Musings of a budding writer after a mind blowing literary workshop: ‘Imagine Africa 500’

A marasmic reading and writing culture continues to haunt Malawi as a nation. Largely, the shoddy present day state of affairs as regards the art of creative writing is attributed to, among others, lack of networking among writers and availability of relevant avenues where budding as well as seasoned writers can learn requisite skills about the discipline.Imagine Africa

As Ekari Mbvundula puts it in this entry, the recently held International Creative Writing Workshop in Malawi, though the first of its kind, heralds a lot of hope for Malawi’s literary creators.

I had the great honour of participating in my first ever writing workshop, and it was nothing short of mind blowing! It was a thrilling union of seasoned published authors from Africa and beyond, and 10 young, unpublished but enthusiastic, Malawian writers from different backgrounds.

Being one of the second group, I valued the unique opportunity to pick the brains of those who have walked the path that I am working towards reaching one day. That path leads to the out of world experience I’ve pictured countless times – holding a printed and bound novel in my hands with my name on it.

Opportunities like these aren’t common enough in Malawi, and I commend Shadreck Chikoti and Trine Andersen for initiating such a project, that I pray is the beginning of even more activities which nurture the nation’s writing industry. It was well organised, enjoyed by all involved, and taken as seriously as it needed to be in order for it to be effective.

To enter, applicants had to submit a short sample of our writing several months prior. The event opened on the 20th of November, with an evening of writers, poets and a singer sharing their brand of art, while we enjoyed snacks and drinks at the Golden Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe. We got to hear the works of Beatrice Lamwaka (Uganda), Billy Kahora (Kenya), Trine Andersen (Denmark), and Jackee Batanda (Uganda) in their own voices. Also performing their work were poets Q Malewezi and Yolanda Kaluma. George Kalukusha sang a couple of songs he wrote, whilst playing upbeat guitar music. It was a chilled evening, and a lovely opportunity to chat with artists about art.

The three day workshop covered the fundamentals of fiction writing, where we learnt from the facilitators what sources of inspiration are available for writers. We discovered how the authors of our favourite African books used setting, character, dialogue, conflict and voice to write compelling stories. We learnt how to “show” story aspects instead of merely “telling” (a familiar challenge for many fiction writers), how to write truthfully using real feeling, and how to avoid and/or replace adjectives and adverbs.

A writing workshop is not complete without plenty of writing exercises. The most memorable exercise instructed us to: “Describe a lemon without using the words lemon, yellow, round, fruit, or sour.” After each exercise, we practiced critiquing the writing of our peers – as well as taking critiques of our own work without kicking and screaming.

Even after all of the topics we covered, the time seemed to dissolve, leaving us with a sense that we had barely scratched the surface. Nonetheless, we parted ways with a richer network of wordsmiths than we had before the workshop, and a commitment to continue working together.

When the workshop ended, our facilitators asked what we had gotten out of it. Personally, I was inspired by our teachers who each had something new to teach about the specific skills of writing. I was also encouraged by the level of talent I found in my fellow writers, which made me feel that there is hope to build a thriving story industry which will see Malawian fiction exported to the far reaches of the world and give the world a fresh perspective of our country. A salute to my fellow writers in training, Lily Banda, Aubrey Chinguwo, Hagai Magai, Muthi Nhlema, Pius Nyondo, Tiseke Chilima, Tuntufe Simwimba, Yolanda Kaluma, and Immulanie Makande.

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