Author: Ugandans are not reading enough

Saturday February 03 2024

Ugandan novelist Goretti Kyomuhendo (L) reissued her 20-year-old novel Whispers from Vera (R) in August 2023. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Goretti Kyomuhendo, Ugandan novelist and founding director of the African Writers Trust (AWT) has four novels to her name.

Her titles are Secrets No More (1999), which won the Uganda National Literary Award for Best Novel in the same year; The First Daughter (1996) her debut book, Waiting, published by The Feminist Press in New York in 2007, and translated into Spanish in 2022, and Whispers from Vera, published by Monitor Publications in 2002 and republished in August 2023 by AWT.

She laments the apparent low uptake of literary works in Uganda, blaming it on lack of skills, finances, and a distribution network, a poor reading culture, and the preference for the lucrative educational books by publishing firms.

“Publishing is a business, and, for the sector to develop, it would require adequate resourcing in terms of financing and skilling,” Kyomuhendo told The EastAfrican.

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“Distribution is a vital component of the book sector to ensure that published books get into the hands of readers and their intended audiences. We are talking of bookstores, libraries, book fairs, e-commerce/retailers, such as Amazon, for the distribution chain to function properly,” she said.


As to why Ugandans do not love reading, especially fiction, Kyomuhendo, said: “I think reading has to be nurtured right from a young age so as to make it a habit. Our school system emphasises reading for exams, and that has now become a habit among many Ugandans. This has got to change if reading for pleasure is to become a practice.”

According to the National Book Trust of Uganda, an organisation that promotes authorship, publishing and development of the culture of reading in Uganda, the most growth in publishing has been seen through educational books.

As to how Ugandan can improve their reading culture, Kyomuhendo said: “I think one of the ways would be to make books more accessible through public spaces, such as public libraries, and to popularise reading as an exciting activity. Some potential readers are prohibited by lack of resources to buy books, and also finding a quiet place to read.”

“Imagine if we were to set aside a day each month for the nation to ‘stop and read,’ design conducive spaces for reading, and curate reading activities which make reading exciting, by inviting authors to participate, for instance. For this to happen, though, it would to take concerted and purposeful efforts from all stakeholders.”

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Her novella Whispers from Vera tells the story of 29-year-old Vera, who is desperate to meet Mr Right after several failed relationships. A high-flyer, Vera is determined to have it all: A husband, a family and an illustrious career. When she meets Eric, a hunky, corporate executive, Vera is elated.

Kyomuhendo says Whispers from Vera has been well received and she is working on a sequel.