Ugandan journalist, poet and fiction writer Harriet Anena says her award-winning book A Nation In Labour: A Poetry Collection was influenced by her experience of the Lord’s Resistance Army war in northern Uganda.
The collection focuses on four issues — politics, the effects of the LRA war in northern Uganda, gender relations, and relationships.
“At the centre of these issues is how the ordinary person is affected, how the powerless are further dominated by the powerful, and how individuals are in a constant struggle to get a footing, to live better despite the hurdles,” Anena told The EastAfrican.
Anena and Nigerian poet Tanure Ojaide were declared joint winners of this year’s Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. They received the prizes at an awards ceremony in Lagos, Nigeria on December 9.
The Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature, worth $10,000, is awarded every two years to the best book written by an African in a literary genre. Anena and Ojaide will share the cash prize equally.
Published by the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform in 2015, A Nation In Labour is a collection of social conscience poetry.
The poems paint pictures of a giant politician, restless citizen, clueless youth, those struggling to heal from life’s wounds, and those looking for words to describe affection.
“The award is a huge encouragement that my writing journey has not been in vain. It is a big boost to my writing and a life-changing opportunity,” Anena said.
Asked if she has a favourite, she said, “This is akin to asking a mother to pick their favourite child. Each of my poems comes with its own history, its own DNA, informed by different experiences. They are special in their own way.”
Anena worked with the Daily Monitor newspaper in Uganda as a reporter, sub-editor, and deputy chief sub-editor from 2009 to September 2014. Her articles have been published in the Daily Monitor, New Vision, and The Observer newspapers. She has also taught specialised writing at the Islamic University in Uganda.
“I left mainstream journalism four years ago. I’m now into creative writing, editing and media training and research,” Anena says.
She was born in the Gulu district in northern Uganda. She attended Gulu Public Primary School, Sacred Heart Secondary School, and Gulu Central High School. She holds a Bachelor of Mass Communication degree and a Master of Arts degree in Human Rights from Makerere University.
Anena’s poems have been published by Prairie Schooner, Lawino Magazine, African Writers Trust, African Sun Press, Babishai Niwe Foundation and The Real G Inc.
Her first poem, The Plight of the Acholi Child, won a writing competition organised by the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative in 2003.
In 2013, she was shortlisted for the Ghana Poetry Prize. Her short stories have featured in the Caine Prize anthology of 2013, Sooo Many Stories, and Books Live and Writivism, among others.
Ojaide won the prize for his Songs of Myself: Quartet published by Kraft Books in 2015.
The poems are deeply rooted in the African poetic tradition of the great Udje poets of Nigeria, who composed songs paying tribute to the god of songs, songs of self-exhortation, songs mocking themselves and satirising others.
Songs of Myself: Quartet deals with self-examination and the minstrel’s alter-ego as a way of attempting to know himself. The four parts of the collection are: Pulling the Thread of the Loom; Songs of Myself; Songs of the Homeland Warrior; and Secret Love and Other Poems.