Acan Innocent Immaculate; an interview with the award winning writer.

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The award winning Acan Innocent Immaculate, our book club’s guest for the month of September.

Acan Innocent Immaculate is the winner of the recently organised CACE (Center for African Cultural Experience) organised Writivism Festival 2016’s short story competition. Her gripping story, Sundown, beat several others, written by equally fledgling writers from East and West Africa to earn the coveted prize.

Turn The Page was blessed to share her company when she joined us, as our guest and author of the month of September, for the book club meeting which happened on September 2, 2016. Acan gave a reading of her story to which we reacted and asked a several questions about herself and her award winning story; activities, she said, were her first as she had never ever of the same before.

The following interaction is one made up of answers by her, as given to questions and comments raised by the book club members who were led by Raymond Lule. TTP is an acronym for Turn The Page, whereas AII is Acan Innocent Immaculate in full.

TTP: Who is Acan Innocent Immaculate?

AII: I am Acan Innocent Immaculate. I am studying at Makerere University, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Medicine and Surgery. I am in my third year, which has just started. I have two siblings – sisters. I am 5 feet and 2 inches, but I play basketball.

TTP: When did you start writing?

AII: I started with very poorly drawn comics, when I was in P5 (elementary/primary school, level/class 5), before moving to plagiarising stories and trying to make them my own. In High School, I moved on to novels, even though the writing was bad. Right now, I am focusing on short stories. Due to time limits, short stories are easier to write.

TTP: What has your writing experience been like, in your nascent life as a writer?

AII: I feel like I have had a pretty smooth ride. I have sent a story to a magazine, and it has been rejected. That is the worst thing that has happened to me so far. I do not have a struggle story to tell yet.

TTP: What is the story behind your story? What informed the title? What inspired it?

AII: Actually, I feel like people understood the story much better than I did. When I was coming up with the title, it was just a stroke of luck to have that wordplay. Sundown is, really, an evening time. I was looking a t it from the perspective of the world coming to an end. The world is in its evening. Also, the sun is literally down.

I like your (Raymond Lule) interpretation (that the masses have exasperated the gods, who have decided to strike back) too better than mine.

TTP: What inspired you to write Sundown?

AII: To be honest, it was not a movie. I was trying to improve my description in stories. Before that, a friend of mine was telling me that they read stories but they felt that the stories existed in blank space. I was trying to write a story that explores description. I wanted to tweak people’s imagination.

The other things just filtered into the story. Like the albino. There is a misrepresentation of people –people are not represented as much. For example, I do not think I have read a story where the protagonist is an albino. So, I decided to write a story about someone else.

TTP: 2050 AD? What does the timing in your story say about the world, about current situation and what this story might mean if we look at it as futuristic?

AII: There is a theory going around that in about 20 years the effects of global warming will be greater than can support life. I am an environmentalist, and I am aware that we – humanity – are very lazy about taking care f the planet.

Scientists have a rationale that when we go extinct, the planet will restart. They have the mentality that it does not matter what we do, we will leave the planet behind. I was looking at it from the point of “Hey! You are not leaving the planet behind. Take that! What are you going to do about that?”

Yes, it was just a story, but you can consider it somewhat of an advocation for the preservation of the environment.

TTP: While writing this story, one with a concept that has been explored before, what new angle were you examining, besides setting it in Uganda or Africa?

AII: It is not my responsibility to make you not remember other stories. I wanted to look at it from a more personal perspective – for the protagonist. Instead of him thinking about saving the world, he is thinking about himself – especially for an apocalyptic story.

TTP: your story is a conflation of so many foreign ideas. Are you an African writer simply because of your pigment, or you want to portray this kind of story as being from an African perspective?

AII: I like to say that I am a writer who happens to be African. Yes, I want the stories to relate to an African setting. I do not want to tell an American story from an African perspective. I do not subscribe to the school of thought that some things are American and some cannot be African. Snow and spaceships are global elements which are portrayed in an African setting.

Gloria Nanfuka: There is not one African story, one that fits the stereotype. The contemporary African is exposed to a world with spaceships. You can write about a character who travels to the village, sleeps in a manyata and speaks their native language with their grandmother, and then returns to the city to read Wole Soyinka, watch Game of Thrones, and speak slang with their friends.

TTP: What goes into your craft – the writing? Was it taxing or an improvement from an earlier level?

AII: An improvement from an earlier level. My description was lacking, so I was trying to improve that. I did a little research, but it was very low key stuff. Just Google and some article here and there.

TTP: Do you treat your stories like a money lender? When people come to you for short stories, do you have them on hand? Do you fat them when they are required? Or, do you see the events coming up and you build towards the events?

AII: I am in group with five friends. Every week we give each other a writing prompt, and then at the end of the week, each one of us has come up with a story of about 2,500 words. Yes, right now, I am fatting out short stories.

TTP: What more should we expect from you?

AII: Something better. Preferably, another short story. It will not be similar. I struggle with having a consistent style.

