What are your 5 favourite novels?
My list of favourites keeps changing, however, The Concubine by Elechi Amadi, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini, Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez have been steadfast on this list, for years. Kintu by Jennifer Makumbi, and The Memory Of Love by Aminatta Forna. I wish the number wasn’t limited to 5 because the list goes on.
Which 3 authors do you consider to have influenced you the most? How did each influence your work?
I am interpreting ‘influence’ to mean three things: Inspiration, information, and Transformation. Writers who inspired my writing were first of all those that I read in my early literature classes: Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, William Shakespeare, and many others. Then there are those I read along the way: Daniel steel, Robert Ludlum, Ngugi Wa Thiongo, Goretti Kyomuhendo, and many others. But reading Goretti Kyomuhendo’s Secrets No More gave me confidence to believe in myself as a woman writer, as a Ugandan writer, and that in itsself was a turning point in my writing career. Then there are those writers who continue to inform my creativity like Chimamanda Adichie, Chika Unigwe, Nadifa Mohamed, Khaled Hosseini, and many others. And then there are those like Binyavanga Wainaina, Noviolet Bulawayo, Junot Diaz, Toni Morrison e.t.c who are transforming my artistic use of language. It’s such a rich mix of writers who do influence my writing.
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/do you hope to work with?
I plan to do an MFA in creative writing. I believe that the MFA will further develop my my skills and add to my theoretical and perhaps historical understanding of my craft. All the writers I have met who have done the MFA in creative writing have only good things to say about their experience.
I am working on a novel My New Home. Been working on it since 2013. I completed it this year and currently I am making the final revision before I can take it for peer review, receive comments, rewrite, revise and then submit a clean manuscript to an agent. Can’t put a date on this but I am happy to say that last year I had a literary agent from UK (David Godwin) read the first 20 pages and he showed interest in the story. He asked for the whole manuscript once it was ready. This explains the hard work I am putting into it. I’ve had chance to work with the best. At this point I can’t determine which editor I will work with but I have worked with Ellah Wakatama Allfrey on the extract I published in the Africa39 anthology. It was such a great learning experience for me working with her and if you ask me to make a wish I would tell you I wish to work with her on a novel project.
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 am involved with Femrite-Uganda Women Writers Association where I am the chairperson of the board.
Femrite has made me the writer I am today. It has developed me in different aspects of my life: as a writer, and as an Individual. FEMRITE nurtured my writing career from the beginning, gave me an environment where I interacted with other writers, opened up opportunities for me in the literary world, published my works. FEMRITE’s existence on the Ugandan African literary scene has been a turning point as far as African writing is concerned. Initially, it started as an organisation that nurtured, promoted, and published Uganda women writers. But along the way it extended services to all women writers in Africa. Men, as well, benefit from associating with Femrite because we have various activities in which they are involved for example the Readers/Writers club that sits every Monday evening, Author Of The Month where we have hosted writers like Kgafela oa Magogodi a spoken word poet from South Africa; Nii Ayikwei Parkes (Ghana), author of /Tail Of A Blue Bird and Commonwealth book prize judge 2011, Proffesor Austin Bukenya, Uganda. Chumaa Nwokolo, (Nigeria) author of Diaries Of A Dead African and The Ghost of Sani Abacha, Walabyeki Magoba (Uganda), who writes in Luganda, Onyeka Nwelue, (Nigeria,) author of The Abyssinian Boy and Orchard of Memories and also winner of the Thomson Short Story prize 2000, and many other writers.
Currently one of Femrite’s major activities is creating a new reading and writing generation. We are partnering with CKU-Danish Center for Culture and Development and we have formed Readers/Writers clubs in secondary schools with a focus in northern and western Uganda. We mentor young writers, organize public readings for them, hold reading tents for children, hold creative writing workshops for them, give awards to inspire them write more, among other activities. FEMRITE continues to develop the reading and writing culture in the country. We organize an annual Residency for African Women Writers where the selected writers have a chance to work on their projects and to interact with mentors who read their works and give feed back to them during the time of residency. We have had writers from countries like Nigeria, Namibia, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, e.t.c.
Also, various literary initiatives have been formed in the country and Femrite readily supports them by giving them space to conduct workshops, build their networks, and offering moral support.
Please could you tell readers about your most recent artistic project, what it involved, and what you learned from it?
Like I mentioned earlier, My New Home is the project I am putting all my efforts in right now. And just like any novel project, it involves a lot of work and commitment. It’s challenging also because in the novel I am exploring the dynamics of how our respective mother tongues affect the way we express ourselves in English. English as the major driver of communication across borders continues to change and to vary according to place and social setting. So it’s these regional varieties of English that has been yet another source of inspiration for me in wrting this story. This project has involved a lot of research as well and so far I am proud of myself for the work I have done on it.
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 the Africa39 project in my opinion, has already started on the journey of advancing my career. Naming me on the list of African writers to shape the future of African writing started this journey. First of all it increased my confidence as a writer. Knowing that the judges believed in me, in my work and in my abilities and in my promise to influence African writing changed my writing life. My writing has changed in such a way that I aim for excellence. When I am thinking about a story, writing the story, rewriting, revising, I want to do my best. My new work is stronger. And I am putting a lot of hard work in it. Being part of Africa39 requires me to become even a better writer. Hay Festival has given me a platform to showcase my work to the world in the Africa39 anthology. Many reviews of the book were published and I was glad that I read some reviews that mentioned my story. One reviewer particularly mention “… I’d quite like to read the full novel (notably: Ebabma, Kinshasa-Makombo by Richard Ali Mutu; My New Home by Glaydah Namukasa; Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi).”
I would like to see Hay Festival promoting the writers by organizing readings for them especially those who have won awards, those who have published books, or who are in the process of publishing books, market their books, facilitate their participation in different literary festivals and book fairs around the world, and also to have Africa39 writers participate in the future Hay Festival events as visiting writers and give readings from their works.
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?
In Uganda, one of the major challenges is getting published. Majority of publishers are more interested in text books or biographies of famous people; that is where ‘the money is.’ FEMRITE is one of the very few interested in publishing fiction. But Femrite still depends on donor funds and it’s difficult to get funds for publication. So that’s where we are limited. Of course there is on-line publishing especially for short stories and poems and many writers have made good use of that. still it’s every writer’s dream to be in print.
Then there is the market for the books. The market is not yet good. And it’s not that people don’t read. No. People do read but they don’t have enough money to buy books. Instead you may find that Glaydah buys a book and she has five people in line to read the same book after her. And that’s okay. But not good for the market for our literature.
And we don’t have Creative Writing programmes in our Universities. I think that to have these would boost the Ugandan literary scene. I am happy to say that Femrite and other literary initiatives in the county are doing a lot of literary activism. We are working to improve the market for our literature, get young people who are tomorrow’s main readers get interested in reading and writing, teach them to value literature so much that buying books will automatically feature in their day to day budgets.
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 enjoyed the works of have read Chika Unigwe, and my favourite of her works has been On Black Sisters Street. Its been a while since I read it but I think she captured the different situations of the ‘Black sisters’ vividly. Their voices stood out, I think those four women represented hundreds who are even now going through the same depressing experiences.
Nadifa Mohamed is another of those writers I respect so much. To some extent her book Black Mamba Boy inspired parts of my current work. I loved how she wrote about life in the slum through the experiences of six-year-old Jama and his mother. Jama inspired certain experiences in the life of the narrator in my novel My New Home.
Chimamanda Adichie’s creativity continues to inspire me. I respect her ability to create and her sense of observation, how she turns something non-existent into something existing, a story that you read and you see people you see places, you see things happening. You see a world in a book and she makes you live in that world and enjoy that world. There are writers in Africa39 whose novels I am eagerly waiting for: Monica Arac de Nyeko, Igoni Barrett, Ndinda Kioko, Novuyo Rosa — surely the list is endless because to me the pieces of writing in the Africa39 anthology showcase “… a collection of some of the most varied and exciting new work in world literature today by writers who are certainly going to be among the most celebrated of our time.”
What festivals/workshops/Residencies have you attended recently? What was your role? What did you take away from the experiences you had there?
Since Africa39 I have attended the African Women Writers Network conference that took place at the Bellagio Center, Milan. This was organized by Femrite and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. I have also attended the FEMRITE residency for African writers that took place at the Baltic Center for Writers and Translators, Gotland island, Sweden.
Here in Uganda, I participated as one of the writers and worked on the novel project with mentors: Erik Faulk and Ellen Banda. In June 2014 I attended the Editorial skills development workshop organised by African Writers Trust and the Commonwealth in Uganda. I have also been a facilitator in the Creative Writing workshops in schools in Uganda.
Are there any authors whom you mentor, whose work you’d like to mention or talk about?
I recently was a mentor on the FEMRITE/CKU Novel Mentoring Project where I worked with Prossy Bibangamba, a writer who is also a medical professional. Her story-telling abilities, and the writing skills were quite impressive, I could see a doctor of words. She created a 300,000- word work of fantasy, successfully. And something that amazed me was that she always took time to clean up all these obvious mistakes to do with grammar, punctuations, typing mistakes, spellings and this gave a smooth read to her texts. This gave us space to deal with the major structural issues and other relevant bits of the craft. It was such a good experience for both of us. I encouraged her to join the community of writers and explore the opportunities that come with it. She is such a promising writer.