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A reading at Femrite. Credit: Sarah Ijangolet.

BY BABISHAI-NIWE POETRY FOUNDATION

Babies and children love to frolic: it’s important for their growth. Parents and guardians would worry if their children didn’t lark about by chewing on dirt, rummaging through handbags, and tearing up cheque books. Babishai had its fair share of frolicking with ideas, experimenting with the idea that a poetry award for Ugandan women was a worthwhile venture, would grow into a credible literary space. In 2009, this baby was thrust into adulthood without any time for preparation.

It started as an annual project, with the goal to promote, create platforms for, and publish poetry by Ugandan women. There was such euphoria during the first year, especially with the risk-taking idea of naming the project after a Ugandan who hadn’t even published a book herself yet: Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva. But with the idea and a grand vision, Beverley Nambozo began this project, as the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award. There were limited spaces for poetry in Kampala and Uganda and even fewer ones for women, so the BN Poetry Award was the first of its kind.

The first award ceremony, with the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Honourable Rebecca Kadaga, as chief guest, was illustrious. It was elaborately planned and had the most memorable moments: from the exquisite venue and meals to the refined academics, performance artists, publishers, and well-established members of the literary community. That night was like a thousand stars descending on Ugandan poets.

Lillian Akampurira Aujo receives a special anniversary award. Credit: Sarah Ijangolet.

The highlight was Lillian Akampurira Aujo emerging as the inaugural winner. To thunderous applause, she received her prize of $250 and delivered an acceptance speech. Her winning poem, “Soft Tonight,” was read to the audience. It was at that moment that the baby, Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award, was thrust into limelight and had to mature to deal with the frenzied media, the growing number of poets, the constant interaction with poets and arts organisations not only in Uganda but from the rest of the world. The chair of the judges then, Susan Kiguli, a mentor and friend to hundreds of Ugandan poets, has since spoken highly of Aujo’s poetry. And her work has been published widely in magazines and anthologies.

Over the first five years, Ugandan women from all over the country sent in submissions. For this pioneering space, there was such novelty in the judges reviewing the submissions, creating criteria for the longlists, the shortlists, the eventual winners. Most of the entrants had never been heard of, and the Award amplified their creative and complex voices. The next prize in 2010 went to Sophie Alal Brenda; in 2011, it went to Sanyu Aganza Kisaka; in 2012, Susan Piwang; and in 2013, Rashida Namulondo.

In 2014, when it was expanded from supporting Ugandan women to supporting African poets on the continent irrespective of gender, the Beverly Nambozo Poetry Award became the Babishai-Niwe Poetry Award. The annual Babishai-Niwe Poetry Festival was also created, alongside various poetry anthologies, the most popular of which is Boda Boda Anthem: A Kampala Poetry Anthology. The subsequent winners were Kenya’s Tom Jalio in 2014, Nigeria’s Adeeko Ibukun in 2015, and Nigeria’s Orimoloye Moyosore and Kenya’s Sanya Noel Lima in 2016. After a year, the Award returned in 2018 and was won by South Sudan’s Marial Awendit.

It has been ten years of creating workable structures for readings, for performances, for publishing Ugandan and African poetry, years of organizing annual poetry festivals in Uganda and synergizing poetry with the most scenic spots in the country. Part of celebrating this anniversary is the recognition of achievements: the winners making strides with their poetry. Rashida Namulondo began The Sophia Muwanika Institute, which supports children and youth that have undergone trauma. She uses poetry and art to create avenues for healing. Sanyu Aganza Kisaka is a playwright and actress and has been involved in several artistic outfits of merit.

Barbacue reading. Credit: Sarah Ijangolet.

THE ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

On 21 March 2019, the World Poetry Day, the Babishai team of Ugandan and international poets departed for Kabale in Southwestern Uganda to start the week-long celebration. Kabale is home to Lake Bunyonyi, the “Lake of Small Birds,” the second deepest lake in Africa and home to Wakanda. It has one of the most breathtaking views in East Africa.

On 22 March, the visit to Kabale University, one of Uganda’s largest Government universities, was insightful. The students were treated to poetry by the visitors, who shared their own experiences of some cultural practices in the region, expressing their desires in and fears of poetry. The facilitators were George Gumikiriza, who emerged third for the 2018 Award; Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva; Davina Kawuma; Lillian Akampurira Aujo; Murua of CivSource Africa; and the visiting poets Simon Ortiz, Jami Proctor-Xu, and Cindy Lynn Brown.

Following that was a visit to Grace Villa, run by the formidable visionary Ruth Bahika. Grace Villa is home to hundreds of girls and young women challenged by the lack of resources for education, healthcare, and daily upkeep. The girls are also the District champions in football, with numerous trophies to their name. Some of them have also excelled in academia, earning them prestigious scholarships world-wide. The girls welcomed the Babishai team, with that energetic, charismatic dance for which the Bakiga of Kabale are known. In Kabale, the team was lodged at the plush Bunyonyi Safaris Resort.

On 25 March, at a Kampala lunch hosted by the Danish Embassy, one of the Babishai guests, the Danish poet Cindy Lynn Brown, prolific and well-travelled, read some of her poetry. It was refreshing, enlightening, and offered room for discussion on some of our unconscious habits.

The Kampala festivity climaxed at Femrite, where Babishai hosted dozens of poets: Harriet Anena, the 2018 Wole Soyinka Prize winner; Bint Kasedde; Patricia Mangeni; Kagayi Mutanga; and more writers and literary activists: Oscar Ranzo, Bwesigye Mwesigire, Hope Kansiime. As the inaugural winner, Lillian Akampurira Aujo received an Anniversary Award for her writing which has raised the profile of Ugandan poetry.

African poetry—a force fluid and erratic, beautiful and unsightly—has made an indelible mark on the global literary map. Babishai is proud to be part of that.

The hotel on Lake Bunyonyi. Credit: Sarah Ijangolet.

At Kabala University. Credit: Sarah Ijangolet.

At Grace Villa, Kabale, Uganda. Credit: Sarah Ijangolet.

A reading by the poet Cindy Brown. Credit: Sarah Ijangolet.

The poet Ortiz speaks to students at Kabale University. Credit: Sarah Ijangolet.

WE AT BRITTLE PAPER CONGRATULATE OUR COLLEAGUES AT BABISHAI-NIWE POETRY FOUNDATION ON THEIR 10TH ANNIVERSARY. 

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young, writer and journalist, is Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. He is a judge for the 2018/19 Gerald Kraak Prize and the 2019 Miles Morland Writing Scholarships. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He has an M.A. in African Studies and a combined honours B.A. in History & International Studies and English & Literary Studies, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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