Friday, March 15, 2013
Too Much sweetness at AWT International Writers’ Conference.
The first story that was told at the Writers’ Conference, which none of us will ever forget did not come from Prof. Jack Mapanje, or Nii Parkes, but from two prostitutes. A Norwegian man died after a night with two prostitutes. Upon their arrest, the prostitutes said that the man must have died from too much sweetness. From 7 to 9 March 2013, African Writers’ Trust organized an international writers’ conference in Entebbe. The Director, Goretti Kyomuhendo, resident in the UK, created this space for us to talk, write, learn and create. It was unforgettable. The dominant theme at the conference was Afropolitanism and the question of continental identity with the mobility of Africans all over the world. There have been large exoduses from decades and decades ago for reasons ranging from seeking alternative education and economic opportunities, tourism, escaping political strife and so on. And then there were questions about returning to the continent and if it really did feel like home. In his keynote address, Prof. Mapanje, renowned Malawian poet did not have a solid answer as to whether returning to Malawi after two decades in the UK, really felt like home. The conference had several writers from the diaspora whose names were followed by Accra/UK, DRC/Norway, DRC/Netherlands and Uganda/UK. This is the real situation of many who have lived and continue to live across two continents and for many reasons, unable to identify one single country as their home. It is an indisputable reality and one that I learned from after hearing their stories of challenges of living as a writer in the West. Contrary to the justification many of us try to give ourselves when we are not writing or pushing our creativity beyond its limits, we who live here want to believe that ‘they’ in the West, have it easier because they live next door to publishers, dine with literary agents and have coffee with prize givers. Hardly. They too have 24 hours in the day with which to work and create, have children to look after and bills to pay. Did I mention that the weather most times in unfavourable and can be compared to Margherita peak on Mt. Rwenzori. And nothing brought made this clearer than the readings from Kwani? 07, which Doreen Baingana and Kalundi Serumaga opened up to us. Billy Kahora, managing Editor of Kwani? led a very reflective session and explained the motivation for the theme for the latest edition of the East Africa literary journal, Kwani?, which was Africans in the diaspora Doreen’s was a true account of being mistreated at the immigration department before entering the United States. The confrontation by the officials because of the choice she made not to apply for US citizenship and instead return to Uganda, resonates the binary standards of immigration policies. The disparity between the West and the beautiful and complex continent of Africa is further examined in an article by Alphonse Muambi, Congolese journalist currently residing in The Netherlands. The articles entitled, African elections, a naïve European ideal? indicates that the European desire for democracy on the continent is detrimental to the well-being of African populations. There was a lot of discourse as well about how we can collaborate as writers to use available digital tools to widen our audiences and opportunities for publishing and listening to Chikoti’s views on this and his Malawi experience as well as Rais Boneza from Norway/DRC, Dwalu, a children’s author from Liberia and even the Ugandan writers like Beatrice Lamwaka, Hellen Nyana, Harriet Anena, Baingana and Twongyeirwe. It is safe to say that we must tap into the prospects from the internet and keep on writing. The conference was followed by many other events in Kampala, one of which was an African Writers’ evening organized by Nii Parkes, which he runs in England on a quarterly basis. And true to the celebration of Women’s Day, Beatrice Lamwaka read from two different anthologies and bravely bore the Q and A from the audience. Rais entertained us with an oral form of poetry in singing verse and Nii, true to his amazing self, ended on a high with the West African mosquito, detailing the issues of youths in America who live and think like gangsters but are no match for the perils of malaria. Goretti Kyomuhendo is farsighted. The session with employees from Barclays Bank and Stichting Doen, the sponsors of the event, discussing possible collaboration with the literary arts is testimony to this. She embraces challenge with a dignified fierceness and I am so grateful. I am honoured to have met astounding writers from Uganda, the entire continent and the diaspora, from whom I picked incredible wealth for my own writing. Asanteni! By Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva