Vitabubooks Interview | Beatrice Lamwaka

Beatrice Lamwaka’s story, ButterflyDreams, was published in a collection of shorts from Uganda bearing the same title: Butterfly Dreams and Other New Short Stories from Uganda, published by CCC Press. Lamwaka was also on this year’s Caine Prize shortlist for African Writing. The 2011 shortlist (the twelfth since the first prize began) was announced in May.

The same month, Ikhide R.Ikheloa published The 2011Caine Prize: How Not to Write About Africa in his popular Email From America. Of the five shortlisted stories selected from over 120 stories submitted from a total of seventeen African countries, Ikheloa thought NoViolet Bulawayo's piece was “fly-ridden”; Beatrice Lamwaka's Butterfly Dreams "a pathetic story about a child soldier"; Tim Keegan’s What Molly Knew, “a plodding tale with ingredients that make for an African howler”; and that Lauri Kubuitsile "fired a volley of ignobility" for portraying the men of Botswana as drunken simpletons. The saving story, in Ikheloa's opinion, was David Medalie “who almost rescues the prize from the murk with an affecting tale involving a well-fed dog.”

In an interview with Mildred Kiconco Barya, Lamwaka pushed back at the notion the Caine Prize promotes stereotypical African stories.
Some people forget there are wars in Africa, hunger, diseases. [W]e laugh, rejoice and all, and as writers, we feel the pain ... part of that society that is experiencing such circumstances. I will not apologize for writing war experiences because this is what I feel strongly about and I know that these stories must be told.

Our email conversation with Beatrice started off by asking her whether writers write for a market? What should writers write about and who gets to decide what African writers write?

Beatrice Lamwaka: I love writing because I feel like some god who can create a believable world with interesting characters. I write because I want to tell stories. And also because I can write and people can enjoy reading and relate with the stories. As long as a writer’s work is well received then s/he is on the right track and should continue to tell his/her stories. Writers should be left alone to write issues that affect them. It is usually a beautiful feeling to write and know that someone somewhere appreciates it. But dictating what a writer should write about will kill all that. I wonder what the term 'African writer' means because I don’t think it only defines people who come from Africa and write about Africa. I just don’t like being put in a box.

Vitabubooks: Butterfly Dreams was a gem of a story. What are you working on now?

Beatrice Lamwaka: I am working on writing more short stories so I can publish a collection of short stories and I am working on my novel.

Vitabubooks: Tell us a little about it.

Beatrice Lamwaka: I come from northern Uganda, a part that has been savaged by war for two decades. My novel is about Nimaro who uses her cousin’s identity in order to get an education. My story is more or less about using the available resources to grab opportunities for a better tomorrow.

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