"Locally written books are scarce in Ugandan classrooms. Teachers prefer using the British literature they are used to in class." According to Hilda Twongyeirwe of Femrite, Uganda's association of female writers, this should change.
Seated around a paraffin-lamp two dozen of women – and a few men- are reading poems and stories to each other. There is no power, but the weekly writing- and reading class will still take place this evening. "What is this story really about?" Someone asks after reading a story that is nicely written but tough to understand. "When you need six dictionaries to understand this, how can it please the reader?", says another voice from the dark. Those present don't hesitate to criticise the work of each other, a practice that is not very common in Uganda.
"This was my story, unfortunately", says Davina Kawuma (25) after her story has come under harsh criticism. To prevent the feedback to be personal, the identity of the author is only revealed after the debate has ended. "But isn't it the beauty of literature that you are able to learn new words?", wonders Kawuma, defending her work fervently.
The writer's class is an important aspect of Femrite (Female Writers), that exists since 1996. Several members have already published books, like the founder (now Member of Parliament) Mary Karooro Okurut, Doreen Baingana and Jocelyn Ekochu, the current chairperson of Femrite. "The witers-class is very important for me, because people here really listen to your stories", says Kawuma who regards the feedback as helpful. "At home, there is hardly any understanding for the fact that I want to become a full-time writer. Sometimes people just laugh me off when I tell them."
That is a problem the majority of Ugandan authors face. There is hardly a reading culture in the country. Schools lack books, while libraries are scarce. "The revenue of the selling of books only can not support Femrite fully", says Hilda Twongyeirwe. Femrite, during some projects funded by the Dutch Embassy, hopes to turn things around. "I think all this can change", says Davina Kawuma. "The more people attend the writer’s
Femrite was supported during a ten-year period by The Hivos Culture fund.