Prof.Okey Ndibe with Goretti Kyomuhendo , the Director of AWT and two members of her passionate team at the opening of the Training Workshop. The photo was taken by me as one of the participants.
For a person like me who has been away for more than two decades, I find the radically changed economic, cultural and social landscape frightening and overwhelming. Since home is best, I have had to swim vigorously to find my own level.
This is happening against a back drop of a highly Digital technology- driven world which has turned the world into a global village. We are connected to each other instantaneously and an avalanche of information is accessible to anyone who wants it from anywhere in the world.
Early on, I realized that if I wanted to turn myself into an outstanding writer, I had to connect with other writers- a community of like-minded people to help me follow things through and to help me understand the joys and challenges of publishing one’s creative works.
I belong to the Online Africa Book Club, The Write Practice, Go Blog Your Passion and Two Drops of Ink.
Like any investment of high returns, it carries some risks.
However, I have found these communities of writers or writing cartels extremely beneficial to me .
They support and encourage me through the process of writing and publishing.
- They read and critique my writings. They help me improve even my best piece of writing and I become a better writer and more professional
- They encourage me to keep walking along this mysterious journey and to be accountable.
- They promote my work by sharing it among family and friends.
- They are willing to offer any help that I dare to ask of them as long as it is related to my journey of becoming an outstanding writer of my time.
- Being part of a bigger community which includes many other writers already ahead in their career, makes me more ambitious.
Being a private person by nature, initially, I found it hard to share my writing to people unknown to me, but I have realized that the more I do it, the easier it becomes and the more I grow and develop as a writer. I consider any written story a work in progress that can be improved and refined from ideas generated from the invaluable feedback.
One of my favourite authors , Maya Angelou said: “ I believe that the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.”
Armed with great enthusiasm and anticipation plus an open mind and trusting myself enough to learn from others, I set out to find my Local Writing Community /cartel in Kampala, Uganda.
I made time to attend The African Writers Trust Professional Training Workshop For Creative Writers.
The theme was: Mastering The Challenges of Fiction. It ran from the 9th-10th September 2019 at Fairway Hotel in Kampala.
It did not disappoint; I got much more than I bargained for!
It was organized by Goretti Kyomuhendo and her team at African Writers Trust. Goretti is one of Uganda’s renown novelist, a founder member of African Writers Trust in 2009 and FEMRITE- the Association of Ugandan Women Writers. She founded AWT to coordinate and bring together African writers in the Diaspora and writers in the continent to share skills , knowledge and available opportunities. She has a number books and short stories under her belt. They include the First Daughter (1996) Secrets No More (1999) and Whispers From Vera.
The tutor was Prof. Okey Ndibe, a natural born story teller and a journalist from Nigeria who went to USA in 1988. He perfected his art of Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA. Currently, he teaches African and African Diaspora Literature at Brown University in USA.
He is fiercely committed to helping African writers to tell their unique stories to the world just as Maya Angelou said: “ When you learn , teach, when you get , give.”
He has had the rare privilege of being closely associated with Africa’s best known writer and celebrated poet and professor sometimes called the father of modern African writing, Chinua Achebe(1930-2013). Chinua Achebe happens to be my own hero whose first novel, Things Fall Apart(1958) was one of my set books for Literature in English at Ordinary Level in 1969, Gayaza High School, Uganda.The navy blue beret that Prof. Okey Ndibe wears is the symbol of the close association with the late Chinua Achebe and seals the bond between the two Nigerian writers.
This simple, down to-earth story teller and teacher seduced the participants from the onset to the end. I could take him as a consultant on the challenges faced by an Africa writer anywhere in the world for he is truly one of us. He knows it too well that African writers lack the structures that that support writers in USA or Europe. There are neither literary agents in Africa nor essential structures for editing and publishing and the readership is extremely low and yet African stories have to be told to the world by the Africans themselves. The African writers’ biggest challenge is that Africa is their audience and yet Europe and the USA is their market. As they write, they have to balance precariously these two factors.
Reading engages our minds and if done consistently, it turns the reader into a critical thinker. All big companies are looking out to recruit great minds that will sustain the companies and make them shine in this vibrant and competitive 21st century.
Prof. Okey Ndibe is a renown novelist, having written and published his first novel Arrows of Rain in 2000, Foreign Gods Inc (2014) and his humorous Memoirs: Never Look an American in the Eye(2016)
He was humble enough to tell us that it took him seven years to write and perfect Arrows of Rain, proving Terry Pratchett’s words, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
Goretti Kyomuhendo is still perfecting her first novel, The First Daughter, written twenty two years ago!
It just goes to prove that all artworks are Works in Progress. Leonardo da Vinci took more than twelve years to paint and finish the Mona Lisa which became the most famous of his works after his death.
Prof Ndibe advised us to form networks as writers, to support and guide one another by reading, editing, critiquing and promoting each others’ work and sharing available opportunities. He encouraged us to cautiously take advantage of the Digital revolution opportunities like Online publishing.
Any good professional training workshop is made or broken by its three components: the organizing team, the tutor and the participants and for this particular one, it was a perfect blend. Goretti Kyomuhendo’s team of young, energetic and passionate organizers was superb; paying attention to detail in a tightly packed workshop that would have lasted for five days at its best.
As for the tutor, I could not have had a better one and for the participants, who were of different age groups, backgrounds but with the sole aim of becoming great writers of their own stories, were provocative and attentive. The discussions were frank, relevant and useful to all of us.
The public debate about whether Literature is useless was the real climax of the training.Among the panelists were Prof. Timothy Wangusa, a Professor of Literature at Makerere University since 1981. He is a poet and a writer.
Mrs. Victoria Kisarale, a seasoned literature teacher and former headmistress of our school, Gayaza High school and two vibrant young women from the corporate world.
At the end of it all, it was crystal clear that Literature as an integral part of our culture, makes us who we are- values and principles and visions. It enlarges our minds and turns us into critical thinkers.
Any country that chooses to pay little attention to Literature during the formal years of education of its citizens, is doing so at its own peril.
I am a medical doctor but my obsessive fascination with books turned me into a doctor with a difference more so in the way I relate to the people around me and how I respond to the daily challenges of life.
After my unique parental upbringing and excellent formal education, my consistent reading of books shaped my values and character. This is why I am writing short stories and fiction novels to make a difference to the lives of the readers. It is my simple way of giving back to the literary world which has given me so much joy, knowledge and self-esteem all these years.
From this highly engaging two days workshop, I walked away with knowledge,skills, renewed vigour, new opportunities and new friends including Prof. Okey Ndibe and a writing cartel that will support, guide and make me accountable along my long journey of becoming an outstanding writer of my time.
As expected, I also walked away with a number of books by Ugandan writers, adding to my treasure trove of books. Among them were several anthologies of short stories by Ugandan women, an anthology of poetry and short stories by inmates in Uganda’s oldest and biggest prison at Luzira and two books by none other than Prof. Okey Ndibe: Arrows of Rain and Never Look An American In The Eye.
I cannot wait to devour them!
“Fiction comes from what is around us; our own experiences and experiences of other people.” – Prof. Okey Ndibe.
All writers, the well established and the emerging ones are supposed to be keen observers of people and their surroundings. We should consistently write and read since it is only through practice that we are turned into outstanding writers. We have to always remember that connecting with other writers brings out the best creative works within us.
Has this post helped you understand the need to look out for other like-minded people of your profession in your quest to become the best person you want to be?