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Monday, February 15, 2010

The antidote to Uganda’s poor reading culture


Have you noticed that something is steadily happening to Uganda’s literary tradition? Book discussions are enjoying premium following on social networking sites and book titles are piling on visual bookshelves on Facebook pages of many Ugandans.
“Jared is reading Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence of Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein by Scott Ritter.” “Linda is reading How to be a Rainmaker by Geoffrey J. Fox”

“Dennis is reading: Let the Trumpet Sound: Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.,’ by Stephen B. Oates”

The list gushes on. Under your very nose, book exchanges are going on! People are meeting regularly in small groups during weekday evenings and over the weekends to share their reading experiences.
The Lantern Meet of Poets last Saturday held their fourth grand poetry recital and even though they did little to advertise, it was a full house at the National Theatre. This was just days after the Authors’ Forum held their well-attended sixth edition in the same auditorium to discuss how authors can use their works to inspire positive values in society.

At a recent PEN/Uganda-organised workshop, teachers of literature and patrons of books clubs of schools in western Uganda said the enthusiasm with which their students are consuming novels is amazing.
All earmarks point to a literary “great awakening” that could change the intellectual lifestyle of this land. Consider this: shortly after Dr. Daniel Tumwine opened a Facebook account for his newly formed Kampala Book Club, he was inundated with e-mails from book lovers on how they can help or join the fraternity.
“I conceived the idea following the need to counter the perceived poor reading culture in our society,” said Tumwine. “We envisage having a Kampala Book Club bookstore where we can access an eclectic range of books. We also hope to collaborate with partner bookstores and publishing houses to have privileged access to their titles at a subsidised rate.”

He said the club will develop a bestseller list and hold “our own ‘Oscars’ to honour deserving authors annually” and “we plan to start a writing club to nurture and encourage young writers.”
The club that now has over 300 members had their first meet at the National Theatre on Friday February 5 and will meet every fortnight “to review or discuss a given book in depth.” “I’m excited already,” cried Darlyne Komukama. “I read books that are so, so awesome and I don’t have someone to talk to about them. But with KBC all that shall change.”

Book nominations will be made by club members and what the majority will consider as most thought-provoking, written-in-English,does-not-promote-sectarianism-or-hate and is available at a reasonable price in local bookshops will be read for the next fortnight.

Charles Onyango-Obbo’s Uganda’s Poorly Kept Secrets opened the "show" and is being read to be discussed at the next session. Copies of the book were on sale and members gobbled them up. This should come as good news to indigenous authors who’ll be lucky to have their books selected for reading.
It is such initiatives that could turn out as the true antidote to the intellectual destitution and often criticised flagging reading tradition of this country.

--Saturday Monitor,  February 13, 2010