RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Time to tell our stories


Could it be that the main reason many influential Ugandans and Africans generally are reluctant about telling and having their stories published is because they have many skeletons in their closets that would come tumbling out? At least that was Prof. Zakes Mda's fear. It's also the fear of many because the process of writing the life story of oneself is equally the process of coming to terms with his past, which often is mix of the beautiful and the ugly. 

Prof. Mda with some of the participants
Prof. Mda who delivered the keynote address at the second edition of the Uganda International Writers Conference, an initiative of the African Writers Trust (AWT), finally overcame his fear and in 2012 published his first creative non-fiction book titled Sometimes there is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider.

"In this memoir, Mda tells the story of a life that intersects with the political life of his country but at its heart is the classic adventure story of an artist, lover, father and teacher," notes AWT Director Goretti Kyomuhendo. "There's no denying the raw honesty and inspiring penmanship of this work of note, especially in relevance to our conference theme - 'Memoir and Truth.'" 

Prof. Mda who teaches Creative Writing at Ohio University believes it's important for the African to tell his story; not the peculiar narrative that reinforces the stereotype of African suffering, but a narrative of an African rising; a narrative of how a poor African child can beat the odds and make it, a genuine portrait of who we are against misrepresentation by outsiders. Writing would also "preserve our disappearing world".

The South African practices what he preaches. He has published over 21 books, ten of which are novels. The rest are collections of poetry and plays, and a monograph, When People Play People, on how theatre can be used to develop a people. 

Even more interesting is that since 2000, Prof. Mda has been running a beekeeping project with the rural women in Eastern Cape. His wealth of experience and knowledge as an all-round author, teacher, Pan Africanist, well-travelled man, former exilee and beekeeper made him the perfect choice to discuss the Conference's  theme of 'Memoir and Truth.' 

The five-day event which started on Sunday afternoon but was officially opened on Tuesday at Fairway Hotel, brought together nearly 30 African writers of note and supporters of the art from Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi, Cameroon, Somalia, US, and UK, including our own Daniel Kalinaki who is basking in critical acclaim for his recent biography of Dr. Kizza Besigye, Jennifer Makumbi, UK-based poet Mildred Barya Kiconco and Dr. Susan Kiguli, among others.

Prof. Mda lauded Uganda's literary heritage, citing John Ruganda and Okot p'Bitek among authors who greatly influenced him. He worked with Ruganda and learned a lot from him about theatre while from p'Bitek "I learnt how to write poems and plays drawing from the rich idioms of my indigenous languages." 

The participants looked into successful literary initiatives, talked about space and identity in African writing, discussed the rise of digital literature and the need to embrace it. But the focus remained on the shift to non-fiction, with Prof. Mda articulating the distinctions between memoir and biography - two genres through which the story of African people would be accurately chronicled while remaining faithful to the emotional truth that would help the critic to understand us better. 

The whole point being that there is a whole lot to gain from telling our stories. After all, if we don't write our story, the outsider who will truly never be close to our reality will tell it...superficially.