BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Words from a Granary: An Anthology of Short Stories by Ugandan Women Writers edited by Violet Barungi

Words from a GranaryConsidered together, this collection of 15 stories is a welcome statement of women’s literary empowerment. The second anthology published by FEMRITE, the Uganda Women Writers’ Association founded by novelist/short story writer/playwright-turned Ugandan Cabinet member Mary Karoro Okurut and officially launched in 1996, is testimony that “Ugandan women writers refuse to be discouraged by the appalling lack of a reading culture in the country,” insists editor Violet Barungi in the introduction. “They keep wielding their pens, churning out more and more reading material in the hope that one day, our people will realise that reading is the backbone of intellectual empowerment and an integral part of development.”

With respect and admiration for such commendable intentions, Words – examined as individual stories – is an uneven mix ranging from disappointing amateur efforts to memorable glimpses into even stronger writing to come. The majority of the 15 here understandably reflect Uganda’s turbulent history since its independence in 1962; the gruesome, all-too-common violence against women is undeniably prevalent in these pages, as is the constant struggle for survival amidst unfair, unjust conditions.

“Chained” by Monica Arac de Nyeko is perhaps the most terrifying of all, about a student forced to betray her entire convent school and witness their heinous massacre by a rebel gang, then herself commit an unthinkable act in order to buy her freedom. Just as disturbing and tragic is a silenced, almost casual violence against women, as documented in a wedding-day rape in “Esteri’s Secret” by Winnie Gashumba Munyarugerero, incestuous rape in “Out of the Trap” by Ayeta Anne Wangusa, workplace rape in “Hard Truth” by Lillian Tindyebwa, and random multiple rapes during a bus raid in “End of a Journey” by Waltraud Ndagijimana.

Among the anthology’s 15, two stories prove most resonating. The collection’s first, “I Watch You My Sister” by Goretti Kyomuhendo examines a homeless woman from afar as she fights to be noticed in order to stay alive; the repetition of the phrase “I watch you, my sister …” is a strangely lulling refrain against the tragedy playing out from paragraph to paragraph. Closer to the end, “Stepdaughter” by Deborah Etoori is the only happy tale, capturing the developing relationship between two students and their eventual decision to become a true family.

“The anthology is the outcome of a three-year programme of training workshops geared towards equipping creative women writers with writing skills,” explains editor Barungi. In the decade since the collection’s original publication, a number of the authors included here have continued to hone those skills … as I continue my own multi-culti literary education, I’m planning to explore some of those efforts here on BookDragon. Do join me!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2001


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