A workshop that begins by daring to ask if Okot P’Bitek is really Uganda’s most important writer is therefore bound to be interesting. I mean, when was the last time you heard anyone wonder whether the poet who crafted Song of Lawino is Uganda’s most important writer?
It seems so obvious that he is. After all, Song of Lawino is recognised world over as one of the poems that broke new ground in 20th century African literature.
Apparently there are some people in Uganda who not only doubt Okot P’Bitek’s credentials for that post, some even believe he is overrated. Such a workshop would be far from boring, as the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award workshop organised to follow up the poetry awards proved. This was poetry making a difference.
Held on October 1 at Makerere University, the BNP workshop attracted a surprisingly big number of participants. On top of the two previous winners of the BNP awards, the workshop saw over 30 poets and writers gather to discuss the finer details of writing poetry in Uganda.
Hosted by BNP award founder Beverley Nambozo, she described the workshop as an attempt to “bring poetry into mainstream discussion.”
Nambozo explained that she was inspired to begin hosting poetry workshops on top of the awards because though the award was beginning to draw out more writers, few could actually tell the difference between poetry and prose.
Supported by the Bayimba Cultural Foundation, BNP awards help their first workshop, which organisers say will be the first of many more.
Chief Guest at the BNP award workshop was Ife Piankhi, a spoken word performance artist of Caribbean ancestry currently based in Uganda. Participants who included Sophie Alal, 2010 BNP award winner, actress and writer Cleopatra Koheirwe and Suzan Kerunen representing Bayimba Cultural Foundation asked Ife to explain how a poet could go about earning a living from the craft.
To the surprise of many, Ife admitted that she does not make her living from poetry alone. She encouraged the poets to ensure they have “multiple streams of income coming in. Move around. Don’t stay in one place. Don’t expect anything to just come to you.”