Closing Table
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Public readings, literature-prizes & scholarships
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Dear Nyana,

The literature week (LW) came to an end on Monday.


the public reading with the winners of the literature prize in the Glocke

On Sunday evening there was the public reading with the winners of the literature prize: Marcel Beyer and Nadja Küchenmeister. Each of them got the prize for their book of poetry. That is uncommon (mostly authors get the prize who write prose), but maybe that´s the reason why there were not so many people in the audience like the last few years. I mean, there were around 120 people and that´s not bad, but that is less if you compare it to the last 5 or 6 years, when the winners read excerpts of their novels or of their short story collection. However, it was an interesting evening with excellent poems and talks about writing.

On Monday the LW came to the very end with the prize-giving ceremony in the old city hall of Bremen. The mayor made a speech in the beginning, then there were two laudatio speeches in honour of each winner and the winners made their thank you speeches. Nadja Küchenmeister talked in her speech about the process of writing poetry and about the power and strangeness of objects she is writing about in her poems. Marcel Beyer made a brilliant and very political speech about a protest movement we sadly have since the end of last year in Germany. Every Monday evening thousands of people (especially in Dresden) demonstrate against immigration (fortunately, also thousands of people demonstrate every Monday against that movement and for immigration). Beyer, who has lived in Dresden for 20 years made a courageous speech against that movement and their ideas. He quoted slogans these people use and mixed it up with phrases of Dantes Inferno, so that was quite fascinating.

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a report of the literature week
Profile photo of Jens Laloire
Profile photo of Nyana Kakoma

Dear Nyana,

As promised I will tell you about the literature week (LW) today.

Day 1


The LW opened in the Wall-Saal of the city library with a public reading of the Bremen online magazine BOM13. The magazine is conducted by a collective of journalists, editors, photographers, writers, illustrators, comic book artist, designers and programmers. The idea is to make a magazine with plenty of room and a content that is just in the interest of the collective, regardless of advertising, editors, specified formats and subjects. So, in there you can find comics, photo art, short stories, poems and articles, which may go beyond their “normal” length. Every edition has a particular topic. This edition is on the topic of monitoring, which is, as I told you, the topic of the LW. So, half a dozen of the collective read reports, stories and poems, and a singer-songwriter played a guitar song – all about monitoring.

Day 2

Januar_2015 009

The same location as the day before, the same topic in one way, but more specific. The author and journalist Alexander Krutzfeld introduced his book about the Deep Web (also called Darknet or Hidden Web), this digital parallel world (if you compare it to the “normal” or surface internet). It was not a classical literature-reading, it was a mixture of a video-lecture, a reading and a discussion about the Deep Web. My job on stage was to introduce Alexander Krützfeld and his book, to ask him the right questions, to moderate the discussion with the audience and to finish the event at the right time. So, I would say all in all, it was a very interesting evening, everything worked well. There were more than 100 people in the audience and nearly all of them stayed to the end. Last but not least, there was a nice atmosphere on stage between the author and me, we both enjoyed working together (that´s important for the evening).

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  1. Profile photo of Nyana Kakoma
    Nyana Kakoma 29. January 2015 Reply

    I loved reading The Long, Long River. So glad that I an Watson could let you publish it here!

    Are there people who live outside Bremen that come to this? Is there a space for publishers (and other authors) to sell their books? Are there any events for children?

    P.s: I am glad you are feeling better.

    • Profile photo of Jens Laloire
      Jens Laloire 29. January 2015 Reply

      Yes, some people came from outside of Bremen to the literature week, but I suppose not many. It depends how famous the author is and who reads. On the events of the LW there are always book tables, where you can buy books by the authors who read during the LW. Two readings were for school classes and there was a workshop for the pupils, these events were not for young children, but for teenagers.

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Writing Routine
Profile photo of Nikolas Hoppe
Profile photo of Ssekandi Ronald Ssegujja

Hey Ronald,

wow – I admire your discipline behind those morning pages. I recently read an article about the website, that helps you to evaluate and optimize your writing habits. They call it Quantified Writing. The fact that you get up at 6 in the morning is even more remarkable. Germany is two hours behind Kampala right now. When I get up at 8 you have already finished 4 hours of writing.
“When” I get up at 8 is a good starting point to talk about my writing routine. I always wish there would be more of “writing” and more of  “routine” in my writing routine. I still have to learn that consistence is an illusion. That there are simply periods where you write more or less. But my ideal writing routine in my ideal world (where you don’t have to earn money and life isn’t happening), looks like this:
I get up in the morning at 8 in order to finish each and everything human up to 9. That’s when I start writing. Every hour I try to have a 10 minutes break. At 1 in the evening I have a 30 minutes break. Afterwards I work another 4 hours. All in all 8 hours a day. Like my parents. Like every other human being.

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  1. Profile photo of Crystal Rutangye
    Crystal Rutangye 28. January 2015 Reply

    ‘Another important thing is not to think about writing while not writing.’ Allow me to quote you in future discussions, Nikolas.

  2. Profile photo of Ssekandi Ronald Ssegujja
    Ssekandi Ronald Ssegujja 28. January 2015 Reply

    Just from your submissions on this blog, we can tell your love for structure and form. I must say I am challenged by your routine but above all your discipline. Although I keep saying my job gets in the way of my writing, I feel that I should not stop thriving as a writer to find my balance.

  3. Profile photo of Nyana Kakoma
    Nyana Kakoma 29. January 2015 Reply

    “Get yourself a real job.” Because writing isn’t a real job? Maybe that should change to: Get yourself another job that can pay for eating, drinking and loving life before your writing eventually does.

    “On the one hand because I’m convinced someone’s writing only improves through writing. On the other hand because I always have to prove myself that writing is actually my job.” These I have to remember too.

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Finding the stories only we can tell
Profile photo of Jutta Reichelt

Recently there have been many very different reasons and occasions for me to think about my writing. One reason being the invitation to write a small contribution to this blog. So: what is important for and what is central to my writing? To my own surprise, the answers seemed all at once to stare me clearly in the face and were no longer an inextricable knot of thoughts, beliefs and vague notions.

I am convinced that there is nothing as important as finding “our own stories”. I think that we must develop something like an individual, literary fingerprint on to which flows everything we have ever experienced and read and written. All our nightmares and fears and concerns and our disappointed hopes. And above all our questions. Our surprise and our amazement. I believe that that is the source of each individual’s manner of perceiving the world; and I think that a large part of our job consists of finding a form and a tone for that. I know that the “stories which only we can tell” are not the first ones we encounter (and, unfortunately, mostly not the ones that follow either) – and that the search for it can be a long and laborious process.

Meanwhile I have been surprised at how much I have been wrong in the past about so many aspects of writing. I completely overestimated the relevance of talent and underestimated practical experience and constructive criticism. I used to believe that a person either had imagination and creativity at their disposal – or they didn’t. I didn’t realise that the need to write can also develop and grow. I didn’t know how important it is for us to be open to our own ideas and that we also have to endure this when these threaten to become uncomfortable. But above all I had no concept of the fact that it is necessary “to become the one person who can write the book which one has to write” (Jonathan Franzen). I believe that’s how it is.

1 Comment

  1. Profile photo of Ssekandi Ronald Ssegujja
    Ssekandi Ronald Ssegujja 28. January 2015 Reply

    Such deep and insightful piece. As writers, we are and should always be in discovery; of self and of society. It is that experience that bears the stories we tell. The human brain works in an amazing way and we have to trust ourselves to create.

    Thanks for sharing.

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Writing the Other? Let’s talk about ourselves! Blackness and Whiteness from our own experience
Profile photo of Katharina Mevissen

Katharina With our Critical Whiteness and Cultural Studies background, and our experiences and reflections during our anti-racist performance work in 2012, Carolin and I are curious to continue the talk on „Writing the Other & Authenticity“, held by Ronald and Nora on 8th January.

To give you just a few impressions of our performance Black/white. Strangely mine/ The Other Self, we posted some of the photos and a short explanation below. For our two-months group process from which we developed the performance, one idea was most central: Each one starts from and speaks only for his or her own experiences of being Black, white, „normal“, different, male, female, German, European, African etc. Our first condition was not to speak for or even define the Other, because we found that the Other is a product of our own relationships to the outer world, and it is always tied to our own identities.

To open this discussion, we would like to point out some aspects of Nora’s and Ronald’s talk. But before – to stay with our opinion that speaking for and about ourselves comes first – we want to make our own reflections on and experience of our whiteness visible. I should rather say, my and Carolin’s whitenesses, as they are not identical, although we grew up in the same white dominated German society.

Caro, how did you discover your whiteness and how did it change during the years?

