Jerry Sesanga is a young Ugandan author, journalist, actor and film maker. As a human rights activist, he uses art to advocate for gender equality, access to health care, political freedom as well as to fight against societal vices like child marriage and domestic violence.
He has, so far, published twelve books, among them two of his best-selling novels The Wasted Beauty and African Girl. He has previously written for Ugandan dailies, Daily Monitor and Sun Rise.
He recently created Ullywood, a platform that seeks to develop Ugandan cinema industry and produced a short film titled “The Baby Bride”.
What are the three most memorable books you have read so far, and what makes them so?
My first pick is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I read it while in my early years of secondary school and it changed my life. Pip’s story was my story. Even today, my path to success follows the same storyline.
My second pick is Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Heathcliff was just me, with so much passion and life.
The novel just drove me crazy that till now, I have never found any match of character to Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw.
Then the play I Will Marry When I Want by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii. It remains a blunt piece of writing stubbornly crafted to keep check the Western civilisations and neo-colonialism.
So savage a writing that thinking about it makes me want to run to the bookshop and replace the stolen piece which I proudly owned!
Which is your most favourite genre? Any reason?
The novel form is my area of strength for I love details. I appreciate all the other genres though.
How many books on average do you read in a year, and do you have a favourite spot where you read them from?
I read about ten books. Before my extremely busy schedules, I used to read more, but nowadays I read, write, travel and do several jobs at the same time.
My favourite spot is surprisingly on my bed. I also read on flights and on the bus.
What is the size of your book collection as of now? Where do you get them from, and what motivates you to?
My mini-library has about 1500 books. I buy them every time I go shopping. Before any writing task, I must read about 6 books that relate to my subject.
Which are your two most treasured books? Would you lend them out?
Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino. I no longer lend out books. I have lost several good books, so lending out is out of the question.
If you were to become a character from any of your books, who would you be and why?
In my novel African Girl, Mirembe Destiny is the lead character. I crafted her when I was a first-year undergraduate at Makerere University with big dreams.
She follows through from the worst of conditions to winning a world contest. She is such an inspiration. I would definitely want to be her.
If you had the opportunity to meet three authors, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Jane Austen, a novelist of her own class, is my favourite author. I would die to meet her.
I would also wish to meet Prof Wole Soyinka, for he made me appreciate African Literature.
Hans Christian Andersen. I fancy fairy tales and fantasy. I believe Andersen and the Grimm Brothers are responsible for the stories that shaped my childhood.
What is that one book you read that was out of your comfort zone?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Its film version blew me away since I first watched it and expected the book to be exactly like the motion pictures, which was not!
If you were to recommend three books to a 10-year-old, which ones would they be and why?
The Wasted Beauty by Jerry Sesanga. I crafted this story for young people who have not wasted their lives to realise that choices have consequences.
The Grimm Brothers Tales. Now, it is weird to recommend Western Literature to a 10-year-old! Anyway, the stories of Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel and others greatly impacted on my life.
The Nile English Course. Although it is a class book, it has several interesting African tales that we grew up reading. It is a classic.
Have you ever had a bad commentary about your writing? What did it say and how did you deal with it?
Yes, almost every literary work published gets some sort of bad commentary.
Some commentaries are misdirected, some totally fail to understand your story and some are on point about the depth of your story or certain language rules.
Others demand for a sequel and even suggest what they want to read in it… I always listen to them and learn, but I have never allowed myself to be distracted.
What are your thoughts on the reading culture of Ugandans in the face of popular culture?
The digital era has really affected the reading culture! Nonetheless, I believe in young people. For example, when we were in A Level, we could only be a handful of Literature students.
Today, there are schools in Uganda like Makerere College School (MACOS) where the A Level Literature class has over 200 students.
In Uganda alone, I have sold over 20,000 copies of my books to high school students. This possibly indicates that the reading culture is improving. If authors could make their books affordable and available, then the narrative could change.
E-books versus hard copies, what is your preference and why?
Hard copies. I always fail to read e-books. I simply get distracted!
What was your last read and how did you find it?
Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino. Reading how he poetically paints an African setting with figurative language is always a new experience. It is one of Africa’s best masterpieces, a must-read for all Africans.
If you weren’t an author, journalist, actor and film maker, what would you be?
I think I would still want to be a storyteller in other forms. So, I would probably be a musician.
What piece of advice would you wish all aspiring authors to keep in mind?
When it comes to creativity, there is no boundary. Aspiring authors should just go for it, of course, without yearning for immediate monetary benefits.
Even if people discourage you, nothing should ever stand in your way. Go out and defy all odds, otherwise, our world is changing and barriers are being broken.