In 2011, I was twenty three years old. While I was formally a post-graduate student at the Law Development Centre, my mind was at the verge of deciding to pursue creative writing dreams and a life of letters at the expense of a career in legal practice. This was the proverbial career cross-roads for young me. I have not exactly resolved the conflict between a career in the law and in literature, I have decided that both will find a home in my mind and life. I will have my cake, and eat it at the same time. Of course I am equipping myself with enough ammunition to deal with those who think in narrow frames, about the boundaries of the legal and literary endeavors.
In 2011, I was very close to Dennis Muhumuza, who knew of my interest in creative writing, and who kept advising me to read and read more. He brought me a number of books to read. He lent me some, and sold me others. I took to reading a lot of Ugandan literature at the time. I remember visiting as many bookshops as I could find in Kampala and buying as many Ugandan books as I could afford. I was also very close to Kyomuhendo Ateenyi, under whose influence I attended the then weekly Lantern Meet of Poets’ Sunday meetings at the National Theatre. My old friend, Alex Niwamanya kept insisting that I go with him to the FEMRITE Monday club. I was always lost in discussion group sessions talking law things I never found time to go.
In 2011, Beatrice Lamwaka was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. The Ugandan literati were excited about the achievement, they congratulated her, they wished her well, and they publicly took pride in her achievement. But not all Ugandan men among the literati were happy. I remember an email that landed in my inbox one day, calling on Ugandan men writers to rise and challenge the women. I was a 23 year old, who did not know enough, who was reading as much Ugandan literature as I could because I believed as I do now, that the best way to train oneself to be a writer is to read. I wasn’t a Literature graduate. I did not know the sender of that strange email personally. I had not been on the scene. I was trying to know about the scene, to even know what a scene is.
In 2011, Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu had not yet come into the Ugandan literary life. Dilman Dila hadn’t published A Killing in the Sun. Melissa Kiguwa had not yet published Reveries of Longing. Daniel Kalinaki had not published Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution. Nyana Kakoma hadn’t started a publishing house. There was no festival, focused primarily on celebrating literature. Alex Twinokwesiga hadn’t started Turn the Page. Nevender’s blog wasn’t yet holding Uganda’s flag in the African literary blogosphere. I do not know where Esther Mirembe of Subtle Royalty was, then. Roland Niwagaba, of the Muwado fame, where was he? What about Kirabo Byabashaijaof The Rising Page and Sydney Mugerwa? Things were different from today, in 2011. I wish I could be 23 again, in 2016. It was a different experience being 23 in the Uganda of 2011 and being at law school wanting to be a writer and lawyer simultaneously.
In August 2011, I left Uganda to pursue further studies. It was a way to merge my interest in Creative Writing and Law. I saw the pursuit of a Master’s degree in Human Rights as a step towards my fuller self-actualisation as a lawyer-writer. The year I spent in Budapest would change everything. The story of the Budapest days and what came after will be told another day. This month’s Ugandan blog week, I am revisiting my exploration of Ugandan literature in the first seven months of 2011. I am re-posting the reviews of, commentaries on and excerpts from some of the Ugandan books I read in those months.
It is no longer 2011. Five full years have passed. This is why I am looking back at my perspective on life and literature at the time. I am embarrassed grossly by some of the opinions I held at the time. I am grateful for the lessons that came of my being a rookie aspiring writer in 2011, while also pursuing legal education. I hope you enjoy the seven posts from the past, I hope you laugh at my naivety. I hope you get agitated at my biases at the time. I hope you see some hope in my younger self. I hope you sneer at my ignorance of certain things. I hope you mock my inexperienced voice. I hope you see where my reading is coming from, for what it is. I hope the past makes you feel better about the present. I hope you share your thoughts about the books I read at the time. I hope I read from you, as well. I hope you find the books fascinating.