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  1. Profile photo of Deborah Asiimwe
    Deborah Asiimwe 24. January 2015 Reply

    Katharina, this paragraph has jumped off the screen for me. Isn’t it amazing what moving away from “shielded, zones of comfort” can do, and the experiences that come with all that! I don’t think I was ever aware about my skin color until I lived in the US. Even then, there would be moments when I would completely forget that I was living in a world where color is such an issue. A funny anecdote I would like to share here; one time a friend of mine and I were doing random things in New York City. There was an interesting exhibition going on at MoMa. I had seen it, so I convinced her to check it out as well. When we got there, she found that it was quite pricey. Now, due to the nature of the work I was doing at that time, I had an ID that could get me to some exhibitions for free. So, I offered to give her my ID, convincing her that no one was going to notice that she was not the one in the picture. I pulled out my ID, and handed it to her. She kept looking at me with a smirk on her face. I didn’t understand why she was not taking the ID, and her expression confused me. Until she got my hand, put it against hers and then asked; “Are you sure no one is going to notice that your ID is not mine?” That’s when I understood what the smirk was all about. I had completely forgotten about color differences. She is white. Of course, it would have been SO clear that she was not the owner of the ID….I still feel silly about that experience. But anyway, this is all to say that our societies have a way of constantly reminding us of who “we are” and where we “lie”, how to think, and what our privileges or lack of them are.Reference

    • Profile photo of Jens Laloire
      Jens Laloire 26. January 2015 Reply

      I love that anecdote. I mean, it would be great, if for all of people the different skin colours just would have the same meaning like the different colours of our hair, eyes or sweatshirts.Reference

  2. Profile photo of Cynthia Pacutho
    Cynthia Pacutho 25. January 2015 Reply

    I must say I am reflecting on this only now that it has been posted…

    Similar to Caroline, I was only made aware of my skin color when I was in an all white context. The whole experience made me remark to a friend with reference to two primary school text book titles: Africa Learns about Europe by H W R Hawes and Europe learns about Africa by J B Whitehead, that while Africa was learning about Europe, Europe wasn’t learning about Africa.

    However, for me, the content of a book speaks louder than the author’s race.

  3. Profile photo of Jens Laloire
    Jens Laloire 26. January 2015 Reply

    Thanks for your dialogue. You say, you´re wondering why categories like “blackness/ whiteness”, “Africa/Europe” or “We/You” are so rarely mentioned in this blog by the six participating authors. Hm, I guess for myself the reason why I´m not talking about this very much is: We´re talking about writing, literature, readings and so on. Most importantly for this project: We´re all writers – different writers for sure, with different backgrounds. Maybe if you read the posts and commentaries you will recognize the cultural, sexual, religious or other differences between all of us, because they have a deep impact on our way of thinking and feeling. But first of all, if we’re talking about writing it doesn’ t matter if you´re white, black or blue; man, woman or transgender; Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist or atheist; spiritualist, rationalist or idealist; growing up in a huge city in Uganda, in a small town anywhere in Germany or in a lot of different places while travelling around the world with your parents. That´s the reason why I prefer not to start talking explicitly about these differences. If it comes in a “natural” way while we´re discussing, that´s fine, if not, that´s fine, too. That´s why I like the make up of this blog, it´s not so structured that you have to talk about these topics all the time, but there is a lot of space to do this if you like.

    I guess it gets more difficult, if you´re writing about the other. To be honest, if I heard Nikolas last year reading the first chapter of his novel in Cafe Ambiente, I would ask myself, if he is allowed to write from the perspective of a young man from Uganda. But, then I thought, why not. Man wrote about woman, woman about man, young about old, old about young, academic people about workers, non-religious about religious and vice versa all the time. That is the marvellous thing about literature: It´s possible to do that.

    But, there is still one question in my mind: Is the risk to fail with that topic (to be a German man writing a novel about a young man from Uganda) higher than if he would write about a German man? I feel that the risk is higher because, while you´re writing you know that there are a lot of traps. You know all about the problems with stereotypes, history, imperialism, racism and so on. You know that there will be a bunch of people in the audience, who will be very sceptical and just waiting to find a verification of their prejudice, that a guy from Germany is not able to do that. I really don´t know, I have no reply for that question, but I wonder what Nikolas would say.

    • Profile photo of Mariya Nikolova
      Mariya Nikolova 28. January 2015 Reply

      Hi Jens, I will have to cloak the meta commentary with another quote which illustrates to a great extent my opinion. It is from Shohat’s and Stam’s ‘Unthinking Eurocentrism’ (and while they talk of representation in the vein of film casting, I do feel their elaboration valid for representation in general, i.e. inclusive of writing) : ‘Should we applaud Blacks playing Hamlet but not Laurence Olivier playing Othello? And have not Euro-American and European performers often ethnically substituted for one another (for example, Greta Garbo and Cyd Charisse as Russians in ‘Ninotchka’, 1939, and ‘Silk Stockings, 1957)? Casting, we would argue, has to be seen in contingent terms, in relation to the role, the political and esthetic intention, and to the historical moment. We cannot equate a gigantic charade whereby a whole foreign country is represented by players not from that country and is imagined as speaking a language not its own (a frequent Hollywood practice), with cases where non-literal casting forms part of an alternative esthetic. The casting of Blacks to play Hamlet, for example, militates against a traditional discrimination that denied Blacks any role, literally and metaphorically, in both the performing arts and in politics, while the casting of Laurence Olivier as Othello prolongs a venerable history of deliberately bypassing Black talent…’ Writing, too, I believe has to be seen in ‘contingent terms, in relation to the role (here, character but also author), the political and esthetic intention, and to the historical moment’. The auspicious freedom of creativity does not mean that writers are exonerated from participation in and prolongation of violent and hegemonic discourses (here, lets re-read Hemingway and Fitzgerald). It is a serious question to speak of freedom in rewriting the position of someone violated and cast of as fungible (this corruption of freedom itself is brought down by the entire work of Afro-pessimists such as Wilderson for example). To turn the read-film-as-text paradigm, one could also consider writing-as-film in Werner Herzog’s statement: “Academia is the death of cinema (or writing). It is the very opposite of passion. Film (Writing) is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates” with which, I believe, he distance himself from ethical and political ‘responsibility’ ( I don’t like using the word) and yearns for consideration of films as art, disbanded and unchained from discourse and time. However, that is greatly contradicted by the fact that certain groups of people have protested both writing and movie productions; have written counter and revolutionary stories, and continue to resist dominant narratives (both film and books). Personally, I wish imagination was a place of fire and fire, where thought and its context burn and disappear; and too, this misery gives birth to what Arthur Rimbaud saw as a poet: ‘A poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he exhausts within himself all poisons, and preserves their quintessences. Unspeakable torment, where he will need the greatest faith, a superhuman strength, where he becomes all men the great invalid, the great criminal, the great accursed—and the Supreme Scientist! For he attains the unknown! Because he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anyone! He attains the unknown, and if, demented, he finally loses the understanding of his visions, he will at least have seen them! So what if he is destroyed in his ecstatic flight through things unheard of, unnameable: other horrible workers will come; they will begin at the horizons where the first one has fallen!’

  4. Deborah Asiimwe 26. January 2015 Reply

    Like Jens; well, we are talking about writing, right? Personally, I came to the table as a writer interested in chatting with other writers in my city and the city of Bremen and of course other people from elsewhere. Anything beyond that was/is not central for me. I maybe curious about what someone may say or observe in relation to the topic above, and may ask a question or make a comment but, that is it. Do you Carolin and Katharina feel that this is something that we as writers with different backgrounds needed to have chatted about at length? Why? I am curious.

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How to tell their stories
Profile photo of Nora Bossong

When I visited Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, two years ago, I met a parliamentarian to talk about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the governmental way of dealing with the brutal civil war that had shaken the country in the 1990s. It was quite early on a Tuesday morning in December; my driver had to wait in front of the bungalow in which the parliament was situated. After we were allowed to enter the grounds, we had to wait again in the parking lot, until finally I was guided by an employee to an office with thick leather sofas and a couch-table with bottled water on it. 


My’ parliamentarian, let’s call him ‘A.’, entered the room, a well-dressed and very polite man in his mid-thirties. He was a member of the CNDD-FDD, the leading party in Burundi. The CNDD-FDD dominates the parliament, the country, and it controls most of the little money that circulates in the seventh poorest country in the world. A. told me how glad he was that I was willing to talk to him. Others, I learned, refused to talk to his party, preferring to make up their mind about the country by talking only to the NGOs, the ‘other side.’

Sitting in his office with the leather sofas and bottled water, A., referring to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, told me that people in his country had finally plucked up the courage to reappraise the events of the civil war. But due to bureaucratic procedures the commission had still not been finally approved, yet. The greatest shortcoming, which A. of course didn’t mention, was that it was all in the hands of the authoritarian CNDD-FDD party which ruled the country without a whisper of parliamentarian opposition.

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  1. Hi Norah, these excellent observations of yours resonate with us in Uganda too. The war in Northern Uganda only ended in 2006, after spanning over 25 years of active hostilities. And yet the scars of war are still fresh and communities remain unhealed of trauma. (Un)like Burundi or South Africa, we’ve never had any significant Truth and Reconciliation processes to give closure to survivors of violent conflict. For me, the question of witnessing is very important. How do we bear witness? How do we bear the burden of memory when there is no political will to accommodate multiple truths?

    When Adong Lucy Judith produced a ground breaking theatre play tilted Silent Voices, the house was full to capacity every time it played. (National Theatre 2012) What made it so refreshing was her intimate and brutal account of the conflict, which most people in the South were privileged not to experience directly. It was clear from civil society that there was a hunger for knowledge of these unspeakable truths. And as far as truth was concerned, it validated stories of those whose voices remained silent. Or were not captured in mainstream media.

    The media tends to project only narratives that the dominant group deems correct. And in the absence of a free media, censorship stifles creativity. It imposes a culture of silence, and a veil of fear makes it extremely challenging for people to tell their stories, due to a fear of retribution.

