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Babe of the week: Lamwaka, the princess who loves words

“If there is a writing opportunity and I fit in it, I will always apply. Though I get lots of rejection, I get lots of acceptances as well,” says Beatrice Lamwaka, an accomplished anthologist (short story writer).

Born and raised in Alokolum, Gulu, Lamwaka has had 11 short stories published in different anthologies in the UK, United States, and South Africa.

In 2011, she was shortlisted for the Caine award – a literary prize awarded each year for the best original short story by an African writer – for her Butterfly Dreams.

Butterfly Dreams is a story with a punch of sorrow, resilience, and vanity. It is a true story of her brother who was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels and upon reuniting with the family, he had changed.

“He was more reserved and I felt that he had lost all his dreams. This inspired me to think about how society receives and thinks about abducted children and my thoughts and observations came down into this story,” she says.

Butterfly Dreams was published in a UK anthology and is currently getting translated into French. Her other story, Star In My Camp, also received international recognition from Pen International, a writers’ organization based in South Africa.

Lamwaka recalls that of the more than 800 unpublished stories submitted to Pen’s anthology; hers was among the 34 shortlisted ones.

Besides international recognition, the chubby and outgoing Lamwaka was also our 2011 Young Achievers winner in the Art, Culture and Fashion category.

And in 2009, she was one of the 10 African scholars chosen for the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation fellowship to undertake research. She has since worked as a researcher in Italy and Sudan.

She is currently working on her memiors, The Market Vendor, and a collection of short stories, The Garden of Mushrooms. At the end of this month, she will travel to Italy for a writing residency, where she hopes to pen her first novel. It thus appears, Lamwaka is a fireball of achievement.

Avid reader

All through her life, Lamwaka cherished reading.

“It got to a point where people would ask me whether it is me with their novels because I would ask for them to quickly scan through [but stay long with them],” she recalls.

After pursuing a History, Economics, Literature and Divinity (HEL/D) combination at Uganda Martyrs Secondary School Namugongo, Lamwaka joined Makerere University in 1998 for a bachelor of Arts with Education. She specialized in Literature and English, but in her third year, opportunity struck.

A friend recommended that she joins Femrite-Uganda Women Writers’ Association, an organization which aims at developing and promoting women writers.

“What attracted me to Femrite were the residential workshops, where I got to meet formidable writers such as Suzan Kiguli, Okot Benge and Ernest Okello-Ogwang whose works we had always read in school,” Lamwaka says.

Her reading and writing passion ran away with her so much that by 2001, her first short story, Angels Of The Gods was published in the anthology, Words From A Granary.

Later, she penned, Queen of Tobacco, a fiction story of a lady who idolized tobacco smoking. This story was picked up by the British Council (BC) after she submitted it to Gowanus Books online in an ongoing project dubbed, ‘Crossing borders.’

“It humbled me so much when the BC sent me a congratulatory letter and took my photos which they used at their event,” Lamwaka, with a glow on her face, recollects.

Earlier, she had written a series on HIV in textbooks published by Fountain Publishers and distributed by ministry of Education in different schools. To date she has never looked back.

Speaking of role models, Lamwaka looks up to her fellow Femrite writers for support and encouragement. She also admires Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi, a contemporary Nigerian writer, who inspires her to dream big.

Inspiration

She draws her inspiration from life, specifically in northern Uganda.

“When I read Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino, I identified with it because that is the community I had grown up in,” she says.

“The fact that someone could write about their community played a big role in my writing because then, I could also tell my people’s story.”

She thus advises budding writers to read a lot and network with other writers in order to firmly place their feet on the ground.

“There is a bright future for young writers because the internet has opened a way for writers to be exposed to the world,” she says.

Arts therapy

In 2012, Lamwaka started Arts Therapy Foundation to psychologically support families traumatized by the two-decade war that ravaged northern Uganda.

“I let people create their own art so that they feel good about the fact that they can create something and in that, slowly recover from their trauma,” she explains.

Pastime

During her free time, Lamwaka loves to attend poetry sessions and sleep. She also reckons that if she were sleeping less, she would probably write more.

ninsiima@observer.ug

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