On 11 June we met with Nyana Kakoma in Kampala, Uganda, to talk about her blog Sooo Many Stories. Nyana was the Commonwealth Writers Event Blogger in Uganda.
Commonwealth Writers (CW) – If you were to describe your blog to someone who had never been on it before, what would you say it does? What is Soo Many Stories?
Nyana Kakoma (NK) – Sooo Many Stories is the online home for Ugandan literature, and not just poems and short stories, but myths, legends, stuff that were told when we were growing up and when we were young, fables which have their origins in Uganda.
CW – Why did you feel it was important to create that home?
NK – I travelled to Nairobi last year for a Granta, Kwani, British Council workshop. There were writers from Zimbabwe, South Africa, lots of Kenyans and Nigerians, I was the only one from Uganda. When I asked people if they knew any Ugandan writers, they obviously didn’t know me, but all of them knew Doreen Baingana who won the Commonwealth Writers Prize [2006, Best First Book, Africa Region], and a few of them knew Monica [Arac De Nyeko] who won the Caine Prize in 2007, and that was it. A few of them knew Okot p’ Bitek, who is one of the oldest Ugandan writers (all of us have studied Okot in secondary school) but they didn’t know I existed. They didn’t know that people my age were writing, they didn’t know that we have poets who meet on a monthly basis and recite poems in bars, and that is when I started thinking about a blog where someone can find Ugandan writing, where more opportunities can be given to Ugandans, because if people don’t know that we exist then when events and workshops and residencies come up then no one will invite us, and no one will contact us and ask us to be interested.
CW – Perhaps you could say a more about what it means for Sooo Many Stories to be a blog rather than a reading series, festival or event?
NK – A blog is more accessible. Next week we have the Wrtitivism Festival but I don’t know how many people will actually come, but I know that a lot of my friends spend time on Facebook, a lot of them are on Twitter, a lot of them will find it easier to email me their story than come for a recital, maybe because it is just me. I am the only audience for them in the beginning, as opposed to when they have to speak to a group of people at an event. So I thought an online space would be more accessible, not just for Ugandans but for people who are also not in Uganda.
CW – Running a blog called Sooo Many Stories you must read so many stories, and I know the blog has only been ‘live’ for a month, but what do you feel are the pressing stories now for Ugandan writers, and what stories do you hope your blog will unearth and give space to?
NK – The people that I interact with read a lot. I am obsessed right now with Toni Morrison. So we read a lot of people who are not Ugandan, but I also like it when I read something that I can relate to: a taxi ride, a Boda-boda ride, or eating a rolex. A rolex is a chapatti. They put an egg on top of it and then they roll it. That is a rolex. A chapatti and an omelette rolled together. It is made on the road side. It is very Ugandan. You will find shirts that say, ‘we don’t wear rolex, we eat them’. So I think as a reader, I want to read a story like that. A story I can relate to. A story that if it got published a kid in primary school would feel like it was their story as well.
CW – So the stories are part of Ugandan culture and emerge from that culture?
NK – Yes, the other thing is that there is a section on the blog called ‘Fire Place UG’. It is about the stories that we were told when we were growing up. Folk tales, moral stories about being a child and working hard, things like that. We don’t have access to these kind of stories anymore. I am speaking for myself here. I don’t interact with these kind of stories any more. I wanted ‘Fire Place UG’ to be a place where people my age who are having children can go and tell their children these stories which are beginning to be lost. I haven’t read Jennifer [Makumbi’s] novel Kintu, but I know that it is very rich in oral tradition. I read excerpts of it, and that is one of the things I love about it. So these [stories] are the kind of things that will make my own writing richer, but which will also be passed on and told to our children so that they don’t die out.
CW – I am thinking now about what readers can expect from your coverage on your blog of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. What can they expect?
NK – I think one of the best things about the Prize this year is that we have an African Regional winner who is Ugandan. For me, that’s enough. To know that she is like me. That she is writing my story. That she is writing my grandma’s story. So for me to have someone tell my story on an international platform, that is enough for me, but for Ugandan readers the Prize gives us new material to read, and it gives us a sense of pride in being Ugandan. So I hope people will be interested in reading the blog and my coverage of the events because ‘Sooo Many Stories’ is about showing people that Ugandans are writing and reading.
CW – So you will be at the Commonwealth Short Story Prize covering the event as a writer, as a reader, but also as a Ugandan. Thank you. Is there an email address that people can write to and submit their stories to the blog and to ‘Fire Place, UG’?
NK – Yes, it firstname.lastname@example.org. Kaboozi means ‘conversation’ in Luganda.
You can read some of Nyana’s own creative writing, explore ‘Sooo Many Stories’, and her perspective on the announcement of the Overall Winner of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize here.