TTP: Do you think Ugandans are writing more short stories? There seems to be more poetry.

AII: I cannot give an honest response to that. I have not read enough Ugandan literature. I am put off by the first few that I stumble across. I am trying to rectify that. I feel we are still trying to break free of that stereotypical African story mould, but we are getting there.

TTP: What has the appreciation of your story been, amongst your friends and your peers?

AII: It is surprising. I did not think it was going to be a big deal when I was writing it.

TTP: How did you find the competition, especially with people who come from countries that are quite serious about their literary work?

AII: My first reaction was shock. I did not expect to win. I had spent that week telling people whom I thought was going to win.

The festival was really good. I met so many people who were much better at the craft than I am, people who are more experienced. I learnt so much from talking to those people than I thought I would.

TTP: As an individual, what significant opportunities have you earned from winning the Writivism Festival 2016 short story competition, or any others beyond the festival?

AII: Yes! I have received like a hundred (100) Facebook friend requests from Nigerians.

TTP: As a writer, the expectation is that you are reading a lot to inform your writing. How much and how often do you read, and what do you read?

AII: Every time I get free time. I have e-books on my phone. I can go through a phase where I am reading a novel every two days. Mostly, it is those funny chicly things.

Now, I am trying to improve my reading; War of the Worlds, Art of War and those other fancy things.

I would say that I read once a day. At least, I sit down for about an hour and read before I sleep. Right now, I am reading How To Write Science Fiction.

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Acan Innocent Immaculate’s appreciation, in a tweet.

 

 

          

 

 

The Cock Thief – Parselelo Kantai

I had to look again and again to appreciate the depth of the symbolism the writer had used!

When you’re done reading The Cock Thief, you suddenly realise it was a story full of well placed symbols. Especially perhaps if you’re not Kenyan. The short story by Parselelo Kantai is somewhat of a well written jigsaw that touches on Kenya’s politics and what maybe one man’s dream for siku mpya or alfajiri in a land other than Kenya.

It’s flattering to a Ugandan that one man may look upon this country as a new start, a new day but one must not miss the circumstances involved.

The story is set on a bus. Transit. Change. Long journeys filled with hope but also with fear and anxiety and fanciful thinking. The journey on the bus appears to me partly as one man’s meditation on what happened to the country Kenya, what happened to his tribe’s culture with the influence of colonial machinations. What happened to initial hopes of moving up the ladder. The vanity of patience.

The writer uses different means to evoke this. From hopeful appointments to positions very close to power and their eventual meaninglessness. It’s as though as he speaks of these things, he speaks of Kenya as a whole

“None of that business of climbing up the ladder of success, of spending years driving some inconsequential Ministry of Education undersecretary across the country, waiting patiently inside the car for the 1 o’clock news outside a nyama choma den in West Mugirango and hoping that Bwana Undersecretary was among the list of new presidential appointees and you therefore rose with him, futures intertwined.”

The bus’s movement too is a tell-tale of the writer’s thoughts on this journey. It’s forging ahead on the journey but not without difficulty, the engine protested, seized up, a winded child’s frantic gulps for air. There are moments it almost fails but manages to move through. Moments it is almost involved in an accident but by some power survives.

I didn’t fail to see the juxtaposition between the bus and the Mercedes Benz of the Old Man who the main persona Corporal Naiguran chauffeurs. The bus is headed to the border and goes through hills and valleys, over potholes while coughing. The Benz on the other hand has a deep hum of music transmitted from the steering wheel… It’s as though the bus represents wananchi and the Benz, the ruling class. One the difficulty of their lives, the other the ease.

However, besides the bus, the main image itself is that of the cock. I must say again that the writer’s symbolism is well thought out. A look at the Kenyan coat of arms reveals a cock – a rooster, in the middle that symbolises announcement of a new day, of a new time. Of harambee and better things. As the title denotes, you already know the cock is the subject of a theft. I really do not want to spoil this story. However I can say that again there is an attempt of the wananchi to steal the dream for themselves and run with it.

It’s a story with phrases that stick out at you, phrases that make you sad. Of fathers who die of redundancy because they have no place in the new journey their country is on. Of mzungu cattle being bathed in Palmolive soap. Of everybody leaving Kenya and lying about it because there was nothing left. Of thick buttocks, things you could hold on to when it mattered.

This to me is one story rich with its use of symbols. It’s a short read but a long thought. Everything means something bigger, something else. It’s not just a cock being stolen,  or a corporal stealing it, or hiding it in a bag on a bus, or a crescendo chorus of cocks at the border. It’s not just an “Old Man”, or a bus or a benz. It is something more. That is why this is not a one time read. It is a two-time, three-time, four-time and over and over again read till you fully appreciate the symbols. I’d recommend it for a book club discussion.

 

Running – Jackie Lebo

Little do we know about the Kenyan runners that every year, every four years achieve another racing feat. Outside of Kenya, we keep seeing these black men and women who simply cannot fail to win at races, especially long distance races.