    In post conflict situations, media is heavily monitored and tightly controlled. This probably makes sense because experience has shown that it can be abused with devastating consequences. Unfortunately this control also enables only the views of the dominant group to filter through. As we saw in Adong’s play , it took courageous endeavour to produce a counter narrative. The challenge here was how to produce the counter narrative responsibly, honestly, and sensitively without causing gratuitous harm.

    In the history of human civilization, one might argue that it’s the intellectuals who shape our sense of who we are, who interpret the zeitgeist and contribute to our national memory. It could be through writing, art, music or any creative undertaking.

    Gramsci also said that, “One of the most important characteristics of any group that is developing towards dominance is its struggle to assimilate and to conquer ideologically the traditional intellectuals, but this assimilation and conquest is made quicker and more efficacious the more the group in question succeeds in simultaneously elaborating its own organic intellectuals.”

    Perhaps Parliamentarian A, and the ruling party espouse the ideals of a government seeking dominance? Which means that in the national narrative, which is also the official narrative, certain truths may have more significance than others.

    • Profile photo of Nora Bossong
      Nora Bossong 24. January 2015 Reply

      Thank you for this profound comment. Just on Gramsci: I think that he is a very illustrative philosopher, whose thoughts, especially the “cultural hegemony” help to understand the mechanism of power – gaining and preserving it.

  2. Profile photo of Mariya Nikolova
    Mariya Nikolova 21. January 2015 Reply

    Thank you for setting the tone (and I would also say: the light in the room for certain discussions entail full darkness and a scream to cut it). I will have to repeat myself (but one cannot repeat this enough) in hinting once again to Hartman’s ‘Venus in Two Acts’. I could quote the entire essay here but instead will cite Hartman’s comment in another interview (‘Memoirs of Return’ in ‘Rites of Return, Diaspora Poetics and the Politics of Memory): ‘In “the Lives of Infamous Men” Foucault notes that the dead, and specifically the infamous, the subaltern, and the exploited, return to us in the very form in which they were driven out of the world. So the dead returned to me as numbers, as ciphers, or with names tossed off as crass insults and jokes. My challenge was how to tell a story about this incredible effacement and disfiguration of personhood.’ At this juncture NourbeSe Philip’s powerful ‘There is no telling this story’ bursts into fire and fire, and silence, too. At this juncture, too, she notes: ‘I want poetry to disassemble the ordered, to create disorder and mayhem so as to release the story that cannot be told, but which, through not-telling, will tell itself’. Here, again: ‘There is no telling this story; it must be told’. And because you touched on ethics, politics and all the Kafkaesque conflicts that fall in-between: I would recommend once again NourbeSe Philip (‘Zong!’ in particular) to read, to listen, and be quiet with her quietness.

    • Profile photo of Nikolas Hoppe
      Nikolas Hoppe 23. January 2015 Reply

      I just looked it up: Thank you for this great recommendation, Mariya.

      • Profile photo of Mariya Nikolova
        Mariya Nikolova 23. January 2015 Reply

        you are so very welcome; it is a masterpiece both in its urgency and its utter destruction of the world

        • Profile photo of Tom Schroepfer
          Tom Schroepfer 26. January 2015 Reply

          I just ordered it at my favourite book dealer – two weeks waiting!! looking forward to it!

    • Profile photo of Nora Bossong
      Nora Bossong 24. January 2015 Reply

      I will, thanks for the reading-suggestion. I found the reference to Foucault also very interesting. “Foucault notes that the dead, and specifically the infamous, the subaltern, and the exploited, return to us in the very form in which they were driven out of the world.” That is a point, that is a stroke.

  3. Profile photo of Nikolas Hoppe
    Nikolas Hoppe 24. January 2015 Reply

    Nora, thank you so much for this profound input. You are writing that it is “important for the civil society to oppose the official narrative by telling their own stories and thereby undermine the dominant power”. I had to think about these guys from Kenya who are making a lot of money by telling western journalists they are somalia pirates:
    Even though they do not tell “their own story” they are still turning the table by reproducing or “pirating” the official (western) narrative and unmasking the way (western) media constitutes official truths.

    But my question to the Kampala writers: Do you feel the need to turn narrative tables at all? Or particularly: Is turning western narrative tables on everything “african” still your own story? This question reminds me of african artists who sometimes feel to be forced to serve certain narrative expectations inside and outside african countries. Here is a quote of the Kenyan director NG’ENDO MUKII: “I do sometimes feel that there is an expectation that, as an African director, I must focus on certain social issues deemed as ‘African’, and that other content beyond this scope is seen as not ‘African enough’. I can understand why this pressure would exist, but I feel it limits our creativity and even our own understanding of ourselves as citizens in this urbanizing and multifaceted context we call Africa.”

    What are your thoughts on this?

    • Profile photo of Nora Bossong
      Nora Bossong 24. January 2015 Reply

      Thanks for this note on the money-telling and turning the journalist table in a, well, “special” way. And I’m keen to hear the answers to your question.

  4. Profile photo of Deborah Asiimwe
    Deborah Asiimwe 24. January 2015 Reply

    Nikolas, you are right about the long standing narratives from the West that have come to be the image of “Africa” for generations. I guess I would be curious to hear your definition of “african”. But, to answer your question, as a writer, I want to tell a complete, complex, human story as I see it, and as my brain imagines it. I want to tell a story in a way that touches my reader, or the one who has come to see my play, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. I believe that my story is essential to the world’s story. As a storyteller, my quest is to tell stories. The story I am telling will show the way I view myself and the society I inhabit.

    • Profile photo of Nikolas Hoppe
      Nikolas Hoppe 24. January 2015 Reply

      I think by using the quotation marks I mean the same Ng’endo Muki maybe means by writing ‘African’. The ‘African’ narative that is not distinguishing between different contries, that is either telling the very positive or the very negative stories of the continent. When I go to a german bookstore searching for the shelf ‘Africa’ I (mainly) find war stories or the beautiful red and orange covers, where the sun goes down behind an acacia tree. The market does not offer very much in between. I wanted to ask if Ng’endo Muki observation feels true for Kampala writers. That there is a change to feel a certain kind of pressure that intervenes in searching and telling your own stories.
      I once wrote a very private and calm family play and when it came to the question of staging some theaters told me: You play is too small, too private, we are looking for relevant, political stuff. I wonder how experiences like that can subconsciously influence a writer, no matter how often he claims to do his or her very own thing.

      • Profile photo of Deborah Asiimwe
        Deborah Asiimwe 25. January 2015 Reply

        Nikolas, these are the pre-ordained narratives. These narratives have existed for hundreds of years. They are not going to be deconstructed that easily. Of course, a creator/storyteller who seeks to create or tell stories in a more complex way, and to move away from these narratives is unlikely to be easily accepted or her/his narrative to be included in the mainstream. But the perceptions are changing. The change may not be faster enough, but it is happening. Also, the great thing is that there are publishing houses in some African countries that are committed to publishing the kinds of books that do not feed into this narrative. At the end of the day, it will be up to the storyteller/creator to make a decision. Do they want to continue feeding into these pre-ordined narratives or to just say their truths. For me as a storyteller, I don’t feel any pressure to tell a certain kind of story and or to tell it in a certain way. I tell stories that I feel compelled to tell, in a way that I feel compelled to tell them, being mindful that they are also accessible by a reader/a theatre goer who may not necessarily be familiar with the world I am creating. I can imagine the pressure Ng’endo is referring to, and it is challenging for any writer/creator to be told that their work does not capture the world they are talking about. That can be challenging, but I don’t think that needs to put anyone under pressure to do something that does not represent their truth.

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Writing poetry for the page and for the stage
Profile photo of Gloria Kiconco


Hello authors, contributors and readers. It has been so interesting following the discussions on this blog and engaging in them as well. I was so grateful for the discussion that started on poetry slams. I am first and foremost (if not only) a poet who writes and performs frequently.

It has been an interesting experience moving between the page and stage. I often borrow from one arena to enrich the other but unfortunately find myself compromising my vision for the sake of the platform and audience.

The writing process

I find that when I sit to write for the page, I have a more critical eye but also tend to experiment more since there is no concern with responding to physical or real time feedback. It is also more likely readers will take their time to explore the writing and reflect on it, so I do not worry the work will be misunderstood.

(At this point it becomes clear how self-conscious of a writer I am.)

In writing for the stage, I worry more about the narrative and simplifying the work. I often sacrifice the concise line for a longer, more indulgent line that I believe the audience will enjoy. When I reflect on my performance pieces, they tend towards entertainment.

I have to appreciate that moving back and forth between the two platforms gives me a heightened awareness of an audience. I am a selfish writer, usually focused inwards especially in my initial drafts. But as I develop a piece I edit with the reader or audience in mind. This is only important in that it fulfils my need to feel I am putting something out there that is of use to others.

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  1. Interestingly, that’s something I have never really been able to balance.
    I have written pieces that were subsequently performed and there are pieces I thought would sound well performed but did better on paper.

    I heard a poet once share that in her experience, when she performs she only needs to have an idea and some basic lines written out for her. It’s not so much about memorising but expressing.

    In fact in her writing, you will sense a more vocal tone and this does not take away from the beauty of writing.

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Writing in changing places – Concepts of being at home
Profile photo of Deborah Asiimwe


I once asked my mentor how he defines home, and he said: “Home is where you hang your hat.” I pondered his words for a moment, and remembered that I had also read somewhere that home is where your heart is. Can one’s heart be in just one place though? Can one confine one’s heart? I think home can be the place where one lives, home may also be the place where one has lived before and has found peace and joy. Home may also be a place one longs for. Some people consider home to be a place where one can find love, protection, acceptance, security, peace, happiness, joy and a sense of belonging.

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  1. Dear Deborah Asiimwe, I am allowed very much enthusiastically by this project, the wonderfully varied insights into very different social environments and manners of writing like yours and greet with a quotation of the author Sibylle Berg: „At home is where one reads obituaries. “ I held this first for a (successful) joke – but I think, it is more than this . . .

    • Deborah Asiimwe 8. January 2015 Reply

      Hello Jutta Reichelt,
      Thank you very much for your comment, and thank you for sharing Sibylle Berg quotation. I could not help but chuckle after reading it. Home being a place where one reads “obituaries” may sound very funny, but I think you are right, there is another layer of meaning to it. The act of reading obituaries in itself has a certain level of steadiness and calmness it brings, and these could be associated with the concept of home.

  2. Profile photo of Mariya Nikolova
    Mariya Nikolova 5. January 2015 Reply

    Thank you for this elaborate and thought-provoking text, Deborah (can you also let us know who is the author of these magnificent and intriguing images, please). Concerning the ‘place slippage’ or what you called ‘places sneaking into writing’: I am returned to the condition of experience (or Merleau Ponty’s bodies knowing the world). It is interesting that you say that some stories would have never uttered themselves into existence had you not visited certain places (here, how many stories hang as clippings from roofs and skies and futures?!?) If moving has bred (new) stories then it has a voice on its own (for me always in tune with some form and extent of nostalgia and melancholy). Yet, having left ‘my’ home almost ten years ago I could not fixate it into its corporeality (instead, I like to think of it as a condition, a moment, the most bare, intimate and elemental part of a given atmosphere: ‘“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home” Faulkner pens it down.) Therefore, I agree that places make their entries no matter how hard one tries to extricate imagination from their (and its) closures. Your text sounds rather positive, do you regret sometimes this ‘world’s homelessness’?

    • Deborah Asiimwe 8. January 2015 Reply

      Very well put, Mariya Nikolova! Thank you for your comments and questions, and for touching on Merleau Ponty’s philosophy as well as sharing a quote from William Faulkner. My apologies for a tardy response. As Nikolas mentions below, I have been moving homes again, and I am currently trying to settle into “my new home”. I agree, moving has a voice of its own. I think that moving in itself is a story, and because of that, it has taken on a character of its own, and therefore its own distinct voice.
      This “world’s homelessness” within the context of moving places, is a state of mind I believe. Do I regret it? I am fascinated by it. I am fascinated by the idea of departing, and arriving, and departing again. I am fascinated by how places have the capacity to embrace or be rejected. I am fascinated by stories that are born out of these experiences.
      Thank you again for your deep thoughts on this subject!

      • Profile photo of Mariya Nikolova
        Mariya Nikolova 8. January 2015 Reply

        Thank you for this poetic and invigorating response! I like the fact that you see the capacity of places in a positive light; I think I don’t have this quality and flood myself with imagining spaces which incapacitate (politically, socially) and start off from there (my thoughts I mean)

  3. Profile photo of Nikolas Hoppe
    Nikolas Hoppe 6. January 2015 Reply

    I remember coming back to Germany after one year of civil service in Uganda, wondering where all the people are. In rural areas the streets, the sidewalks, whole villages feel empty compared to the countryside in Uganda. My home where I grew up, went to school and had a bed all of a sudden felt unfamiliar, not “Home” to me. It’s strange and interesting when you start seeing the familiar inside from the outside, especially as a writer. Maybe you do not have to leave your home country and come back again to have this kind of feeling. A lot of literature deals with unfamiliarity in the so called familiar ground. But changing places maybe can help you gaining a certain kind of distance towards the material you are writing on. There is a huge potential of narration, language creativity and fun in the ability to see familiar grounds from outside. As a German you understand what I mean by watching Tom Hanks talking about the German Autobahn at the David Letterman Show:


  4. Profile photo of Nikolas Hoppe
    Nikolas Hoppe 6. January 2015 Reply

    It also can be used to have a closer, more critical look on the various ways we tend to stereotype, reduce or exoticize other cultures. “Das Fest des Huhns” could be an example for this:


  5. Profile photo of Nikolas Hoppe
    Nikolas Hoppe 6. January 2015 Reply

    Deborah is actually changing her place once again by taking a plane to Germany right now. But soon she will be on her desk again to answer your questions. For now: The images are each linked to this great artist:

    You can also check incoming comments on the right side of Deborah’s Input throughout this week – thats where the writers push her thoughts further. You are welcome to interact in these discussions too!

  6. I relate a lot with what Mariya said ” If moving has bred (new) stories then it has a voice on its own (for me always in tune with some form and extent of nostalgia and melancholy)”.

    I think regardless the number of times spaces change, there is always an anchor into the one place that we call home and this affects our writing because new spaces will be viewed in some sort of relation to home.

    When Deborah writes the play, I believe she is looking at home in a comparison to where she has lived. And home may not neccessarily be a good place; of good memories; I think it is a place that has a Genesis/Eden factor about it. A place we instinctively knew. A place we grew up or were formed in.

    ” If a writer is to write from their gut, do they even need to think about these things?”

    This is an important question. I would like to know what everyone else thinks.

    • Deborah Asiimwe 8. January 2015 Reply

      Thank you, Joel. I wrestle with the question above. I will not pretend that I have an answer to it, and would really love to hear what people have to say.

  7. Profile photo of Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva
    Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva 6. January 2015 Reply

    Debs, so true! I wonder if homelessness can be a choice. If, perhaps we don’t find a place with love, warmth and comfort, we feel we are homeless. Home suggests comfort and contentment and yet the world moves us to states of restlessness as well, we’re always searching. I wonder, when do we ever find what we’re searching for? I also believe that wide travel enables us to be more respectful and mindful of others and to realize the universe belongs to a billion others and to be good stewards of the earth. Often, it’s my internal reaction to these external truths that keeps me writing.

    • Profile photo of Deborah Asiimwe
      Deborah Asiimwe 8. January 2015 Reply

      Thanks, Bev! I think we are conditioned to associate great and positive things with the concept of home. I agree with Mariya. Home is a paradox, and that is not a terrible thing. I think if we were to “find” what we are “searching” for, we would not be writing anymore. Everyday, I am reminded that the world is bigger than my neighborhood, than my street, than anything my brain can contain. There is joy and restlessness in knowing that.

  8. Profile photo of Mariya Nikolova
    Mariya Nikolova 6. January 2015 Reply

    I agree that traveling expands the vastness which pushes under ribcages, and minds, and some stories, too. But I cannot say that home is always a place of well-being; rather a space of being itself (Camus would exclaim here ‘“If something is going to happen to me, I want to be there.” ). As much as I am devoted to what is contained in the noun/verb/adjective ‘home’ I cannot escape its immanence and burden: it’s the place in which we cease to be strangers; it is a ‚when’ of the world resonating its pulse in ours; there: we matter; we are; broken or uncut, with bruises and beating wings, and depths of value and being lost-s. Thus, home is (inevitably) in opposition with what isn’t there and the ‘wheres’ which don’t contain us; forget us, and hell us too. Perhaps, this is a part of home’s idealistic connotation: it implies that we are never absent; that the wooden floor still draws circles and circles of rainbows with the footsteps my five-year-old self; that there is a face to reflect my patches of laughter (my mother’s or mirrored or someone whose name I have forgotten); and too, I could go back and ‘be’ for the trace of my being still rests in my grandmother’s chair. Here, if I think of home I wouldn’t want to neglect the fact that every idea and imagination of it is intimately and ultimately connected to me; in or out of it, my being births it and lets it die, and too re-lives it and re-leaves it a thousand times

  9. As with Mariya, Bremen is my “second home”, with the difference that I left my first one – Ireland – not ten, but forty years ago. Since then I have lived in two communities and two languages – the language of my parents and the language of my wife and children. This means, of course, that I not only have two homes, which I take to be a great enrichment of my life and especially my writing, but also two “others”. On the one hand, flying into Belfast over small green fields is flying home, but so is returning to Bremen – you can actually see our house from the plane as it lands. On the other hand, however, as I think Nikolas has pointed out elsewhere, this “otherness” – the stranger’s view – is vital to writers. It is, in my opinion, only by seeing the familiar as “other” that we can write in an original way. So I’m very grateful to my two homes and my two “others”.

  10. Profile photo of Mariya Nikolova
    Mariya Nikolova 6. January 2015 Reply

    Hi Ian, do you think you say the same things in English and in German? Does something get lost in-between? And if so, could fragments of personality/character be translated and mis-translated in such ‘double existence’? I ask you this because I feel how different I ‘sound’ (with regards not merely to the acoustic traits but also the meaning of my articulations) while ‘translating’ myself. I will be very interested to know what you think

    • Dear Mariya, Before I reply directly, I just want to say how much I am enjoying this thread; thanks, Deborah, for initiating it. Yes, Mariya, my voice, my music and my images are very different in English and German; in some ways I’m two different writers. As it happens, today I have been translating an English poem into German prose. It contains the line, “Regret strokes my skin like nettle feathers”, a line I was quite pleased with. Yet, however hard I try to get a decent translation, it ends up as pure kitsch in German. It may (?) have something to do with the fact that German is a much more explicit, much less ambiguous language (and culture). (Compare the very explicit translations of very ambivalent English-language film titles.) Hm, what do you think?

      • Profile photo of Deborah Asiimwe
        Deborah Asiimwe 8. January 2015 Reply

        Thank you, Ian! I am glad that Mariya asked the question above.
        English is not my first language, and I grew up in a home where two languages were spoken, and at school we were forced to speak English. I grew up dancing between three languages. In my writing life, and of course with moving places, I have found the languages of my childhood forcing themselves to the forefront of the way I tell stories, and I have often wondered whether I am a “different” writer depending on the language I am thinking in at that time. Thank you for sharing your experience.

        • Profile photo of Jens Laloire
          Jens Laloire 10. January 2015 Reply

          Dear Mariya, Ian & Deborah,

          I followed your talk about writing in different languages. Thank you so much for this inspiring discussion. I have a lot of respect for writers, who are able to write in different languages. For me, the biggest challenge of this project is: to write all my texts in English. I guess, my writing is getting much simpler now. Usually, when I write in German, I´m very strict with my style, with the use of adjectives, sentence-structure, repetitions, punctuation, rhythm and so on. Now, the problems are more basic. I have to think a lot about grammar, I´m looking for words all the time, I have to think about phrases I love in German, but I´m not sure if it is possible to translate them into English, or if it just doesn’t make any sense.

          Beyond that, I have to take the risk that I´m going to publish a text in this blog where other people could discover mistakes I haven’t recognized as such. Usually, I am very strict with that too. Even if I have finished my texts, I read them again and again before I publish them (there could be a very tiny mistake hiding anywhere). To be honest, it annoys me every time I read a published text of mine and I discover a misspelling or a comma in the wrong place.

          What about you? In all the languages you use do you have the same strict rules when you write a text? Is there one language, you feel the most comfortable with? Is there anything special you like more when writing in German, English, Bulgarian or Swahili? Is there anything you miss in one of these languages, if you compare it to the others?

          I´m looking forward to your replies.

          • Profile photo of Mariya Nikolova
            Mariya Nikolova 11. January 2015

            Good morning, Jens, thank you for raising the question of grammar. I guess I have always been fascinated by experimental attempts to exit the closures of language but ever since stumbling upon the radical statements (in both political and ethical sense) of NourbeSe Philip this has shot fire up and in and directs much of my academic and creative work. So, grammar is a concept I think about a lot (and try not to think at the same time). Of course, breaking grammar in Philip’s work is a political earthquake. As for me, I do feel the burden of language and sometimes feel claustrophobic having to express myself in and within one (something which has to do probably with the fact that I learn and unlearn in English (not my mother tongue), live in German (‘y’ deliberately omitted; not my mother tongue) and hurt in Bulgarian (or what is left of my mother tongue)). This spills on my work, of course (here, an example: ) there are rougher erasures which I overcome at the moment but basically my love for writing (and performing) slam, and poetry as a whole is breaking on its self. It will be very interesting to hear whether Ian and Deborah experience similar contradictions

          • Profile photo of Deborah Asiimwe
            Deborah Asiimwe 12. January 2015

            Hello Jens,
            There are number of things that you have touched on, that resonate with me. I notice that when I am writing in Runyankore which is my first language, I am very strict the way I use it. The way the rhythm of it sounds, its poetry and the flow of the words. I also find myself using several words/expressions until I get what feels and sounds right. What is interesting though is that, once I feel I have got everything right, I am not afraid to go back into the text and break the rules of the language. This is also true for the other languages spoken in Uganda that I sometimes bring into my writing. For the English language, especially when it is creative writing, I am mainly concerned with where the story is set, and the characters I am writing about. In most cases, my characters will guide on how to use the language because their speech patterns, their background and who they are will really determine on how they speak. I want to say that I am not afraid to break rules when dealing with creative writing. However, like you I get obsessed with getting EVERYTHING “right” when I am dealing with other kinds of writing that are none-creative.
            For me, when it comes to language, I think there are several writers residing in me depending on what I am writing.

          • Profile photo of Jens Laloire
            Jens Laloire 23. January 2015

            Hello Mariya,
            I forgot to say thank you for mentioning NourbeSe Philip. I´m not familiar with her work, but what you mentioned and what I read about her work sounds very interesting. Even this tiny example, I found on wikipedia I like:
            “… and English is / my mother tongue / is / my father tongue / is a foreign lan lan lang / language / l/anguish / anguish…”
            Also, thank you for the link to an example of your own work. I enjoyed listening to the audio clip. So, you write poems and perform them on slams regularly? And: Do you have any favourite spoken word artists?

          • Profile photo of Jens Laloire
            Jens Laloire 23. January 2015

            Hello Deborah,
            Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I´m fascinated by your opportunities to work with all these languages. Yes, you´re right, you have to distinguish between creative writing and non-creative. To think about grammar rules and spelling during the creative process would block your creativity. And I guess, there might be several writers residing in me, too.

          • Profile photo of Mariya Nikolova
            Mariya Nikolova 23. January 2015

            Hi Jens, thanks for taking the time to read/listen to these things. Philip is grandiose, so as many people get to know her work, as many worlds will collapse, and that is for a good reason. I perform my slam pieces, yes, but only if the whole slam is held in English (otherwise, I write for some surrealist’s blogs and magazines but only to avoid spilling my monsters to random people in the street; slamming bursts to the same effect, then night comes, and night comes again, and I can sleep. Monster-less)

          • Profile photo of Mariya Nikolova
            Mariya Nikolova 23. January 2015

            PS: I listen to a lot of slam poetry (mostly polit.) but since I am writing my thesis (and the conversation between me and my paper goes a la Kafka: “KILL ME OR YOU ARE A MURDERER”), I end up unwinding with funny, lighter slamming: Rives and his kite here: or Floyd VB’s space farm here:

          • Profile photo of Mariya Nikolova
            Mariya Nikolova 23. January 2015

            PS: I listen to a lot of slam poetry (mostly polit.) but since I am writing my thesis (and the conversation between me and my paper goes a la Kafka: “KILL ME OR YOU ARE A MURDERER”), I end up unwinding with funny, lighter slamming: Rives and his kite here: or Floyd VB’s space farm here:

    • Profile photo of Mariya Nikolova
      Mariya Nikolova 7. January 2015 Reply

      Dear Ian, thank you, once again you draw a field with impossible flowers. Being two writers at once, yes, what an inner contrast, what a great misery and bliss! I agree with you, some ideas cannot be translated (and indeed, what a beautiful line). I don’t know whether this has to do with German’s explicit physique, i.e. that the dichotomy happens merely within language itself. I have different things to say in English, different in Bulgarian, too, which, I believe, has nothing to do with the fact that more people would understand me (if they!) in the first, and less in the second. Here, of course, I cannot omit the often overwhelming touch to texts such as Ette’s ‘ZwischenWeltenSchreiben: Literaturen ohne festen Wohnsitz’ or some, albeit puzzling, of Bhabha’s. Perhaps, the more apparent the contradictions and edges of split spaces (internal, primarily) become, the closer and yet further one gets to their inert and ‘translatable’ origin-territories. One is here, and there, and nowhere in particular; and too, joins these spaces with the distressing compulsion of imagination. As Y. Roshi said: ‘the fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there’. Perhaps, being these two writers you are the writer you yearned to be deep down and up high.

  11. Profile photo of Katharina Mevissen
    Katharina Mevissen 6. January 2015 Reply

    Thanks, Deborah, and thanks to everybody fueling this interesting discussion on home and writing. Before sharing a few thoughts of mine with you, I would like to quote a passage from the poem “Counterpoint”, written by the famous Palestian poet Mahmoud Darwish. This poem depicts a lyrical dialogue between him and Edward Said, the postcolonial scholar and author of “Orientalism” and “Cultural imperialism”, and to me, these lines perfectly fit into our discussion of writing under the tensions of moving, exile and so-called “otherness” in a foreign context.

    “On the wind, he walks,
    and in the wind, he knows who he is.
    The wind has no roof; the wind has no house,
    the wind is a compass pointing to the stranger’s North.

    He says: I am from there. I am from here.
    I am not there and I am not here.
    I have two names, which meet and part,
    and I have two languages.
    I forget which of them I dream in.
    I have English for writing, obedient in words.
    I have also a language in which heaven speaks to Jerusalem:
    silver-stressed, and it does not obey!

    I said: And identity?
    He said: Defense of the person. Identity is the daughter of birth,
    but in the end, the invention of its owner,
    not an heirloom from the past.
    I am manifold. (…)
    So carry your home country wherever you go. (…)

    He loves a country, and travels from it.
    He loves traveling to anything,
    and in free travel between cultures,
    those who study human essence
    may find space enough for all.”

    (Taken from: Almond blossoms and beyond. Mahmoud Darwish, 2009)

  12. Profile photo of Katharina Mevissen
    Katharina Mevissen 6. January 2015 Reply

    As Deborah mentions, the process of “making homes” and “finding oneself” in different contexts is an essential part of writing and living under the conditions of traveling and moving. The dynamics of distance push the writer to reflect or even change his or her perspectives and attitudes, the crossing of social and environmental limitations also means to shake the “normality” one got used to.

    As writing can be understood as a mode of perception and reflection, as a product of interaction with and forming of the certain reality one is facing, each change of place causes a fundamental change of text.

    The privilege to move freely between cultures and contexts, as described in the poem, enables a person to experience a multiplicity of perspectives, writings and homes, too. As much as identity can be multiple, home can be as such.

    I think, a writer is lucky to have an additional privilege: By writing texts, she can find herself more easily and settle down through her well-known rituals of writing. In that sense, making homes could mean: writing homes.

  13. Profile photo of Jens Laloire
    Jens Laloire 6. January 2015 Reply

    When I read Deborahs fascinating input and all the inspiring comments about the concept of home and homelessness. I realized (for the second time), that I for myself don’t feel homelessness any more. When I started studying in Essen many years ago, it was never my home. On the one hand it was maybe still the small-town, where I grew up, where my family lived (and still lives) and where l had a lot friends. But, on the other hand it wasn´t, because that was not the place where I wanted to be any more. I was looking for a new place, and by chance I ended up in Bremen. Now I’ve been living here for 13 years and each year Bremen becomes more and more my home.

    A few weeks ago after a party, it was nighttime. I was walking along the river, the moon was shining and I saw this little bridge. This bridge is very close to my flat, and suddenly I was overwhelmed by the emotion of coming home. I realized – in this intensity maybe for the first time –, that I have found a place, where I feel at home.

    I really love the city of Bremen. In my little flat with the view of the sky and the river near by and all the lovely places and people around, all together make me feel at home. Even though I can write anywhere (I love to write while I´m traveling, sitting by the river or drinking a cappuccino in a coffee shop), my flat is the place where I write the most and where I finish my stories. My flat is my cozy cell. Here are all my books, my desk, my notebooks, my big window, my records, my sofa, my tea and my coffee machine to make a cappuccino. But, it´s not just a physical location with all that stuff, it´s more. Maybe it is what the sentence in Deborahs text describes: “a place where one can find love, protection, acceptance, security, peace, happiness, joy and a sense of belonging.“

    Beverley, I don´t know if homelessness can be a choice, but I guess it takes a bit of luck to find a place where you feel at home. I am thankful for having this place, but sometimes I ask my self, if I´m getting too comfortable. In these moments, I think about going anywhere else to find new inspiration, because as all of you said traveling or living in different places has an inspiring influence on the way we think and write, it expands our horizon. However, to be honest, in the end I always reach the point where I realize that I don´t want to give up my home.

  14. Is “homelessness” the zeitgeist of our times? In her book “The New World Literature”, the German critic Sigrid Loeffler has argued that all the great post-1945 literature has been one of dislocation, hybrid personalities and so on. I agree with Jens (and not just about Bremen, which I also love!) that home is important, especially for writing. I, too, can – and do – write anywhere. But it always temporary, somehow still in the air, till I get home and type it up in my computer at home. P.S. With me, it’s Darjeeling, Jens, not cappuccino.

    • Profile photo of Philipp Boehm
      Philipp Boehm 6. January 2015 Reply

      I guess the importance of something like a home for the process of writing has to do with really inhabiting a place, which means: leaving the common roads in your town, getting to know the stories of the place. Back in the days when I was living down south, I used to work in a shelter for homeless people (actually: the “real” homeless ones, not the metaphorical homeless). Knowing this small parallel world in my hometown had a big influence on my writing for a long time, because suddenly I understood, that there is a lot going on of which I didn’t knew for a long time, a completely different daily routine, a “sub-system”, which functioned according to its own rules. Not only did it change my view on society as a whole, but also my perspective on living in a city and telling stories about it.
      Besides that, the word “home”, especially the german translation “Heimat” always makes me feel a bit uneasy. It makes me think not of the individual “home” but of the collective one, which is a battlefield for ideology still. So I guess I have something like a functional concept of home. But on the other hand I have to acknowledge that my writing, the images that come to my mind and the topics of my stories are all heavy influenced by the places I inhabit, especially the one I grew up.

  15. Profile photo of Nikolas Hoppe
    Nikolas Hoppe 8. January 2015 Reply

    Dear Deborah,

    you know the topic of “writing the other” is very important for my work too. I’m sitting on a novel about a german volunteer and an ugandan teenager who work and life with a japanese NGO and try to grow up in this transcultural mess. Reading you lines it seems there is a general problem in writing about the other, no matter where you are coming from. But writing about Uganda from a western point of view makes it, I think, even more complicated. Maybe even impossible. No matter the language, the topics or perspectives you choose. Since there is a western history (and presence) of reduced representation, “othering” and paternalism towards the african countries (greetings “Africa is a country”) you are on principal guilty to write another white and western novel about “Africa” that nobody is asking for. There is power of political construction. But there is power of aesthetic construction too. So maybe it is possible to write about “the other”. But certainly not without being guilty.
    In my novel I try to write about this guilt. I do not try to write a novel. I rather try to throw a novel away.
    In her “Talks on Writing Prose” Norah Bossong says: “We try to do evereything in a way that we can avoid feeling guilty about it. It is what has become the ‘good life’ here or 

let’s say the ‘virtuous life’.” I think she nailed it. The point is to remain guilty. No matter how often you admit the fact.

    Or is that stupid? Are we done with that “Crises of Representation” by now? What do you think, Deborah? Last year in Uganda writers told me they are looking forward to read my novel, to see their very own country with eyes from the outside. And Ugandan writer Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa claims on Nyana Kakoma’s Blog “Sooo many stories”: “Art is art. The ongoing debate about what constitutes African literature and an African writer is unnecessary. When you ask me what constitutes African literature, I feel that already you have tried to make literature your slave. Should it not be literature that talks about African issues, or European issues or Gypsy issues? Why must art have a race? And why must the artist be forced to fit into that race? Why can’t literature simply be a partner or a worker? And not a slave? If I wrote poetry drenched with the ideals of Western Capitalism, would it make me an American poet? If I wrote with the mind of a Gazan citizen, would it make me a Gazan poet? Would my poetry be accepted as Gazan literature? Art can be used to favour your cause but should not be enslaved to it.”

    What do the others think?Reference

    • Profile photo of Tom Schroepfer
      Tom Schroepfer 9. January 2015 Reply

      First: as it is my first comment I have to say that the high leveled speed of response in this blog is impressive(!); and second: Thank you Nikolas for the possibility to tie in with this.
      Our small Bremen-Group was talking about Ronalds ‘Walls and Borders’ in December at Bremen University, as one of us noticed that she was totally surprised as she realized that she is not addressed in this text. The text mentions physical, political and language borders she (and some others including me) never really thought about before, especially not about their meanings and importance for migration and diaspora in east africa. She/we (some of us) felt not addressed as white europeans/germans because of the naturalness the text speaks about these borders, not wasting any thought on explaining them to strangers. This naturalness of stating problems around these borders as normal as any other experiences with borders, created a gap in her/our perception, a gap between her/us and the text. This as an example – because it is this kind of gap that is one of the most interesting phenomena to me in reading, or to get in touch with a text. It is a gap that means not-understanding, that includes the impression of an ‘other’, something that is obviously different than what I expected. And by perceiving this obviousness I am able to talk about my so far hidden expectations (on the text). I love exploring such gaps, first: because the moments I can take a hold of such a gap are very rare but remarkable, second: they are one strange way to start a transcultural reading – transcultural reading as a method that involves parts of not understanding… something. I think it is quite a challenge not to bridge or fill such gaps (with ignorance, own thoughts…), but to take them as relevant pieces for… I’m losing concentration.
      But I’m writing this because I have a rough concept in mind of what a transcultural reading can be as a method or a mode of reading, but also, with this concept in mind, I always wondered ‘Tom, what could be a transcultural mode of writing?’. As I read your lines ‘In my novel I try to write about this guilt. I do not try to write a novel. I rather try to throw a novel away.’ I got something like a brief glimpse of a that. Maybe because it reminds me of a simultaneously condensing (constituting…?) and crumbling (shattering…?) mosaic…
      I’m looking forward to get a look at the first chapter of your novel! Do you experiment with the type face of your novel to get your efforts implemented?

      I hope it is ok with you, that my comment is not a direct answer to your question(s).

      • Profile photo of Nikolas Hoppe
        Nikolas Hoppe 9. January 2015 Reply

        Hey Tom,

        thank you so much for your reply. You say it is the gap, the not understanding, that is one of the most interesting things to you in reading. I also like the opposite. When I read a book by a so called foreign writer about a so called foreign culture. And realise the we have a lot in common. That I do understand the desires of the characters. That the conflicts and topics of a story can easily be found find in my own – so called familiar – life. To be outright: I like both. When there is understanding and not understanding at the same time. Bridges and gaps. When I find it hard to bear the contradictions. For me this could be the space of transcultural reading and writing.

        For me – there is a reason for not calling this blog “Bremen & Kampala – spaces of intercultural writing”. Since cultures – in my experience – are no static bubbles, not separated from each other, trying to “inter”act to overcome their differences and to discover their commonalities. I don’t know which shape “transculture” has. Maybe it’s a network or a bunch of strings. Maybe it has a structure similar to the infrastructure of the internet. Maybe it’s a lot of bubbles. Millions of bubbles. All of them cross-linked and influenced and permeated. Not cultures anymore. Maybe individuals. Also bade of bubbles, full of differences and similarities and everything in between at the same time.

