Suubi and Moonscapes, by African Writers Trust

Since its establishment in 2009, African Writers Trust (AWT) has held many workshops for writers, editors, and publishers. “AWT’s vision is to create an environment that nurtures the writing, reading and publishing of African writers,” writes Goretti Kyomuhendo, the director of African Writers Trust, in an introduction to the paperback copy of Moonscapes, a collection of short stories and poetry by the training workshop alumni between 2012 and 2015.

Moonscapes.

“January 2013 saw the successful conclusion of the joint mentoring scheme between the African Writers Trust and the British Council Uganda. The programme, which paired emerging Ugandan writers with established UK based writers, lasted six months. During this period the mentees submitted short stories and poems and received critical feedback on their works via email.” This resulted in Suubi, AWT’s first collection of short stories and poetry.

Suubi.

Most of the writers and mentees from AWT’s workshops are now not only successful writers and editors but also publishers or publishing consultants. Last year (2017) I felt honored to be invited as one of the participants in AWT’s workshop at Country Lake Resort, Garuga in Entebbe. We were given copies of books, Moonscapes being one of them. After reading it I was compelled to download Suubi, which preceded Moonscapes, from AWT’s website.

I read both collections – one story and poem at a time. Though some stories are better written and more enjoyable than others, most of the stories and poems are well written. The stories and poems in both collections cover various themes from the personal like sexuality, rape, family conflicts, to the political and religious. In terms of style, most stories are similar, with the same points of view, mostly first person and third person narrative, except for Lilian Aujo’s Getting Somewhere, which is fantastically told in second person.

For lack of space, here are my two cents on some pieces. Sophie Alal’s Here Are the Children, the first story in Moonscapes, is so beautifully written with simple sentences and good diction.But it leaves you wondering whether it’s fiction or nonfiction (memoir).

Crystal Rutangye’s Legal Alien is yet another well written story which blurs the thin line between fiction and nonfiction. The Stone Baby by Adelina Mbekomize is my favorite story in Moonscapes. Except Nakisanze Segawa’s At the Nile, which doesn’t flow, and Zuhura Seng’enge’s Lesedi reads more like broken up prose sentences than a poem, the other stories like The Search by Regina Asinde and Stella’s Riunga’s Tunu the Invisible are very interesting and well written.

Suubi invitingly opens with Lilian A. Aujo’s brilliant poem,The Eye of Poetry, and short story, Getting Somewhere. I must say, wow, Lilian is gifted poet and writer. Spoken word poetry is the in-thing for poets nowadays, but reading Lilian’s poem made me realize that sometimes written poetry can be more profound than spoken word poetry. Also, I don’t know much about haiku, but if Harriet Anena’s short poem, I Died Alive, is a haiku, I want more.

For some reason Crystal’s Legal Alien appears in both Moonscapes and Suubi, but there are other very impressive storiesin Suubi, likeGloria Kembambazi Mutahane’s The Gem and Your Dreams, Hellen Nyana’s Waiting, and poems by Davina Kawuma, Elone Ainebyona, and Emmanuel Monychol.

Even though The Stone Babyis my favorite story of both collections, Suubi’s stories are generally of better literary quality than Moonscapes. No wonder three writers from Suubi were offered places on the Caine Prize for African Writing annual writing workshop, which was held in Uganda in April 2013.

Once condemned as a literary desert by Taban lo Liyong, a well known writer and literary critic, Uganda has turned into a literary oasis of sorts, thanks to initiatives like AWT, Femrite, and Writivism, among others,  for such short story collections like Suubi and Moonscapes published often, several literary events and a growing literary fraternity.

This review was written by Hassan Higenyi, for Turn The Page Africa.

For a copy or more of these books and others, please visit ttpafrica.com.

Man On Top – Jeremy Byemanzi

Man On Top: Lessons On My Journey To Manhood – Jeremy Byemanzi

Almost every Sunday a pastor or evangelist publishes a book. Some pastors have over a hundred titles to their names as a result. These books are usually self-published, for spiritual inspiration with references to the Bible. A friend gave me such a book recently, to read and consider reviewing it. The book is titled Man on Top: Lessons on My Journey to Manhood, by Jeremy Byemanzi.

Admittedly, due to my rather biased and snobbish literary tastes and preferences, I tend to dismiss such books as intellectually inferior and spiritually cliché. Reluctantly, however, I read Man on Top and was pleasantly surprised by how creatively well thought out and crafted it was.

For starters, the book’s title and cover picture might arouse “dirty thoughts”. This was probably intended to visually attract our “sinful” attention, given the author’s experience in the advertising industry where we’re told that sex sells. If so, it worked. Every time I moved with the book, most people who saw it asked me for permission to have a look.

As for the content of this small book of eleven chapters and 126 pages, published last year (2017), Dr. F. F. Tusubira puts it best in the foreword.

“Jeremy’s Man on Top can be read from two perspectives: one as a sermon, with his life’s journey used as an illustration; and the other as his life’s journey, with lessons from that used as a fusion of practical sharing of experience for others to learn from. In both cases, he draws heavily on Christian scriptures and his personal spirituality either to illustrate, or to explain his messages.”

Unlike many self-published books, this one was quite well edited, with one or two typos. And it is such a humorous and relatable (especially for young men), easy read that one can finish in one seating.

Much as its intellectual depth may be debatable, its spiritual depth and inspiration is more or less like for an abridged version of The Purpose Driven Life. Jeremy writes in Chapter 4 (W for Wisdom), for example:

“The thing about human beings is, we can have knowledge and refuse to apply it. It’s called free will. I’ve met many doctors that know that cigarette smoke causes lung cancer and other diseases yet they choose to smoke. I’ve also met several people that know that exercise is good for their bodies but they choose not to exercise.” For which he aptly refers us to James 1:5 – If any of you lucks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

While reading this book I had a conversation with a Christian friend who is an editor and a publishing agent well informed about Uganda’s publishing industry. She told me that the market for books like Man on Top is only rivalled by that for text books. She also asked if it’s the kind of book whose content and quality I would recommend as a gift. And I said, absolutely.

This review was written by Hassan Higenyi, for Turn The Page Africa.

For a copy or more of these books and others, please visit ttpafrica.com.