In what is epistolary, Ugandan Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire, co-founder of Centre for African Cultural Excellence, the organisation that brings Writivism, writes to Nigerian Jennifer Emelife (me actually :D) recounting his experience as one of the core organizers of the 2015 Writivism Literary Festival.
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Here is the first part:
Letters to Jennifer I (You Should Have Been Here)
I am not the South African writer Bloke Modisane, and I did not attend the conference of African writers working in English that took place at Makerere University College in Kampala. But thanks to Transition No. 5, I am going to wear Modisane’s garb and write about the recently concluded 2015 Writivism festival in the same voice. The things I have to do, to impress Jennifer Emelife!
The third edition of the Writivism festival was held in June at Maisha Garden, Makerere University, and National Theatre in Kampala, Uganda. It was a meeting of literary types, established and emerging writers based on the continent, in Europe and the United States, bloggers and social media writers like the famous Ikhide Ikheloa of www.xokigbo.wordpress.com, publishers, journalists, academics, magazine editors and readers among others from over eight countries. The festival was convened by the Centre for African Cultural Excellence (CACE) based in Kampala, Uganda, and was sponsored by the Miles Morland Foundation, Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa, the Danish Centre for Culture and Development, African Centre for Media Excellence and Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development.
The festival featured five keynote addresses written and delivered by African writers as Tsitsi Dangarembga, whose novel, Nervous Conditions, won the Commonwealth Best Book Prize. Tsitsi, also a filmmaker and director of the Institute for Cultural Progress in Africa (ICAPA), opened the way with her keynote address on Wednesday 17th June. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, the novelist, short story writer and Creative Writing lecturer picked up from where Tsitsi left and addressed us on the importance of the historical novel, on Thursday 18th June.
Nigerian writer Chika Unigwe’s speech was read by her Nigerian publisher, Richard Ali on June 19th. Catherine Byaruhanga of BBC Uganda desk was on hand to ask Richard the hard questions about Big Oil and the writing industry. Would Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian writer activist be happy with contemporary writers taking huge sums of money from oil companies? You should have been there to see Richard answer. The audience also had questions of their own about corporate social responsibility and public relations. The back story as to how this theme came to appear on the schedule and fulfilled and unfulfilled promises is for another day. I won’t write to you about it though. I am sorry. I have been taught to not say everything sometimes.
The fourth address was delivered by John Nagenda, a writer, and senior presidential advisor on media in Uganda. He talked about the relationship between politics and writing and had a great conversation with Daniel Kalinaki, writer and senior journalist who brought us Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution. It was an hour of laughter and wit and everything else you can imagine happens when a seventy something year old meets an audience that was on average forty years younger than himself.
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Mukoma wa Ngugi gave the last key note address on Sunday 21st June. Mukoma is an assistant professor at Cornell University, co-founder of the Mabati-Cornell Prize for Kiswahili Literature, a writer in his own right and son to legendary writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o. You have read about Mary Ajayi’s crushing on him, right? She must have been in heaven in Kampala. And she should not deny. She should blog about it, actually. *starts writing email to Mary. Mukoma talked about the flourishing of writing in African languages in the early 1900s South Africa and what we can learn from it.
There were on average six daily sessions for three weekdays. On Wednesday, we began with a school tour to St. Kizito SS Bugolobi where Nansubuga Makumbi interacted with students who had studied her book and created music, dance, poetry, and drama inspired by the text. There were master classes on blogging and editing taught by Nyana Kakoma, James Murua and Carol Beyanga, a panel discussion on how to transition from journalism to nonfiction writing featuring Carol Beyanga, Michela Wrong, Mukoma wa Ngugi and Ikhide Ikheloa, and an Adventures conversation between Paula Akugizibwe and Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah. As you can imagine, we were all tired at this point. Everyone wanted their bed. Well, not all, some people wanted their beer bottles. Hehehe. People are people ooo. I wanted my mother. I wanted a hug. Do you dislike mummy’s boys? Well, it does not change the fact that I wanted Mama to hug me on Wednesday night.
There were transport problems, with the need to travel from one venue to another on this first day, and an hour or so lost to this confusion, food served late, and not being enough too (unplanned for mouths to feed and all) plus a robbery that messed up the public address system arrangements at Makerere. This shocked everyone into the real festival mood. In 2013, I had a girlfriend to whine with or to, about the mess and all. She was in the mix fixing things with me, you see, fixing me too. This time, you should have heard me whining to myself at home. Life was unfair that first day. And I am sure for the whole organizing team. What, with one of us having a wife undergoing surgery to attend to, and another losing a father. I could not whine to anyone. Because with my ugly shoes, they would wonder what to do, with their bare feet.
The next days were much better. But I could not get printeries to produce a beautiful programme handbook. I tore two shirts in distress on the second day. And one printer decided to print unrelated information on a second batch of t-shirts. I had never been madder. But the time keeping exhibited on the next days was shocking at some point. For example, 90 minute sessions cut down to 45 minutes such that no time is lost in transport again, decisions that the very able and competent team handling the production of events were able to make. Events started on time from Thursday till the end. Smile. I know.
On Thursday, Angela Emurwon and Donald Molosi taught a master class on playwriting; Michela Wrongand Mathilda Edwards taught a master class on Non Fiction writing and answered questions and queries about submissions for the Miles Morland Writing scholarships. The panel of the day featured Ikhide Ikheloa, Edwige Dro, Moses Kilolo and Rachel Zadok talking about speculative fiction and Afrofuturism. That evening, drinks and eats were served at the 882 Terrace garden. Some of the guests were staying at this lovely lovely house, with well-mowed grass, and a very intimate and picturesque garden. You can’t reasonably know what the conversations were about as people sat in groups and talked till midnight and beyond. But we shall know, because definitely there will be fruits of those conversations. I will write you a separate letter about what to expect from a festival, this festival. Please do not get tired of my letters.
On Friday, Paula Akugizibwe and Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah taught a master class on Writing for Social Justice, Rachel Zadok taught a master class on Speculative Fiction and Aaron Bady talked with Hilda Twongyeirwe about creating space for African literature on the curricula of universities, high schools and elsewhere in the education system where opportunities can be located. The day was meant to end with the premier of Donald Molosi’s Today It’s Me play and a conversation with Aida Mbowa of Maisha Garden and the playwright and actor, but one of the Nigerian guests Chijioke amu nnadi had organized an open mic event at Faze 2 that went on till midnight.
I see that you are beginning to get distracted. So, I will write another letter about the weekend. Can I? I know this is so much correspondence and you have a job to do, you have been battling a cold and stuff, but please Jennifer, it will just be one letter, okay, maybe two, not more than three, I promise. The immediate next one will be about the weekend at the festival.
Looking forward and already writing the second letter: