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.