Ugandan Writers: Meet Glaydah Namukasa
Glaydah Namukasa

Ugandan Writers: Meet Glaydah Namukasa

Winner of The 2005 Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa-Senior Prize.

By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
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First published: January 25, 2006
This is an exceptionally good time to be a Ugandan writer, as many are scooping up prestigious international literary awards and nominations. It is especially so for this very beautiful, intelligent, inspiring, talented female writer. She loves delivering babies alongside writing. Her profession is a midwife-at Namayumba Health Clinic IV in Wakiso District, and she is also writer for the Uganda Female Writers Association-FEMRITE.

In 2005 she was nominated for the 2005 Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa. The manuscript of 25-year-old Glaydah Namukasas novel entitled Voice of a Dream, competed with five others for the ultimate award of $5,000. The others were South Africas Christian Coetzee-Takis Ship of Desert, Nigerias Ngozi Ifeyinwa Razak-Soyebi-The House that Kojo Built, Ghanas Elizabeth Irene Baitie-A Saint with Brown Sandals, Kenyas Nanjala Nyabola-Pieces of My Country and Marialena van Tonder from Namibia- The Kidnapping of Dr Kai.

Last week on January 16th 2006, it was announced that Ugandan-born Glaydah Namukasa was the winner of The Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa-Senior Prize. This is the prize for an original, unpublished story in English for teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17. This is the second Ugandan to win a Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa after Susan Kajura won the Special award for the most promising new childrens writer in 2002 for her novel Daudi's Dream.

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Namukasa is currently a fellow of the British Council Crossing Borders Programme. The first novel she worked on with her Crossing Borders tutor/mentor Sara Maitland was considered for publication by FEMRITE Publishers. She started her writing career by telling stories to fellow students at Katabi Primary and Entebbe Secondary School. She used to ask herself why she could not write the stories instead. She would use exercise books to record her stories and later request friends to read through the work. One of her enthusiastic friends, Andrew Byogi, who read them over and over again, recommended her to FEMRITE where she became an activist and active writer.

FEMRITE is an organization of Ugandan female writers headed by Mbarara Woman MP Mary Karooro Okurut, but it also has many active male members. They hold peer reviews and readings on Monday evenings at their Kamwokya offices.

Namukasa is a prolific writer. Her publications include: a poem, That Place, in the FEMRITE literary journal: Wordwrite, short stories, Is There Any Choice and Dreams Dreams and Dreams on the website, two short stories, The Naked Bones and A Day In The Maternity Ward posted on the website.The Naked Bones was re-published in the latest volume of the FEMRITE Wordwrite journal. Another story, Death Wins Again, was accepted for the New African Writers anthology and is awaiting publication. The writing competitions she has participated in include: Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa, Commonwealth short story, Cupofcomfort website, stories and the Writers of the Future Contest, USA.

Her win is also a win for Uganda and Africa because she is a literary ambassador for the country as well as the continent and this win proves once again what literary powerhouses Uganda and Africa are. Ugandans and Africans all over the Diaspora should be celebrating it. For decades, Uganda received a lot of negative press but many people in the artistic and literary circles and playing their part to improve the image of the country through their artwork and writing. Uganda is a brewing pot for creative talent, and Glaydah Namukasa is one of them. Interviewing her was a delight. I got to know what inspired her beautiful name, how she balances mid-wifery with writing, and her challenges as a writer among many other things.

Jane: Glaydah... Thats a unique name. Does it have a special meaning?

Glaydah: The spelling has no meaning in particular, but the pronunciation, glider, symbolizes the smooth continuous movement, in this case, aiming higher, like an eagle.

You are certainly gliding like an eagle right now. On January 16th you were announced as the winner of the Senior Prize in the 2005 Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa. Congratulations! Thats not only a big win for Uganda, but also for you. What prompted you to enter the competition?

This is an open competition, which doesnt even require any entry fees. This is where I glimpsed an opportunity to have my talent exposed. All I had to do was write and do my best to see that my story is of quality.

Well, you certainly did an excellent job. The judges noticed your book. The fact that Susan Mugizi Kajura won the Macmillan Writer's Prize for Africa 2002- in the Most Promising New Children's Writer Award category must have given you hope. How did that win affect you as a Ugandan?

Susans victory was a great inspiration to me. That was the first time I heard of the Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa competition. The fact that my fellow Ugandan won the award confirmed it to me that all it takes for such victory is to be an African writer.

Do you think that the Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa is beneficial for African writers? How?

It is indeed beneficial. It gives an African writer an opportunity to get published on an international standard, and show cases the talent of an African writer.

Like me, you are also a fellow of the British Council Crossing Borders programme: a programme which helps upcoming African writers. How has this helped you?

Crossing Borders has given me the amazing opportunity to expose my writing to professional writers from the UK, my mentors: Sara Maitland, Edward Jones, and Caroline Gilfillan have done a great job in developing my writing skills. Sharing ideas and experiences with both my mentors and my fellow members on the scheme has broadened my ideas and as well enlarged my writing to an international audience.

What inspired your book Voice of a Dream?

