Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Susan Piwang shares her story at Storymoja Hay Fest in Nairobi

The Storymoja Hay festival, as I understood it, is a celebration of literary work in Africa. Storymoja collaborates with Hay Festival, a group that runs literary festivals worldwide. It is a chance to have new, young writers meet famous authors and learn more about writing; to discover the mystery of literature (which, if you are already an author, isn’t a mystery at all), and in general a great big jamboree that revolves around books. After attending it, you should walk away thinking, ‘ah, how proud I am to be literate!’ And I did.
Poetry Masterclass with Lemn Sissay I attended under the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Foundation. As winner of the fourth poetry contest I was awarded a full-expense paid trip to Nairobi to attend the festival. The most significant change I experienced is of course actually winning the prize. I have been used to getting compliments on my work which made me think that in the very least my writing was ‘okay’. But winning this competition was a leap away from the mediocre state of average. I had thought I’d have a chance at second, or third. First place was a daring dream that I honestly thought would remain a dream. Winning the prize was overwhelming; it was a blatant declaration; a foghorn blaring in my ears and shaking my settled brain: YOUR WORK IS NUMBER ONE MATERIAL! CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!! Don’t worry about any brain damage. If anything, my brain is working better than ever. I think it had been still for too long and was on the verge of stagnancy; I needed the shake up. Winning the prize opened the door to a hall of a million more doors, all holding many opportunities behind them. I have never attended anything like the Storymoja festival until now. I never even thought there could be those many people willing to do so much for the love of reading—in one country, I mean. It was a change to be a part of such a wonderful group and not to be looking on from the outside. To know that I wasn’t there because someone-or-other pulled some strings (not that I have ever gotten anywhere that way), but on my own merit, with my own work, because of my writing. My work is no longer the profound sentiments I scribble down in secret and recite to an audience of one—me. I was listened to, appreciated and congratulated. Yes, at eighteen, I made my mark.
Susan Piwang at the Poetry gala The whole experience was encouraging as well. Being in the middle of all those great literary minds was a motivation. The energy of the entire event commanded my slowing molecules into movement and I highly doubt they will ever stop again. I have become a literary perpetual motion machine! Need I say more? The Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award is a voice for the mute, a stage for the timid and a chance for those with none (I know that’s so cliché, but it’s still very true). I’m just glad it happened to exist at the same time I did and that I could be part of it.

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