made a resolution at the beginning of this year to win a literary award,” she says assuredly.

What makes her so sure The Star In My Camp will win when the results are announced in May this year?

“Because I wrote a story I know; it’s a story I feel strongly about; I made sure it was professionally written - no typos, and it’s a very powerful story written from the heart,” she says.

After a pensive moment, she adds slowly but firmly, “But even if I don’t win this, Macmillan (Writers’ Prize for Africa) and the Caine (Prize for African Writing) are coming, and surely I’ll scoop something.”

For someone whose love of books dates from her early formative years when she would “nip books from friends, read quickly and return them before they even realised,” to the now firm writer who started a book club “to analyse African books and critique our own works”, you cannot fault her determination.

But why is she interested in winning an award; isn’t writing enough as is been said to satisfy the natural writer?

“You see, winning a literary award takes you places,” she says eagerly, citing such names like Monica Arac de Nyeko, Glaydah Namukasa and Doreen Baingana among others, as people who have gained local and international recognition because of the prestigious literary awards they have bagged.

And so Lamwaka hopes The Star In My Camp will be her good omen. But this is not to say she’s blind to the stiff competition from 33 other stories that were chosen alongside hers by the PEN Editorial Board. Her story, like others, has to face the sharp scrutiny of Nobel laureate J.M Coetzee, who is currently judging the short-listed stories and will choose the winners of the first (£5,000), second (£3,000) and third (£2,000) prizes, which will be given by John Studzinski. Interestingly, Coestzee is Lamwaka’s role model. She talks fondly of his literary works, particularly Disgrace, which won the South African novelist his second Booker Prize in 1999.

It’s at this time that Lamwaka’s fans run their hands together and gleefully hope that she learned something from these works with which to impress her hero and judge. But should she miss out on the grand prize, she will still be consoled by the fact that her story, like all the finalists’ stories, will be included in an anthology of new writing from Africa to be published later this year.

Lamwaka, who is a professional teacher of Literature and English Language Studies but quit to concentrate on writing and research, is the author of Anena’s Victory (2008), one of the Fountain Junior Living Youth Series. A couple of her short stories and poems have been published in different anthologies.

Her most popular short stories are Vengeance of the Gods in Words From A Granary (2001) – an anthology of short stories by Ugandan Women Writers. It is a story of a jealous woman who bewitches her co-wife and is in the end lynched to death; while Queen of Tobacco is a story of a woman whose tobacco addiction plunges her into dark trouble with rebels.

Lamwaka, who hails from Gulu District, is generally known for straightforwardness and relying on the tensions of displacement, culture, and the futility of life to produce very sensitive short stories.

She is a member of Femrite – the Uganda Female Writers Association, for which she’s grateful, and the British Council Crossing Boarders writing programme for helping her find the focus and rhythm of her writing because “if I had not had the chance I wouldn’t be the writer that I am today; the writer that you sought to interview”.

If Lamwaka wins the 2009 PEN/Studzinski Literary Award, it will be a wake-up call to the Ugandan male writers who have not won a literary award in a long while. It will also stir others from their laurels because they will realise that creative writing actually pays.

--Sunday Monitor, February 22, 2009