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Sunday, November 13, 2011

A passionate evening of literature


Fine readings and edifying jokes from the cream of the Ugandan literati distinguished the public reading occasion at the Uganda Museum last Thursday.

Organised by the African Writers Trust (AWT) with support from the British Council Uganda, the literary evening was a culmination of two writing workshops from AWT to upcoming writers selected from three universities (Makerere, Kyambogo and Uganda Christian University Mukono) and independent writers –not attached to any academic institution or writing organisation, that for two weeks were offered professional writing skills with emphasis on the importance of words and mastering their chosen language of creativity.

“We at AWT share the same values with British Council Uganda, of promotion of literature, writing and language,” said AWT director Goretti Kyomuhendo, who founded AWT in 2009 to bring together African writers on the continent and the Diaspora to foster learning and information sharing.

Ms Kyomuhendo said today’s generation of writers are lucky they can easily meet acclaimed authors and get inspired. In her time, she said, it was difficult because there were few literary organisations and events that would attract writers or lecturers of writing like Doreen Baingana, Glaydah Namukasa, Sr. Dominic Dipio, Dr Patrick Mangeni, Dr Susan Kiguli, Dr Richard Watulo and British-Zambian writer Ellen Banda-Aaku, who were all in the house. She evoked laughter when she admitted the first time she met Chinua Achebe in 1999, she asked if she could touch him!
“AWT is keen to extend the impact of these workshops with more mentoring activities, and we plan to publish the stories generated during the workshops,” she said.

Excerpts from creative works produced during the workshops were read out to the guests, who savoured every bit judging by the applause the readers received. These were completely varied pieces but all touching on the theme of childhood memory, stories written compellingly because they were drawn from experiences well remembered.

“In our neighbourhood, you did not have friends if you did not have money…” began Ishta Nandi’s story while Sophie Bamwoyeraki’s poem, A Handful of Fresh Leaves reminisces about the radio bringing “into our homes Donna Summer and Abba…”
Ishta Nandi reads, with Ellen Banda-Aaku keenly watching while Goretti Kyomuhendo is engrossed in her papers. Next to Banda-Aaku is British Council Uganda boss Hugh Moffat.

And you will never believe Umeme’s not afraid of writers! Just when Irene Kahunde of U.C.U. was reading The Bubble, there was a blackout. British Council Uganda Director Hugh Moffatt slipped away and returned with two candles.

“Fantastic! Now we’ve a candle-lit reading,” cooed Doreen Baingana who was seated behind me.

Meanwhile a generator was powered, and soon all eyes were on the workshops leader and star of the night, Ellen Banda-Aaku as she read two extracts from her novel Patchwork, winner of the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing.

Banda-Aaku who has also published three children’s books and holds a master’s degree in creative writing, is the winner of the first AWT Fellowship for which she will spend six weeks in Uganda mentoring more university student writers, and crown it all by leading the November 14 to 25 Femrite Regional Writers Conference alongside our own literary superstar Baingana, that will have writers from South Africa, Namibia, Tunisia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Uganda.

Patchwork was launched in Uganda that night, and Banda-Aaku said words that every hungry young writer present returned home with: “We should have the passion to write, the ability to persevere and the professionalism to excel.”

--Saturday Monitor, November 12, 2011