When I first picked up the book I thought it was fiction. Most of the works I read are fiction. However it was not until I decided to Google the names in the book that I found, they exist in real life and this is a story that brings to light their stories and backstories.

Jackie Lebo’s “Running” begins humbly enough

“THIS IS A STORY about running. It started out as a story about my family, but as it always happens, the unintended tales a narrative unravels are often the most compelling.”

The narrative started still in the summer of 2004 where Jackie Lebo was on a history mining mission in Kenya.  The unintended tale seems to flow from the Athens Summer Olympics in 2004, backwards into Kenya’s pre-independence land history and forward to the story of a one, Elias Kiptum Maindi and his search for athletic success.

Even if the story is about running, it is not one that puts you on tension. Whether that is a good thing remains for the reader to decide. That said, there are two issues being well held in tension, Kenya’s successful “running” history outside home and it’s divisive land problems at home.

“I was living in the States at the time and distance gave us an acute hunger for stories from home – we devoured Kenyan newspapers. The back of The Daily Nation, had three steeplechasers in all their winning glory, uncontroversial and celebrated by all Kenyans. The front carried far more gripping news: the hundred year lease on the Maasai agreements of 1904 AND 1911 were up, and the Maasai were agitating for the return of their lands.”

The controversial issues are not limited to land. There are more and they are tagged to the effects of the colonial system. Education also divides the people. Those who go to school leave “home” work undone. However, when education pervades the society, unemployment issues crop up and then social issues like drinking also crop up. To our main focus Elias, it is these that drive him to running.

The writer’s narration on how land issues affected their family and why they live where they live at the moment, close to the running capital of Kenya Iten leads us to the new tale about runners, about Elias and his journey.

I can see how the unintended tales happen. There are always points like the writer’s home, Moiben being close to Iten that sets off a new tale.

Iten is referred to as the running capital of Kenya. The writer takes some time to paint it with his words. Beautifully. You might smell the air, sit in its small restaurants and order mandazi. It could be any other small town in Kenya except in those other towns, you will not find

“…the runners, hundreds of them, seen early in the morning in groups as large as forty on the side roads, wearing the latest athletic gear, multicoloured spandex and breathable shirts of every global sports brand available – Adidas, Nike, Fila, Mizuno, Puma, and Asics.”

It is a different kind of town. It is very local yet very international with fortunes tied to far off places – London, Chicago, Seoul, Fukuoka and Rio… .The writer finds this connection intriguing, noting one week she might be cheering on a runner on a TV screen and the next seated behind him on a matatu.

It’s here that Elias’s story starts. I cannot help but always look back to the opening line and see how Elias comes into the tale. We started from a television to a newspaper, to a search for history, to a town and finally to a runner. From this point the writer follows Elias on his journey; the effect of the controversial matters like land, education, unemployment on his chosen career; the runner’s own enduring pursuit of the career. His chancing on established runners, his relationship with his father and how it takes him to the cusp of greatness.

The short story, I feel, is Jackie Lebo’s tribute to Kenya’s runners, a sympathy with Kenyans and the problems that arose from colonial settlers, the enduring land and evolving culture of Kenya, and a hope birthing experiment for another Kenyan who might want to follow the path of runners.

As I said, the book itself is not a sprint, neither is it a marathon, it’s somewhere in between but calmly tells the unknown tale of Kenya’s runners.

Activities In September.

Greetings.

We wish you a beautiful, eventful, happy new month of September, 2016.

Following from where we left off last month, we will continue with our growing tradition of two events per month, but plus one more; two author appearances and readings, and a reflection on the common text of the month.

On September 2, 2016, we will host Acan Innocent Immaculate, a budding Ugandan writer, whose story, Sundown, is the winner of the just ended 2016 Writivism Festival’s Short Story Prize.

Acan Innocent Immaculate, our guest for the #TTPBookMeet on September 2, 2016, will be joining us for an author appearance and reading.

Acan’s Sundown is dark, near-apocalyptical, and eschatological. There is no hope left for and we get to experience that depressing world through the eyes of a disillusioned child. The main character’s situation is as tragic as it can get, as all the earth’s inhabitants, considered as not being part of mankind’s best, are sentenced to die with earth. It is a beautifully written story, whose plot unravels with an awful elegance.

On September 16, 2016, we will meet for a reflection on the common text for the month, which is Boy, Interrupted, a novel by Saah Millimono. Boy, Interrupted is a searing, heartbreaking love story and an insightful and moving debut which captures Liberia’s people, politics and cityscape during its civil war.

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Boy, Interrupted is our common text for the month of September. We will reflect on it in the #TTPBookMeet of September, 16, 2016.

You are encouraged to proceed to purchase your copy by following this link, in preparation for September 16’s book club meeting.

On September 30, 2016, we will meet for another author appearance and reading, where and when we will host a yet to be announced guest.

Our book club meetings still happen in Hive Colab, which is in Kanjokya House, and on Kanjokya Street, and start at 5PM.

We hope to share your and all your friend’s company on the highlighted dates.

Warmly,

Turn The Page.