Ugandan's work gets honourable mention at literary fest

Sunday March 03 2024



Rituals of Home by Mildred Kiconco Barya from Uganda this year received an Honourable Mention at the Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize.

Honourable Mention is a distinction conferred (in a contest or exhibition) on works or persons of exceptional merit but not deserving of top honours.

Judge DéLana R. A. Dameron praised it as “a meditative prose piece about nature, and the fragile ecosystem we are entrusted to steward for our futures. ‘Rituals of Home’ is also a story about how we find home wherever we go.”

“It feels wonderful and reaffirming that the work/writing matters not only in terms of its environmental and literary value but also in craft,” the author said about the fete.

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Barya said Rituals of Home was born out of thinking about homes — "the home I grew up in in Kabale, Uganda, and my current residence in western North Carolina."


"When I'd just moved to Asheville, I was struck by the way this scenic region resembled my childhood geography. I had moved thousands of miles, only to end up in a somewhat similar landscape. I was curious about the issues affecting the area and quickly realised that, regardless of where one resides nowadays, all the natural habitats and biodiversity of the world are in danger of deforestation and destruction,” she said.

Barya is a Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet. She is the author of four full-length poetry collections, including the most recent The Animals of My Earth School published by Terrapin Books, 2023. Her prose, hybrids, and poems have appeared in the New England Review, Shenandoah, Joyland, The Cincinnati Review, Tin House and Forge.

She is now working on a collection of creative nonfiction, and her essay, Being Here in This Body, won the 2020 Linda Flowers Literary Award and was published in the North Carolina Literary Review.

Barya serves on the boards of African Writers Trust, Story Parlour, and coordinates the Poetrio Reading events at Malaprop’s Independent Bookstore/Café.

The Jacobs/Jones contest, sponsored by the North Carolina Writers’ Network, is open to any African-American writer whose primary residence is in North Carolina. Entries may be fiction or creative nonfiction, but must not have been published before (including on any website, blog, or social media), and must be no more than 3,000 words. The winner receives $1,000 and possible publication of the winning entry in The Carolina Quarterly.

Dameron is an artist whose primary medium is storytelling. Her first book of fiction, Redwood Court, released this month from Random House. She is a graduate of New York University’s MFA programme in poetry and holds a BA degree in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Dameron’s debut poetry collection, “How God Ends Us,” was selected by Elizabeth Alexander for the South Carolina Poetry Book Prize, and her second collection, “Weary Kingdom,” was chosen by Nikky Finney for the Palmetto Poetry Series. Dameron is also the founder of Saloma Acres, an equestrian and cultural space in her hometown in South Carolina, where she resides.

The Jacobs/Jones African-American Literary Prize honours the nineteenth-century writers Harriet Jacobs and Thomas H. Jones, two pioneering African-American writers from North Carolina, and seeks to convey the rich and varied existence of African-American/Black North Carolinians.

Jacobs was born in 1813 near Edenton, escaping to Philadelphia in 1842, after hiding for seven years in a crawl space above her grandmother’s ceiling. She published her autobiography, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”, under a pseudonym in 1861. Jacobs died in 1897 and was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1997.

Jones was born into slavery near Wilmington in 1806. Able to purchase the freedom of his wife and all but one of his children, he followed them north in 1849 by stowing away on a brig to New York. In the northeast and in Canada, he spoke as a preacher and abolitionist, writing his memoir, “The Experience of Thomas Jones,” in 1854, as a way to raise funds to buy his eldest child’s freedom.

This prize was initiated by Cedric Brown, a Winston-Salem native and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“The literary award was borne out of my frustration with being unable to readily find much fiction or creative nonfiction that conveys the rich and varied existence of Black North Carolinians,” Brown said. “I wanted to incentivize the development of written works while also encouraging Black writers to capture our lives through storytelling.”

The non-profit North Carolina Writers’ Network is the state’s oldest and largest literary arts services organization devoted to all writers at all stages of development.