When Beverley Nambozo had her first child in 2008, something stirred in her. She felt, for the first time, a deep desire to self-actualise.
‘‘Given that I was always enervated in poetry and was working in a regional women’s organisation, I felt that there was no better way to make a difference than by synthesising these two strengths,’’ she says.
And thus, the Beverley Nambozo (BN) Poetry Award for Ugandan Women was born with the aim of promoting Ugandan women poets, publicising their work to Uganda and the world and supporting their efforts towards publication.
A year later, during its first award giving ceremony, Beverley sat next to the only female speaker of parliament in Africa and watched the academics, novelists, politician publishers and other artists who had come to support her dream. Just like her first child Agasaro, she watched the poetry award for women grow with time, gaining immense success that saw the winners attend various literary festivals like Storymoja in Kenya and Ake in Nigeria. A large section of the winning poems eventually ended up being published in anthologies.
WIDENED TO INCLUDE MEN
As the poetry prize gained popularity, Beverley felt the need to widen it to include men and poets from other countries. As a result, in 2014, the prize’s name was changed to Babishai Niwe Poetry Prize and its scope widened to incorporate voices from both genders. However, that was not the only change that happened to Babishai, for in 2016, eight years after its inception, the Kampala based foundation introduced the #Babishaipoetrynatureseries; a fusion of adventure and poetry across different regions of Uganda. The first was a nature trek dubbed poetry on Mt Rwenzori-arguably Uganda's Eden, with hundreds of birds and indigenous animals. There was also the introduction of a prize for Haiku-a traditional form of Japanese poetry which is made up of three lines. The African Haiku prize, now in its second year, is given in partnership with the African Haiku Network.
MOST MEMEORABLE MILESTONES
Yet the most memorable of Babishai’s milestones must be in the publication of the poems in a couple of anthologies. The first of which was titled A Thousand Voices Rising and contains works by poets from over 14 African countries. The second anthology, Boda Boda Anthem: A Kampala Poetry Anthology, is an amalgam of imaginations depicting various social, physical and political landscapes of Kampala. A vast range of poets created over fifty new Kampala cities with their words, minds and metaphors.
‘‘I am so grateful for Babishai,’’ said Lilian Aujo, the inaugural winner of the Poetry Prize.
‘‘It was the first platform that really showed me that my words really matter.’’ Added the young Ugandan writer who is about to release her first poetry anthology.
Just like Aujo, other young Ugandans seem to be benefiting from Babishai programs. For in 2016, its organisers introduced the primary school poetry competition. Thematised along the 50th anniversary celebration of the publication of Song of Lawino by Okot p' Bitek, the festival organizers claim that the children showed extraordinary talent during the competition which saw St. Theresa Namagunga Primary Boarding School emerge top.
This year, during the Festival which runs from 4th to 6th August, Babishai will launch its first Children’s poetry and story anthology. There will also be a re-launch of the African Poetry Library, and a live chat with poet Phillipa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa whose memoir Flame and Song, will be launched in Nairobi during the Storymoja festival in September.