Jackee Batanda: “Take note of the lessons you teach and apply them to your own work”

What are your 5 favourite novels?

  1. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
  2. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  3. On Black Sisters’ Street by Chika Unigwe
  4. Harare North by Brian Chikwava
  5. Kintu by Nansubuga Makumbi

Which 3 authors do you consider to have influenced you the most?  How did each influence your work?

My influences keep changing at different stages.

What plans do you have for your literary career over the next 3-5 years?  What are you working on?  What do you hope to publish?  Which artists/authors/publishers/editors do you hope to work with?

I am currently working on two pieces of work: Rewriting a novel about an apocalyptic cult in Uganda, and working on a novel about how a nation and a family deals with its violent past when one of the perpetrators of violence is released back into the community. Within the next 3-5 years, I should have completed both works and hopefully published them.

Are you involved with any literary organisations in Africa or outside of Africa?  How do you see the work of these organisation as contributing to your vision and career, as well as to broader cultural production in Africa?

I have supported nascent literary organisations — Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, Writivism Festival and The Story Club. Support has been advisory, teaching writing, and minimal financial support. I am excited about these organisations because they are standing on the cutting edge of literary renewal on the continent, and are promoting dialogue across countries. I support them because they are promoting intra-continental literary discourse and dialogue. All the organisations have worked with budding writers to bring their works to the world. They all need support.

Please could you tell readers about your most recent artistic project, what it involved, and what you learned from it?

My most recent artistic project is the rewriting of the apocalyptic novel. It has been a long work in progress with a lot of hiatus moments taken away from it. In the course of running writing classes, I have encouraged my students to create character profiles as they write. I had to step back and assign myself the same task. When I first started on my novel, I did not create character profiles, and just working through classes with my own students made me realize the importance of going back to the drawing board and doing the same for the novel. I believe doing this exercise will make the story more vibrant and richer than it is already. So the lesson here is that learning does not end, and when you teach, you also need to take note of the lessons you teach and apply them to your own work.

How do you hope/anticipate that the Hay Festival and the Africa39 project will help advance your career?  What impact has it had thus far?  What specific things would you like to see Hay Festival do for writers?  

The Hay Festival and Africa39 project has so far had so very little impact on my career. It is one year down the road and I see nothing tangible from it.

What are the main challenges you see facing artists, writers, and literary culture in your country and region?  How are you ameliorating these difficulties?  What specific things would you like to see done in order to address these challenges?

I think the greatest challenge facing artists, writers and literary culture in my region is the over dependence of donor funding. We have fully focused our energies on outside help and have failed to raise funding in-country. Of course this is not to ignore that fact that corporate sponsorship in country is dwindling at a drastic rate. I believe that if we start targeting our efforts to local audiences and getting them to see the value of supporting local artistes, then our survival will be more guaranteed. Several literary initiatives are all clamouring for the same funding basket. If we can borrow from other artistic acts like musicians and comedians to tap into the broader corporate market in order to diversify the funding basket. I recently attended a play by 3 female poets, who had just done that. The theatre was a full house and they had successfully gotten corporate entities on board. It has worked for the other disciplines and we in the literary world can learn to borrow a page and infuse it in our own works.

In this regard, I am running a for-profit writing company called Successspark Brand which runs writing classes and offers other book writing services, with the hope of tapping into the untapped corporate class within our countries with the potential to invest in books and literary initiatives. This company seeks to test my hypothesis of getting people within the region to pay for the arts instead of expecting freebies as has been the case because most literary initiatives are underwritten by donor funds, and thus dogged by the issue of sustainability when the funding comes to an end.

One of the packages my company runs are writing retreats. We are running an inaugural 4 day writing retreat in October 9-12 at the picturesque Bulago Island in Lake Victoria.

Have you read the work of any of the other Africa39?  Which works have you enjoyed (Please write a few words on the aspects of the works you enjoyed)?  Which Africa39 authors would you like to work with (and on what kinds of projects)?

I have read most of the stories in the collection, and would prefer to work with most of them not just singling out a few. The reason is that with the richness in the selection, it also opens up a door to reaching out to writers in other countries, I would never have reached or known about if it wasn’t for the collection. I am interested in getting us to work on the initiatives such as Successspark Brand, where we teach writing to a wider group of paying students. It is efforts like this that will be a wider appreciation for the arts.

 What festivals/workshops/residencies have you attended recently?  What was your role?  What did you take away from the experiences you had there?

I recently attended The 2nd Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies Conference. I was a panelist on the Encounter with Writers’ panel, where I spoke about my writing initiative.

The takeaway was the need for a closer collaboration between literary initiatives and academia in our countries. The two seem to be operating independent of each other, yet there is a lot more room for collaboration and convergence.

 Are there any authors whom you mentor, whose work you’d like to mention or talk about?

I am mentoring a new crop of writers through my company, Successspark Brand. We are newly started and the mentorship is a work in progress, so I am hoping that after a year our work will be showcased in publications and not just written about.

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