At my present place of work, a rural area, I happened to do some home visiting in the villages and one day I came across a family where a fifteen-year-old was a parent to three siblings, and a caretaker of a senile grandmother. Teenage parentage is a theme that had never been tackled in form of a novel and I knew this would have an impact on the world.

Its certainly a theme which is rarely discussed, and yet we so many stories like that in Uganda. When can we look forward to reading or buying Voice of a Dream?

In a few months Voice of a Dream will be published by Macmillan. The launch will take place in September.

For those who have not yet read Voice of a Dream, could you give a brief synopsis?

Nanfuka, the only girl in Kitala village studying in a city school, drops out of school to cater for her four siblings including an HIV positive baby, because her father is dying, and her mother has disappeared. Her aunt, Naka, wants her married, but Nafukas dream is to study and become a nurse. She begins on a struggle to make a living for her siblings, and at the same time battles with Aunt Naka. Her persistent endeavours to pursue a way forward for her dream leads her to a French couple. Nanfuka hears the voice of her dream when the French couple later becomes the sponsors of her education.

I am looking forward to reading the book. I am very excited about your win! Glaydah, I am curious about this though. From midwife to writer... that is an interesting transition. How did you make that transition?

I didnt actually make any transition. I am a midwife by profession, writer by talent. After qualifying as a midwife, I embarked on a lookout for an opportunity to lift my writing skills. A friend of mine introduced me to FEMRITE, from where I heard about the Crossing Borders writing scheme.

For those who may not know, what is FEMRITE?

This is an organisation of Uganda Female Writers, which promotes womens writing, as well as grooming aspiring female writers. FEMRITE has been in existence for ten years now and has produced a number of published female writers.

In our communication you mentioned that you have had your struggles as a beginning writer. Its not easy for African writers to get exposure. Can you elaborate more on that so that people who may be able to help will hear from your experience as a writer?

In the past four years I have been participating in various writing competitions like; The Commonwealth Short Story Contest, Bridgeport Prize, Writers of the Future Contest, Toowrite True Story and Cup of Comfort. I even got myself published on the internet to enter the Caine Prize for African Writers competition. These have been my endeavours to expose my writing. For the Macmillan competition, this was my second time to participate, and I am glad that I have finally been victorious. Voice of a Dream is a novel that targeted an international readership. Schools, universities, bookshops, and parents worldwide should lookout for Voice of a Dream in a few months.

Well Glaydah, your hard work has certainly paid off. Do you think that there is space on the international market for Ugandan stories and Ugandan writers? Is the world ready for our stories?

The world came to know about Uganda at first, mainly because of the once Ugandan President, Idi Amin Dada. I am sure out there people are eager to know whats up now in Uganda. The world is definitely ready for Ugandan stories because reading is one of the ways people come to learn about what happens outside their own localities.

I agree with you. Uganda is definitely more than just Idi Amin. How have you been received as a writer on the Ugandan scene? Do you feel support from your own people as well as the media?

Writers are normally expected to emerge from the Arts sector, rarely from the Science sector. My being a midwife is the main aspect that has caught the attention of many people, and they are fascinated about it. FEMRITE is celebrating my achievement with a congratulation party and is planning on a press conference. We are trying to penetrate the media because its the way forward for promotion and publicity.

What about the international scene?

I have also been received with big congratulations from the Crossing Borders Programme, UK. My mentors are so proud of my work and they plan to publicise my achievement on the Crossing Borders website, and the Lancaster University website. Macmillan too will promote my novel, thus I will attain international publicity. I am sure that by the time Voice of a Dream is out, people will be already aware of the book.

UGPULSE is proud of you too. Who are your influences as a writer?

Both African and international writers like Helon Habila, Goretti Kyomuhendo, Yvonne Vera the late, J.M. Cotzee, Alice Walker, Daniel Steele, Sara Maitland, Maggie Gee, Ben Okri... quite many of them indeed.

I have noticed that lots of Ugandan writers love Nigerian writers Helon Habila and Ben Okri. Its not surprising, they are so talented. Any tips for the youth?

For those aspiring to be writers, keep writing, and take another step: expose your writing to other writers, and get exposed to the writing world. Also be ready for Voice of a Dream, a novel, which will give hope to all who have dreams of excelling in life, no matter what the present situation dictates.

What is next for you? Any other manuscripts in the works?

Yes, there is already an adult manuscript, The Deadly Ambition, on the British Council Manuscript Editing Scheme, which I hope to have published in the near future. I, too, have certain short stories to be published both nationally and internationally.

Well good luck with your writing career Glaydah. The sky is the limit for you now...

Thank you indeed!

By Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
more from author >>
First published: January 25, 2006
Jane Musoke-Nteyafas, poet/author/artist and playwright, was born in Moscow, Russia and currently resides in Toronto, Canada. She is the daughter of retired diplomats. By the time she was 19, she spoke French, English, Spanish, Danish, Luganda, some Russian and had lived in Russia, Uganda, France, Denmark, Cuba and Canada.

Jane won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named one of the new voices of Africa after reciting one of her poems. In 2004, she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto's Black storytellers and in February 2005, her art piece Namyenya was featured as the poster piece for the Human Rights through Art-Black History Month Exhibit.

She is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, art and playwriting and is becoming a household name in Toronto circles. Please visit her website at