The Pumpkin Seeds and Other Gifts is a collection of writing from FEMRITE, the Ugandan Women Writers Association.
The women writers in the book are from all around Africa and the collection emerged from them coming together at the 2008 FEMRITE Regional African Women Writers Residency. Lucky fishes!
FEMRITE was the organisation that along with the AWDF hosted the African Women’s Creative Non-Fiction Writing Workshop in July 2014 in Entebbe, Uganda. It was here that I bought all three collections from the residencies, and there will be no doubt that I’ll be reviewing them all. As Helen Moffett describes it in the Foreword, “the residency was magical.”
The residency produced some great writing, and instead of trying to capture the diversity of the stories in it, I’ll tell you a little bit about each of the writers. Part of the point of this project is to explore new women writers from Africa, so this was a welcome start. This exercise also made me realise the importance of documenting women writers, because I couldn’t find much information on some of the writers in this collection. So if you know a woman writer who doesn’t have a wikipedia page, go and add one!
Kingwa Kamencu is a Kenyan writer and her novella To Grasp at a Star has won numeorus awards in Kenya including the second prize from the National Book Development Council of Kenya, and the first prize in the youth category of the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.
Hilda Twongeyeirwe is from Uganda and is one of the founders of FEMRITE, and is currently the coordinator there. She has published numerous short stories and a number of children’s books in Uganda. Her children’s book Fina the Dancer was highly commended by the National Book Trust of Uganda Literary Awards
Yaba Badoe is a Ghanaian-British documentary film maker and journalist. She has also published a number of short stories, and a full length novel, True Murder. Whilst at the AWW14 workshop in July, we watched her incredible doucmentary, the Witches of Gambaga, which details the treatment of women labelled as witches in a camp in Ghana. It is an incredible documentary, and also led me to discover the music of Dobet Gnahore. So you see, reading African women writers is a whole new journey.
If you’re a woman writer in Southern African then the name Colleen Higgs won’t be unfamiliar to you. Colleen founded Modjaji Books, and incredible publishing label that publishes only Southern African Women’s fiction. This label has put out more than fifty titles since 2007 and they are always getting nominated for awards so major kudos to Colleen for all the hard work she has put in! She is also a poet and writer herself and has published Lava Lamp Poems, the Half Born Woman, and Looking for Trouble. Follow Coleen on Twitter at @modjaji_bks
Betty Mukashema is from Rwanda who writes mainly for the media, and is a teacher by profession. Her dream is to help Rwanda establish a women writers association.
Winnie Mugyarugerero is a Ugandan writer who has published short stories in anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Her stories mainly explore the position of the woman and girl-child in Uganda. Winnie is a teacher by profession.
Constance Obonyo is a Uganda writer who writes mostly for newspapers, but has also had several short stories published.
Mastidia Mbeo is from Tanzania and is a member of the Tanzania Writers Association. She is a published editor and writer, and writes mostly in Swahili.
- Philomena Nabweru Rwabukuku
Philomena Nabweru Rwabukuku is a Ugandan teacher of Language and Literature in English. She has published short stories and poems in different anthologies. She also recites poetry and performs oral literature. She is very interested in issues of women and children.
Margaret Ntakalimaze is a writer from Uganda, and was the Founding coordinator for the Uganda Women and Children organisation. She has published numerous short stories in various collections.
Olivia Jembere is a Zimbabwean writer, and at the time of the residency was one of the youngest members of the Zimbabwe Women Writers Association.
Helen Moffett is a writer and editor extraordinaire from South Africa. She is one of the three writers involved in the ‘Girl Walks Into a Bar‘ choose your own adventure erotica, and also writes poetry (I’ll be discussing Strange Fruit soon), and articulate rage articles about the failure of the South African government to do anything meaningful on women’s day (read them 2012, 2013, 2014).
Lilian Tindyebawa is a writer who has published both poems and short stories in various anthologies and is also a founding member of FEMRITE. She has published a young adult novel Recipe for Disaster, which is used as a supplementary reader in Ugandan schools. She has also published three children’s books.
So there you go. I feel somehow cheated that before reading this anthology I didn’t know about all of these women.It was a welcome experience to read so many new writers all in one collection. I think short story collections are going to be my go to for trying to read as many women writers as possible in this project.
What does that mean about the types of writers we are told to celebrate and to read? What does that mean about the categories of power involved in the books that we’ve read at school, or have been required to read at university? Why aren’t we asking those making the decisions why they are not including more women?