We talked to attendees at the Writivism Festival in Kampala about what makes a memorable legacy in African literature.
The acclaimed writer Taban Lo liyong has an easy strategy to make people speak more honestly about literature—drink red wine, say something controversial, and apologize later.
Liyong was scheduled to be the opening keynote speaker for the 2018 Writivism festival in Uganda that took place over the weekend in Kampala. Ugandan writers might not dominate discussions about African literature, but Kampala is a city that has hosted the most notorious debates about the genre from the Makerere conference to Transition magazine where writers like Ezekiel Mphalele, Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong'o argued with each other about what made writing "African" or "good." Writivism follows that tradition of gathering people from all over the continent in Kampala to discuss what African literature is.
The theme for the festival this year was "Legacy." Since Liyong had said in 1965 that East Africa was a literary desert, there was no one better to reflect on how far East African literature had come. In his keynote, he proclaimed that the novel Kintu (2014) by Jennifer Makumbi had finally broken Uganda's dry spell. Makumbi was great because she had mastered the art of long form narrative, critiqued Ugandan royalty, and managed to "graduate from a muslim college in the East and still remain interesting." She was the writer Liyong had been waiting to read for forty years.