This weekend, poet and 2018 Wole Soyinka prize recipient Harriet Anena will stage a fundraiser performance, Footprints of Memory directed by renowned playwright Deborah Asiimwe and performed by Anena with help from poet Peter Kagayi, actress Gladys Oyenbot and actress and vocalist Joanna Amaru. The production that tackles politics, being a man and culture is solely to contribute to Anena’s tuition at California University.
Tell us about getting admitted into California University
I was admitted into California University for MFA Creative Writing Course, it is a two year intensive course. Before this I had been applying to various universities since 2012 and I have been admitted many times and did not go because all the admissions did not come with funding.
One may wonder why I accepted California University when it too did not come with funding, It is because of the timing; I feel ready as a writer, that’s why I can take the liberty to knock at many doors to see that I start school come August.
You’re staging a production as a way to fundraise for tuition, was the production specifically written for this purpose?
It was not specifically written for this, it was work that was shelved; I have two unpublished books of poetry. One of the books is The Strangeness of Home which looks at the faces atrocities, it looks at the first day when Joseph Kony went to war to todate when people are rebuilding, while the other, Set Me On Fire, is a political erotica collection of poetry using a body and voice of a woman to look at issues.
The other part is from my other book A Nation in Labour, thus it has three different sources.
Why did you choose to use a performance for fundraising?
Am an artist and while people may have their own misgivings about art in Uganda, I think that doesn’t negate the fact that it is still a platform and staying away from the art doesn’t solve anything too. I think using art came naturally for me, the idea actually came to me two months after getting the admission, that’s when I started thinking about possible collaborations. My first production, I Bow For My Boobs was successful, I had been a page poet and thus translating my work from a page to the stage was a different experience and I was glad with the positive reception that I feel that this new production will be successful in whichever form it takes. But above it all, the production touches four issues we rarely talk about; the atrocities that people went through, the need to talk about them. The war in the north is over but alot of things happening their have been shaped by the incidents of the war. I will be speaking about the different faces of atrocity and how it manifested, I will look at the role of the army and how we can renew a conversation on reconciliation.
One could argue that writing is yet to be appreciated by many Ugandans, what exactly keeps you going?
My heart is in writing. From a young age, I knew I would be with books. The money issue always comes up but what keeps me going is the passion. I started out as a journalist but even then, I always found time to write at least a short story. At the moment, I feel like it is paying off because different people and organisations reach out to me to share the little I can to mentor and teach others. And that has come after a long time. In 2018, when I won the Wole Soyinka prize, they were 13 years since I wrote my first poem.
What do you want the audience to take home from the performance come next week?
A piece of writing is like a child, once you have given birth to it, there is no way it goes back to the tummy. You can not completely control how people will view that child. A lot of times I let people interpret my work, there times people point me to directions I did not see my work go while putting it together. Though I hope at the end of the day we have renewed conversations about the main themes of the production. Am also hoping that since the show is for a fundraising, people will begin to believe art is important and can cause change.
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