How writing residencies have helped to produce great works of art across Africa

Friday May 19 2017

The FEMRITE Regional Residency provides space

The FEMRITE Regional Residency provides space for women to write, to promote inter-cultural literary discourse and to celebrate African women’s literature. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By Bamutaraki Musinguzi

Every year, artistes and writers apply for hundreds of residencies around the world that provide an inspiring ambience and an escape from daily life’s distractions. The writers are meant to focus on their work, to polish or finish their manuscripts or scripts, sculpt, compose or even start new projects.

The Ebedi International Writers’ Residency in Iseyin, Oyo State in Nigeria and the Uganda Women’s Writers Association (FEMRITE) Regional Residency for African Women Writers in Kampala are an example of residencies that exist in Africa.

The Ebedi Residency offers writers a serene setting conducive to focused, goal-oriented work. Started in 2010, it has hosted 65 writers, out of which 35 were women, from Nigeria, Cameroun, Ghana, Uganda, South Africa and Cote d’Ivoire. They include Yewande Omotoso, Doreen Baingana, Ayodele Olofintuade, Obinna Udenwe, Juliet Kushaba and Jumoke Verissimo, among others.

The FEMRITE Regional Residency provides space for women to write, to promote inter-cultural literary discourse and to celebrate African women’s literature.

Ugandan playwright, filmmaker and artistic director Judith Lucy Adong says she has become a better playwright as a result of attending theatre residencies and labs. Adong was a writer in residence with Sundance Institute Theatre Lab in 2010 in Kenya and 2011 in New York, where she development her much acclaimed play Silent Voices. She also attended the Royal Court Theatre International Playwrights Residency in London, where she developed her plays Just Me, You and The Silence.

“One of the advantages of a theatre residency is that you have a script writing supervisor (mentor), who reads and guides you into revisiting, adjusting and improving your script,” Adong told Saturday Nation.

“It is not just you and your mentor, but you have a director, actors and actresses... Whichever scene you write, actors and actresses perform it,” Adong adds.

For Ugandan poet, short story writer and novelist Beatrice Lamwaka, attending writing residencies have enabled her complete her stories and embark on new ones.

Lamwaka has attended the Le Chateau de Lavigny Residency in Switzerland, the Rockerfeller Foundation Bellagio Center Residency in Italy, and FEMRITE’s regional residencies in Jinja and Entebbe in Uganda.


“At the end of the residencies, I have completed short stories that are now published and started other stories that I later completed. I made friendships with different artists; a painter I met in Bellagio is translating one of my stories into Spanish and will exhibit my story along with his paintings in Chile. That is just one of the many artists I have met,” Lamwaka told Saturday Nation.

“Writers I have met have shared with me writing opportunities or recommended me for opportunities that I would never have known or been part of,” she adds.

Lamwaka has published a number of poems and short stories. She was shortlisted for the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story Butterfly Dreams that was published in a collection tilted, Butterfly Dreams and Other New Short Stories From Uganda (CCC Press Nottingham, UK, in 2010).

According to Adong, Uganda needs residencies more than the US and UK because the two countries have more performing arts schools than what Uganda can provide. “Higher education training in the West is more practical compared to ours that is theoretical.”

“Residencies are very important for networking. For example, my plays that have been studied at Ivy universities in the US have been recommended by the people I have met at residencies,” Adong adds.

According to the founder of the Ebedi International Writers Residency, Dr Wale Okediran, a residency for writers generally is both necessary and expedient. “It is not only a place of peace and tranquility for the writer to articulate and organise his or her thoughts, but also a place for the cross-fertilisation of ideas with other writers. In those days when creative writing was an exclusive preserve of the university, staff and students had writers clubs and creative writing magazines as avenues for the exploration and expression of their creative talents.

“But not all writers are academics or scholars, many of them are professionals in other fields who are gifted with creative talent. They may not need tutoring or mentoring, but certainly they would need socialisation and to acclimatise in the creative writing environment. The idea of a residency, therefore, is to offer such services to writers from different educational and professional backgrounds,” Okediran writes in his paper ‘Empowerment of Women’s Literature through Writers Residency Programmes: The Ebedi Experience.’

“More than ever before, these services are needed more by women who by virtue of their multiple roles as writers, professionals, mothers and wives often need a place and time to concentrate on their work,” Okediran adds.