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Monday, January 9, 2012

A promising year for Ugandan literature

The power of books in refreshing people’s thinking and transforming society is well known. Uganda’s literary atmosphere is charged, and as 2012 gets its groove on, budding writers and book lovers have more to look forward to.

Expect more writings; this month is already vibrant with literary training by British Council Uganda in collaboration with the African Writers Trust (AWT). This is a follow-up to the September-October 2011 workshops. According to AWT Director, Goretti Kyomuhendo, the participants will be linked to mentors in the UK, to further develop their writing.

And with Doreen Baingana now in the driving seat as Femrite’s latest chairperson, the quality of the organisation’s releases could improve. Baingana’s Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe, won the 2006 Commonwealth literary prize for Africa, and she has over 10 years experience as an editor. She has vowed to complete, this year, the first full-length novel about a female rebel leader, on top of a travelogue which the Chinua Achebe Centre for African Writers commissioned her to write on Somaliland.

Beatrice Lamwaka, who last year made the Caine Prize for African Writing shortlist, is now a full-time writer and wants to complete her first novel this year, while Glaydah Namukasa, now with an American literary agent, hopes to release her third novel, Crossing the Bramble Field, by December.

Uganda’s most prolific writer, Godfrey Mwene Kalimugogo will also release his 14th novel, Escape from Shadows. Kalimugogo who is contemporaries with John Ruganda, Prof Timothy Wangusa, Rose Mbowa, and Laban Erapu is a satirist famous for the domestic comedy, Trials and Tribulations in Sandu’s Home (1974) which was on the literature syllabus back in the day. He has won two writing awards from the National Book Trust of Uganda for his novels, A Visitor Without a Mission (2003) and Bury Me in a Simple Grave (2009). Mid this year, the retired diplomat has a publicised launch of all his literary works.

And to those who knew its potency in the 60s when it had contributors like Chinua Achebe, Okot p’Bitek and Ali Mazrui among other writers and intellectuals, Transition magazine is back! It celebrated its 50th anniversary on December 20, 2011 at Makerere University, and its 106th issue was on sale. Nobert Mao was so stirred he promised to launch a book club; “ oasis where those who value ideas will go.” So Mao’s book club and its high-powered debates is something to look forward to this year.

Literature lovers will also witness the rebirth of Dhana (formerly Pen Point), a literary magazine at Makerere University in the 60s and 70s that played a significant role in English expression. Prof. David Cook, the Head English turned Literature Department (1967-77) and who co-edited with David Rubadiri the anthology– Poems from East Africa (1971) left in his will about Shs180m to promote the work he started there – promotion of creative writing. It’s part of this money that’s facilitating the reactivation of Dhana, which is expected to run twice every year with creative and critical writings.

The magazine will be launched in July at Makerere University while commemorating the 1962 Writers Conference that took place there. The organising committee is in the process of getting Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka to preside over the event that will attract distinguished people from all over Africa and the world. Importantly, the return of Dhana is expected to resurrect the long-missed celebration of critical thought that defined the 60s and 70s.

Late last year, Angella Kyagaba of the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) promised authors the green light. With 48 community libraries and many schools, the study of Ugandan literature will translate to more book sales and gold for the authors.

Even more, the arrival of the Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO), in 2010, to manage copyright; facilitate legal copying of copyright protected works on behalf of authors, help combat piracy and generally collect and distribute fees to rights holders should encourage those considering a career in writing.
Since September 2009, non-fiction writers and lovers of motivational and self-help books, have found a sense of belonging –the inspiration to read and write more –at the monthly Authors’ Forum. The organiser, Robert Bake, who is also the author of Tapping God’s Blessings, is releasing his first novel, Tears from my Mother, later this year. He says many works by members of the Authors’ Forum are in the works and will be published before the end of 2012 as well.

The grand poetry recital by the Lantern Meet of Poets, and the BN Poetry Awards cannot be forgotten. I’m tempted to prophesy that 2012 will go down as the golden year for Ugandan writers and all lovers of literature!

--Saturday Monitor, January 7, 2012