By Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Published July 20, 2011
Lamwaka was short-listed for her short story, Butterfly Dreams, from Butterfly Dreams and Other New Short Stories From Uganda, published by Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, Nottingham (UK), in 2010.
She said: “It is exciting and I know I will make a major contribution to the literary world. I will have very many opportunities following this Caine Prize short-listing that if I use them well, I will prosper as a writer. I have got so much support from many Ugandans. I hope I will motivate others to join the profession of writing.”
Saying the road to writing is difficult, Lamwaka says she was excited, “when I read an email announcing the short list. I had just returned from a Caine Prize workshop in Cameroun. I wouldn’t believe it was true. This prize is so huge and I know very many writers who would wish to be on the short list every year and do not make it. I think the Caine Prize exposes African writers to the rest of the world as agents and publishers get interested in you. Being on the short list alone is big enough,” Lamwaka told ArtMatters.Info in Kampala.
A US-based Zimbabwean author, Elizabeth Tshele who writes under the pen name NoViolet Bulawayo, won the 2011 Caine Prize beating 120 writers to the coveted continental award with her short story, “Hitting Budapest”, that had been published by The Boston Review of the United States in 2010.
The Caine Prize, widely known as the “African Booker” and regarded as Africa’s leading literary award, is now in its 12th year. It is awarded to a short story by an African writer published in English, whether in Africa or elsewhere.
Lamwaka was the third Ugandan to be chosen after Doreen Baingana and Monica Arach de Nyeko; Arach won the prize in 2007 for a story, Jambula Tree, from African Love Stories, published by Ayebia Clarke Publishing in 2006.
Butterfly Dreams is about a family that has been waiting for five years for their daughter, Lamunu to return home from the hands of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels. The family has even buried her tipu (spirit), when word went around that she would not return home. When Lamunu is finally rescued by the soldiers in Sudan and returned home she is a traumatized and changed girl.
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Lamwaka, who says that the idea of this story emerged after she heard the sad tales of child captives at a rehabilitation centre in Gulu district, has several poems and short stories published in various Uganda Women’s Writers Association (FEMRITE) anthologies including her latest story, The Hair Cut, in the anthology, Never Too Late. She is currently working on her first novel whose title, she says, keeps changing. Her short memoir, The Market Vendor, was published by PMS 9, University of Alabama, USA, in 2010. Her poems have also been published in various anthologies.
Lamwaka says creating characters is what drives her. “What gives me the courage is being able to create characters , creating people who live on paper that readers can easily relate with. My writing will live on because I speak to different people even when I am not there.”
She says the Joseph Kony rebel war experience in northern Uganda influences most of her writing.
“My stories are war-related although tackled from different angles. I was born and raised in Gulu. When I was about 10 years old I had to move to Moroto where my elder sister was working in a maternity hospital to escape the insecurity in the late 1980s. It was too dangerous because today you are in school and tomorrow you are on the run. Sometimes children would be abducted on their way to school.”
“I feel that some people are not able to tell their own stories. So I speak for such people. I come from Gulu where I went to school with my age mates, many of who died as a result of the war. I tell their stories in a way,” she says.
“Whenever the war got to a peak we would leave home in the evening to take shelter at Akololum Seminary in Gulu town. We would only return in the morning to prepare for school and farm work.”
Lamwaka’s father was a medical officer at Gulu Hospital and often people came home to consult him over health problems like malaria and cough.
“The LRA rebels would come and take the drugs from home and the government would accuse him of supporting the LRA. I think my dad was bold because he continued helping the people in these different times. When people needed to get treatment they knew where to get it,” she says.
Lamwaka has no kind words for the perpetuators of the Joseph Kony war: “It was a stupid war. I feel there is no need for war and it should not have been there in the first place. What have we gained? The loss is greater than the gain, if there is any. I am sure there is no gain at all. There is a lost generation that was born and grew up in the displaced people’s camps that did not have an education and lost their culture as well. There were very many people who were damaged and need to move on.”
“Every time you go home you find it is a different feeling. Like the first time I returned home in Gulu I would not trace the path to our compound. There were very many huts all over the place. I have picked story ideas from such experiences that motivate me to write more.”
“I will continue writing short and long stories. But I would wish to have my own collection of short stories and a novel in future. I hope it works out,” she says.
Born in Gulu, Lamwaka now lives and does most of her writing in Kampala where she is the General Secretary of the Uganda Women’s Writers Association (FEMRITE) and a freelance writer with Daily Monitor newspaper, UGPulse and the Press Institute.
She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Human Rights at Makerere University where she also graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Education, Literature and English Language Studies in 2002.
She was one of the pioneers of a British Council writing scheme known as “Crossing Boarders” in 2000 that linked Ugandan creative writers with established writers in the UK. In 2010 she was Laureate for the Council for the Development of Social Science (CODESRIA) of the Democratic Governance Institute in Senegal. She was a Finalist for the PEN/Studzinski Literary Award in 2009 and a Fellow at the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation/African Institute of South Africa Young Scholars Programme in 2009 where she is researching about spiritualism in traditional African conflict resolution.
Lamwaka says she is proud of FEMRITE that publishes and promotes the works of female writers.
“I think people are working very hard and the literary scene in Uganda is changing. I think good works will come out of Uganda because very many things are going on,” she opines. She also expresses her displeasure with the government and local publishers that are focused on the textbook market.
“The publishers are only interested in text books believing that is what sells.” We don’t receive support from the government. More or less you are writing from your own initiative. We have very good writers who have published one or two good books but because there is no support they can’t produce more. If they happen to have a job they concentrate on their employment and writing becomes more of a hobby than a profession ” which is a disservice to the book industry,” she argues.
Lamwaka also denies claims that she abandoned the teaching profession for writing. “I am a trained teacher and I have taught at Kibuli Secondary School and Negri College in Gulu. It is wrong to say that l left teaching for writing. I discontinued teaching because I didn’t want to be tied down to just one thing.”