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Beverley Nambozo    

FEMRITE (Women Re-writing Uganda)

Beverley Nambozo Sengiyunva is a Ugandan writer and former radio show host.



FEMRITE rose from the unburdening of literary hardships by Ugandan women writers. The Uganda Women Writers’ Association, FEMRITE, was a small dream which began in 1996, and now serves as a support network for editors and award-winning women writers in Ugandan writing. Mary Karooro -Okurut, current Member of Parliament of Bushenyi District in Uganda, and a published writer, dreamt of a time when Ugandan women would flourish in Uganda’s literary scene. Karooro-Okurut was determined to see that any gender stereotypes, by which women writers were disadvantaged should be obliterated from Uganda’s literary landscape. In 1996, Karooro-Okurut gathered a few other literary female writers and discussed with them how to make her dream come alive. Goretti Kyomuhendo, former Coordinator of FEMRITE and published writer and Monica Chibita were amongst the women who began what is now a writer’s haven-FEMRITE.

With few resources to set up a small office, the three founder members began testing their vision. Calling on some others, they began to write articles for the daily newspapers bringing a fresh outlook to the journalistic scene. They identified the values of the organization: Sisterhood, Voluntarism, Love of books, Integrity and Commitment to writing. From there, FEMRITE launched into publishing a magazine called New Era, and New Era invited articles on all aspects of life – domesticity, entrepreneurship, leisure, travel and true life stories. These articles brought added value to women’s’ literature in Uganda.

Having established itself by 1997 as an indigenous, non-governmental, non-profit making women’s organization promoting Ugandan women writers, FEMRITE began to publish novels, poetry and short story collections. Amongst the short story anthologies are Women’s Voices (a short story collection), Tears of Hope (creative non-fiction based on marginalization against women in Uganda), Gifts of Harvest (a collection of stories from Uganda’s prize-winning literary achievers, Words from a Granary (contemporary women’s stories), and most recently, I Dare Say (reflections from women living positively with the HIV virus).

FEMRITE has opened up its membership to all Ugandan women above the age of eighteen who have the desire to write. With a current membership of about thirty-five members, many have found in FEMRITE what their hearts were always yearning for. One of the more established poets in Uganda, Susan Kiguli, is a member of FEMRITE. She won the National literary award in 1999 for her poetry work, The African Saga. Midred Kiconco, another member, won second prize in the National awards in 2003 for her poetry collection, Men Love Chocolates but They Don’t Say.

FEMRITE has not only professionalized women writing in Uganda but also helped to develop friendships among the writers. A bond of sisterhood, homeliness and camaraderie has grown through frequent interaction and the growing activities. The founder member, Mary Karooro-Okurut, consequently acquired the nickname, ‘Mother Hen’. Mother Hen Mary has looked after many chicks of the writing field.

Other award winners from FEMRITE credit the weekly Readers-Writers evenings with their development as writers. These are an informal gathering of writers, editors and lovers of literature, who meet once a week to read and make useful comments on authors’ works. Such evenings have established a platform for new writers to grow. Some members whose works were thoroughly reviewed these FEMRITE evenings have gone on to win international awards. Glaydah Namukasa won the 2005 Macmillan Writers’ Prize for Africa for her book, Voice of a Dream. Monica Arac de Nyeko has been shortlisted twice for the Caine Prize for African Writing. Jackee Batanda won the 2003 African Regional Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Other members continue to write and get published in well-established international and literary journals.

FEMRITE, even with it strong focus on the provision of writing opportunities for women, has also shared some writing opportunities with male writers. Through its Readers and Writers evenings, FEMRITE has received work from male writers, and some of them have gone on to release works of excellence with other publishing houses. FEMRITE also hosted the first ever PEN-Uganda meeting which has since then grown into a multi-tasked organization. Every year, since 2000, FEMRITE has held annual literary activities hosting renowned writers like Professor Taban lo Liyong, Professor Okey Ndibe, Professor John Ruganda and Ama Ata Aidoo. Each of these visits culminated into writing workshops and creative writing experiences that have nurtured the best writers of the country.

FEMRITE has published fourteen titles, all written by women, and these titles have gone on to win both national and international literary acclaim. When a publishing outfit that was gender-defined was started many people doubted our abilities and commitment to sustain it. It is gratifying to note that FEMRITE has proven them wrong. For the future, FEMRITE plans to continue with and strengthen its work of developing Ugandan women writers. There is still much to do if FEMRITE is to surmount the many challenges that women writers face globally, which include biased literary canons, self censorship and other inhibitions, some of which are imposed by mundane cultural practices, sexism, the politics of exclusion, and such other obstacles which still hinder women from writing themselves into excellence and prominence.

FEMRITE is also about the celebration of life, which is the most important resource for writers. Motherhood, marriage, education, everyday financial challenges and the joys of travel abroad are important parts of the writer’s experience. With members giving birth, others traveling continents to realize their higher education dreams and still some finding solace in more challenging roles in the employment sector, and FEMRITE getting involved in all of that, it has become a holistic, powerful enterprise in Ugandan literature.

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