Goretti Kyomuhendo of African Writers Trust
African Writers Trust is only a year old now. Its mission is to build and sustain a strong supportive network for African writers in Africa and in the Diaspora.
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First published: May 22, 2011
Goretti Kyomuhendo is the Director of African Writers Trust, a body that aims at coordinating and linking African writers in the Diaspora with those on the African continent. On the Advisory Board of African Writers Trust are writers we have previously had on UGPulse such as Nigerian writer Helon Habila, and poet Mildred Kiconco Barya. She holds an M.A. in creative writing from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, and has authored four novels: The First Daughter (1996), Secrets no More (1999) – which won The National Book Trust of Uganda Best Novel Award 1999, Whispers from Vera (2002) and Waiting (2007). She has also published a number of children’s book and short stories. She is one of the founding members of Uganda Women Writers Association (FEMRITE). Kyomuhendo was the first female Ugandan writer to be invited to the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, USA. She currently lives in London and is working on a new novel around the theme of immigration.
Beatrice: What motivated you to found African Writers Trust?
Goretti: African Writers Trust is an organization that coordinates and links Diasporic African writers with writers living on the continent so the two groups can share skills, experiences and information. Increasingly, majority of Africa’s premier writers, including Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Nuruddin Farah, Chenjarai Hove, Chimamanda Adichie, Jack Mapanje, to mention but a few, live and work in the Diaspora due to varied reasons. However, this trend should not be viewed as totally negative. These same writers have gone on to acquire better writing and publishing opportunities including winning prestigious literary accolades, which have propelled them to international recognition. On the other hand, majority of writers who remain on the continent continue to lag behind and have limited access to the same resources that their counterparts in the Diaspora enjoy. So what motivated me to start African writers Trust was to have a body in place that would create opportunities for the two groups to meet, interact, and share resources, through writing and mentoring workshops, writing fellowships and grants, and others. The first writing and mentoring workshop has already happened. It was held in Kampala in February 2010 and facilitated by Sade Adeniran, a Nigerian-British award-winning writer, who lives and works in the UK. Her first novel, Imagine This won the Commonwealth Prize in 2008.
Beatrice: Which writers do you plan to bring to Uganda in 2011?
Goretti: The plan is to bring African writers in the Diaspora to Africa so they can share their writing skills and other experiences with writers who live and work on the continent. We started with Uganda for logistical reasons, but we hope to hold similar workshops in other parts of the continent. We hope this kind of interaction will inspire and motivate both Diasporic and continental writers to continue writing. You have to remember that some of these Diasporic writers who live away from the countries in which they were born have been removed from their epistemological environments from which they draw their inspiration to write. And by bringing them to Africa, back to their roots, so to speak, we are offering them the experience and chance to reconnect with their source of inspiration. Since moving to London three years ago now, I have met so many writers who would fall into this category; writers who would really love to come back to Africa and share their skills, but at the moment, we are restricted by funds to make this happen.
Goretti Kyomuhendo at the AWT training workshop in Kampala.
Beatrice: How do you see AWT in ten years?
Goretti: African Writers Trust is only a year old now. Its mission is to build and sustain a strong supportive network for African writers in Africa and in the Diaspora. As you know, there are many hurdles that African writers have to grapple with in order to achieve their writing and publishing dream. These include lack of or limited publishing opportunities, professional writing skills development, supportive structures to develop and grow as writers and to sustain their creative processes and productions, lack of information on publishing and other resources for writers, lack of cross-border movement of books, and many others. We plan to address some of these problems, so I hope in ten years, we shall have made a difference for African writers.
Beatrice: After four novels, what keeps you motivated to write?
Goretti: Stories. Everywhere I look around me, I see more stories that are crying out to be told; and I want to write them and so I keep going.
Beatrice: How long does it normally take you to complete a novel?
Goretti: For me, writing is a process, which begins with an idea, and then research, and the actual writing is the final phase. Usually, the writing phase may last up to five years, or less, but all this really depends on a number of issues including the type of story that I’m writing, and my own state of mind.
Beatrice: How do you decide on the titles of your books?
Goretti: I don’t. They just come to me, and so far, I’ve never had to change a title.
Beatrice: What are your key principles to keep you writing?
Goretti: Writing is hard work but it’s about the only thing that I honestly want to do with my life. Actually, it’s more of a calling, a vocation, for me. So I keep going regardless of the hurdles.
Beatrice: Which Ugandan writer has influenced your writing?
Goretti: I try to read all books written by Ugandans including those who live outside Uganda, and in one way or the other, I guess my writing has been influenced by their stories.
Beatrice: Which writer do you look up to in terms of writing skills?
Goretti: Sometimes when I read a good book, I wish I could write like those writers, but eventually, I have to accept that I have my own style which I should stick with. And as with everything else, practice makes perfect, and I can only hope that with time, I will perfect my writing skills.
Beatrice: Besides writing, what do you do during your free time?
Goretti: I think my life at the moment revolves around writing. When I’m not writing, physically, I’m reading for inspiration, and I’m doing public readings, and attending conferences and seminars; and training young people to write.
Beatrice: Has your writing changed since you left Uganda? Do you write about snow etc?
Goretti: No, I don’t think my writing has changed, rather, it has grown and matured and may be I’m covering a wider spectrum now.
Beatrice: Are literary agents necessary in Uganda to boost the writing scene?
Goretti: Perhaps if you’re only looking at being published in Uganda, then may be you don’t require an agent. You can simply walk into the publisher’s office, and speak to the editors directly. Here in the UK, the system is quite different. You need an agent to market your manuscript to publishers. Most publishers will not accept a manuscript that has not come in through an agent. So, yes, if you’re living in Uganda but you want to be published abroad, then you need an agent to represent you.
Beatrice: What advantages have you gained in the UK that may not be available in Uganda?
Goretti: There are more resources in the UK for writers than in Uganda. Here, you can get a grant to enable you concentrate and dedicate all your time to your writing; and of course, there are more bookshops and libraries. London is a very vibrant, multi-cultural society, and there are very many literature events happening throughout the year. All these boost my creative energies and inspire me to write.
Beatrice: What is in Uganda that Ugandan writers shouldn’t take for granted?
Goretti: Friendship of other writers and good weather. I don’t do much writing during winter; I lose my inspiration to write and spend my time brooding and wishing I was back in Uganda basking in our beautiful sunshine.
Beatrice: Many thanks Goretti
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First published: May 22, 2011
Beatrice Lamwaka is finalist for the PEN/Studzinski Literary Award 2009. She is the author of Anena's Victory, one of Fountain Junior HIV/AIDS Series, a supplementary reader in primary schools in Uganda. Her published short stories have appeared in Gowanus Books, Women's World website, WordWrite-FEMRITE Literary Journal, as well as anthologies such as Words From a Granary, Today You will Understand, Aloud: Illuminating Creative Voices, Michael's Eyes; The War against the Ugandan Child FEMRITE publications. She was one of the pioneers of a British Council writing scheme that links Ugandan writers with established writers in the UK, and she is a member of Uganda Women Writers' Association (FEMRITE). She is currently working on her first novel and a number of short stories.