        Sometime I try to look at this whole “writing the other” topic by putting the definition of culture into focus. One could say: “No, it’s completely not possible to write about the other! The other is too foreign!” His definition of cultures may be (over) static. There is no movement between cultures. There is foreignness on this side and familiarity on the other side. Now, one could say: “Yes, it’s completely possible to write about the other! The other is just like us!” His definition of cultures may be (over) dynamic. There are no differences between cultures. We are all the same.

        In my writing I try to find a way between these (over) static and (over) dynamic definitions of cultures. To put the word “culture” at least in bracket. Or putting the word “trans” in front of it. Finding out what this whole thing looks like.

    • Nikolas, “writing the other” is actually an interesting subject. I think we have to accept that we cannot truly fully portray other cultures from our own experiences or research. We can only go so far. When Ngugi writes “A Grain of Wheat”, he’s oscillating between two cultures, two peoples, the British Colonialists and the indigenous Kenyans. In my point of view, he does a good job, because he talks about premise from both sides. And the thing about the novel is that even though it is written by an African, if you put sentiment aside, you can understand the actions of both sides.

      What I am saying is that, “Writing the Other” is not easy but I think with the necessary experience of the otherness, one can do a good job.

      For reference, “A Wreath for Udomo” by Peter Abrahams also explores this concept.

      I believe one should use their writing to communicate something, if it is a bias, or the avoidance of a bias, let it be done. Or we must ask, do we write to please the other, or to reveal the other in our eyes?

    • Deborah Asiimwe 9. January 2015 Reply

      Hello Nikolas,
      Thanks for your questions. I also wrestle with the subject of writing the “other”, and I don’t think that there are easy answers to your questions. Since you lived in Uganda, you may be a bit familiar with the politics of the country. There was a time I was writing about the Northern Uganda civil war, and I constantly interrogated myself what legitimacy I had to write about a war that for the most part the Southern part of the country (where I come from) really ignored.
      That is all to say that regardless of the platform, the themes, the geographical differences, the subject of “otherness” is not easy to tackle. I am glad that Joel mentions Ngugi’s book. I find it very honest in the way he writes about the colonialists and the colonized. You may also want to read one his plays “I will Marry when I want.”

      Anyway, when I think about the whole subject of “otherness” what comes to mind for me is; how would you define the “other”? I think the discomfort or even fear of how to talk about the “other”, to write about the “other” is a relationship complex in which we see someone who is different from us maybe as an object or as a means to an end. But, what would happen if we see the “other” as another “I”? Would that affect the way we would want to talk about them, to represent them in our work, in our writing? Wouldn’t that relationship or view of the other maybe take on a spiritual dimension? You have probably heard of the “Ubuntu”/”Obuntu” (Humanness) philosophy of “I am because we are, and because we are, therefore I am”.

      I think we live in a world that constantly teaches that we are better off by denying the humanity of others. But in the process of that denial, we end up losing our own humanity before we have even had a chance to know who we really are. The question then is, how can we be comfortable writing about the other when we have lived in denial of our own humanness? In a sense, (I think) when we are writing about the other, we are asking ourselves to be one with another “I” (The other). The guilt then becomes our “safe” vantage point, which preserves us from the real commitment of being one with the “other”.

  16. Profile photo of Nikolas Hoppe
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    Crystal Rutangye 8. January 2015 Reply

    Deborah, I identify with the way you say living in the US influenced your view of the corruption in Uganda. Looking at the effects of unregulated aid for the developing world, did you develop a deeper appreciation for Uganda; a deeper sympathy for its status quo perhaps? A deeper understanding of how the country came to what it is now? Did Uganda still feel like the same home? Do you feel your writing is more or less defensive of Uganda, or just more objective? I find that this state of homelessness makes me less passionate about my original home and more, well, logical about it. More realistic even. When I did a blog about an internship in Cape Town, I was criticized for nearly mistaking the Cape to be the real Pearl of Africa. How unpatriotic of me! I was told. Before the internship, I would gladly write stanzas about Uganda’s natural beauty, the source of the Nile and all, and was quick to recite our ‘gifted by nature’ mantra to any listening visitor. But now, all I see is deteriorating natural beauty going to waste because of generations of Ugandans that have no idea what to do with it. It’s amazing what changing places can do.

    • That’s an interesting thought…. One needs to travel to find these experiences.

    • Deborah Asiimwe 9. January 2015 Reply

      Thanks Crystal! I would love to read that blog! There is no denying that Uganda is incredibly beautiful! Whether it is the pearl of Africa or not, that is another matter. That was Winston Churchhill’s conclusion after visiting British’s colonies. Even before I lived outside Uganda, I knew that there had to be better ways of doing things. That became so clear when I lived in Kampala, especially. I had spent 18 years of my life living in the country side. There were systems that worked well for the community in which I was raised. Then I moved to Kampala, and all I could see was chaos, as if everyone was disregarding anything that was considered beautiful and worth preserving. I knew that, that was not the way things were supposed to be. Like you mention in your comment above, moving and living outside Uganda makes me more realistic about my “home” country. Our society is very complex, and I think as a people we have learned to handle ourselves with kid gloves, we have learned not to take responsibility and not to have agency in our own affairs. We have learned to apportion blame. We have learned to not work because the politics of “aid” teach us dependency. We have embraced it and made it our culture. Yet, amidst all this, there is a section of Ugandans who dedicate themselves to make change in their small ways amidst inconceivable challenges. Regardless of how messed up the systems are, I know that our country has so much potential, and therefore we should not give up on her.

  18. Words in my favorite portrait as a girl, “You build a house with your hands, a home with your heart.” I agree Deborah that “homelessness” does indeed broaden our writings and as with the quote, the definition of home.

  19. deborah,thnx for that brilliant piece.actually my nerves has been pulled to change places.hah…sometimes realising that home is where there is amother i get to miss certain interesting happenings,there is really great néed of changing places.oooh…that was fab.

    • Deborah Asiimwe 9. January 2015 Reply

      Thank you, Recho! If your feet are itching to move, obey them. They might be saying something very special to you. Happy adventuring!

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    Nikolas Hoppe 9. January 2015 Reply

    I think I found how “interculture” and “transculture” look like!

    here comes interculture:

    here comes transculture:

  21. Deborah Asiimwe 9. January 2015 Reply

    :) I wonder how a combination of both would look like.Reference

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    Jens Laloire 10. January 2015 Reply

    Thanks to everyone for their deep and inspiring thoughts about “the other”. After reading your discussion I was thinking about the question, how much influence René Descartes “cogito ergo sum” might have on the European culture and way of thinking. To say that my own thoughts or doubts are proof that I and the world exist, is a very egocentric idea. I suppose, to think of yourself as “the center of the universe”, has a deep influence on your view of others.
    Like Arthur Schopenhauer once has written: “Every ant thinks, that it is the center of the universe”. I wonder if you could say that is a typical (sorry for generalizing) European perspective. What do you think?Reference

    • Profile photo of Tom Schroepfer
      Tom Schroepfer 12. January 2015 Reply

      Sure, european thinking and way(s) of perception(s) are deeply influenced by the insight (or cognition(!)) “cogito ergo sum”, so deep, that it is rooted in our everyday language (english, german, french, etc.). Do you know the sun-example?: When we say ” the sun shines’, we actually say ‘there is something/someone that/who is doing something’. In english we can even make it more precise by saying ‘the sun is shining’, an ordinary style (in german it would be a vernacular “Die Sonne tut scheinen” / “Die Sonne ist am Scheinen”). These languages do not allow us to think in a non-causal way, they deny us the way of thinking about something that is not acting because of its will, but nevertheless is existing/acting.
      So, the so-called ‘logical subject’ is deeply-rooted in most european languages, despite the fact, that the so-called ‘cradle of european civilization’, the ancient greece, thought about subject and an ‘I’ in a different way. I think it was Plato (and therefore also Socratics) who interpreted ‘subject’ and especially ‘soul’ as a temporary status that only exists (and that’s the important difference) if it is longing for, or better, reaching at something.
      In my simplified terms this is the huge difference in a concept of being, especially the diametrically opposition of one/me and the/an other. The difference of “I can state that there is an I, now I am able to recognize something/-one that/who is different from me” and “It is only possible to shape a (temporary?) I, if there is a tension between, or for, something(s)”.
      It’s not really thought through, but I guess this is one of various ways concepts of transculturality want to overcome and reflect the always hierarchical understanding of a european mode of perceiving world/the other…

      • Profile photo of Tom Schroepfer
        Tom Schroepfer 15. January 2015 Reply

        I forgot to enquire:
        Deborah, I looked up Ubuntu and found out that it is a word in Zulu – is there a philosophical movement behind?
        And could you find parallels between the ‘ubuntuan’ way of perceiving an I and the way I tried to describe Platos definition (something like an I, that’s only existing because of its longing and/or reaching for something/an other)?
        Are you familiar with Zulu? Is the underlying structure very different from the concept I draw of (most) European languages? And if so, would you say, that this idea of humanity is equally rooted in this language as the craze for subjectivization is in most Europeans? (is your Zulu-example exemplary/paradigmatic for other african languages?)
        And to ask an abstract question to everyone:
        How is ‘writing the other’ in languages, that don’t deal with that strict binary construction? Does that question even arise in this case? Does east-African oral poetry give a hint to that?

        • Tom, Greetings. You are right, Ubuntu is a Zulu word. But it is not confined only to the Zulu language, it is a word that comes from “Bantu”. Bantu is a group of linguistically related people who occupy the parts of East, Central and Southern Africa. The common characteristic of this group of people is that in their languages they use the word “ntu” or “tu” or sometimes written as “ndu” or “du” to mean people or a person. The prefix for “a person” is “(mu)ntu” or “(omu)ntu” or “(umu)ntu” or “mutu”. The prefix for “people” is “Ba” = “Bantu” etc.
          Yes, indeed there is a philosophical movement behind “Ubuntu” or ”Obuntu” (as pronounced in my first language, Runyankore)
          This philosophy of “Ubuntu” (“Human kindness”/ “Human goodness”) was especially popularized by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
          The philosophy of “Ubuntu”/”Obuntu” means that to be human is to be a collective, to belong to a community, to be an “ALL”. Not that an individual loses their individuality, but that when a part of the collective or community is affected, is suffering; the individual suffers and is equally/automatically affected. “The belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects ALL humanity”. In other words, an individual CANNOT live/exist without the “ALL”, and the “ALL” cannot be without the individual. The two cannot be separated. Thus, the interpretation of “Ubuntu”/”Obuntu” is “I am because we are, or we are because I am.”
          I don’t speak any language in the Southern part of Africa, but I know that the idea of “Ubuntu”/”Obuntu” is basically the same among the Bantu speaking people. This idea is for example deeply rooted in Runyankore, Kinyarwanda, Luganda languages.
          Something I would like to share that may sound far fetched to the topic at hand but, which I find quite related to this idea of “Ubuntu”; it is the way some people in Africa use three stone fire for their cooking needs. This is where three rocks/stones usually equal in size are placed circularly (depending on the size of the pot or cooking container, the circle can be small or relatively big. Also, the size of the rocks will depend on the size of the pot). Fire is built inside the circle space and a cooking pot or container sits on the three rocks, generally hanging well above the fire. The pot will not hold if one or two rocks are missing. The pot will be tilted if the rocks are placed haphazardly. The pot will not hold if any of the rocks is larger or smaller than the other rocks. The pot will not hold if any of the rocks is not as firm as the rest of the rocks. Whatever happens to the rocks, any of the rocks, will affect the pot and whatever happens to the pot will affect the rocks.
          Runyankore or any of the languages I have listed above that I am familiar with for example, don’t have gender specific pronouns. I think that is something that speaks to the idea of “We are because I am or I am because we are”.
          There are many cultures and languages that occupy the Eastern part of Africa, and I hope that my fellow writers can give their views here on cultures they are familiar with. But, to specifically speak about my own cultures folklore and oral literature, it is very much similar to what Mariya shares in her post. Even in our epic poetry, there isn’t just ONE heroic character. One person may be a hero in one moment and another in another moment, and by the end of the poem, you have a thousand heroes.
          Based on this, do you find any parallels in Plato’s definition of the “I” with the “Ubuntu” philosophy?
          Sorry, this is a lengthy and long-winded response, but I hope that somewhere inside this rambling you will find an answer to your question(s).

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    Nikolas Hoppe 10. January 2015 Reply

    by the way: Philipp Boehm makes an interesting distinction between ethical and technical questions concerning “writing the other”. You can find his comment on Talks on writing Prose:

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    Sophie Alal 11. January 2015 Reply

    Wow Deborah, your story has resonated with many of us. Most importantly, travels broadens the mind and writing too. I only became grateful about Uganda when I looked at it from afar.

    The concept of home is really abstract. It’s interesting how it’s simultaneously be negative when thinking of homelessness, mostly positive and even ambiguous. It means so many things all at once; where you hang your hat, where your old room is, where your loved ones hang out and celebrate their lives. Personally, I’m not sure any more how to explain it without talking about my own body. But whenever I feel the bump of a pothole, or brightly coloured fruit piled high on tables, I feel at home.

    Home is the expectation of familiar comforts. Home cooking. Speaking in my mother tongue. It is rootedness, in the sense of a physical place where I trace my ancestry. This is a privilege which few many people are losing considering the nature of capitalism. For instance every time I travel back to Northern Uganda, I’m comforted by the thought of knowing where the bones of my ancestors are interred. And yet there is always the fear that some investor might convert that into a plantation.

    Exile and travel can unravel certain fixed ideas of home. Fortunately, they also expand that sacred idea of physically being rooted within a culture. If one were to dare fall in love, you would see for yourself how love can play naughty tricks on the idea of settling down to make a home somewhere new. (Being welcome in many homes?)

    In the last decade I’ve done a fair amount of travel. These days home is the comfort of my own skin. For it’s incredibly unsettling to be in a new place with different cultures. It makes the awareness of being unhomed very acute. Some people call this homesickness, others call it culture shock. Usually it’s inherent in anxieties brought on by visa application processes, which can be nightmarish. Then the ritual passing through transit terminals, adjusting to different time zones, and reorienting the mind to differences in meaning, shapes and understanding of coded behaviour. All this reinforces a feeling of being unhomed or ‘homeless’. One thing I missed most when I lived in Tokyo was spontaneous laughter in the streets. But I found yam, pumpkin, and okra in my local market, so I could still home cook to keep the comfort of Uganda.

    • Profile photo of Deborah Asiimwe
      Deborah Asiimwe 12. January 2015 Reply

      Hey Sophie,
      Thank you for taking the time to read this post and for sharing your thoughts with us. You paint your words so beautifully, and your idea about home/lessness is something I want to take with me wherever I will lead my body, or wherever my body will lead me to.
      I absolutely identify with your idea of home and one’s own body (with all its senses and more) as being inseparable. That is why I think it is fascinating for me to see how my own body adjusts or refuses to adjust whenever I take it to a new place or subject it to the “unfamiliar” (well, what is familiar?). Right now, as I write this, I am experiencing terrible allergies which I believe is due to abrupt weather changes. I might stay with this condition until the spring or summer, or it might clear sooner. But, it is definitely my body asking me what I am doing to it, and a reminder that I don’t do well with the cold weather.
      Speaking about the rituals of traveling, the security metal detectors, the daunting burden of visa applications etc. In addition to all that, I am always intrigued by the similarity of airport structures, airport rituals and airport images – (duty free shops, coffee shops, tired passengers, rushing passengers, queues, booths, newspaper stands, bathrooms) In many ways they make me wonder whether I have departed at all. There is always a strange feeling in me as if I am always arriving and never quite leaving. It is as if these familiar images are always following me. As if the airport I left somewhere is the same airport I am finding at my destination.
      When you mention “homesickness”, I remember there was a time the things that used to drive me nuts about Kampala were the ones I missed the most; the crazy boda-boda riders, the organized chaos in our taxi parks, and potholes on Kampala Road. Of course, there were other things I missed like hugs, deep belly laughter, and speaking in some of Uganda’s indigenous languages.
      I think, now I know that my home/lessness inhabits my body, and I can’t separate the two.

  25. Alfdaniels Mabingo 12. January 2015 Reply

    Deborah, having lived as a nomad for the last five years, I share quite a number of experiences with you. My recollection of all these encounters is that home is a concept, feeling, not a geographically confined location. I have come to understand and appreciate language as a site where sensibilities sociality, curiosity, tolerance, being, and living commune. The idea of home or homelessness is weaved in the multiple ways in which we interlace with a miscellany of languages, and the meaning and expression that we construct (or derive) from being caught up in this cobweb. I would like to hear your experiences about how language has defined, undermined, compromised, refined, re/configured your sense of home(lessness) in all your migratory undertakings. Does home(lessness) have any location in your oscillatory ‘linguisticity’?

    • Profile photo of Deborah Asiimwe
      Deborah Asiimwe 12. January 2015 Reply

      Dear Mabingo,
      Wonderful to hear your thoughts! How is your nomadic life in Australia going?
      It is so interesting that you ask me about language especially at this time when I am living and working in a country whose language I unfortunately don’t speak. Language, I find shapes our being, how our brain functions, how our bodies move and gesture, what our eyes catch and what our ears are tuned to.
      In one of my comments above, I mentioned how my indigenous languages force themselves at the forefront of my writing whenever I am far away from these languages. I find that when I am not speaking these languages or interacting with them in anyway, they will manifest themselves at night, in my dreams. In many ways, I think that signifies the rootedness they have made in my body, and therefore a constant presence of who I am, of what defines me and therefore of what “home” may be to me.
      As you know, I use different languages in my writing, and there have been many moments where questions of translating texts, expressions, phrase from some of the African languages that I use into English. In some cases, I have found myself doing this, but in the end the original intended meaning is lost or it turns into a watered down version of what I really wanted to say. In those moments, my fallback is to read and re-read the words of Chinua Achebe “The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use. The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience.” And I find my balance again.
      On the flip side, this has taught me to think outside of my comfort zone and figure out ways and means to translating meaning. For someone reading the text, that is easy, because meanings and interpretations may be found in footnotes and appendices. But, in a performance, I have to think of other ways of not losing my audience. Again, Chinua Achebe guides me; “Let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English, for we intend to do unheard of things with it.” And I truly do and have done so many “unheard of things” with the English language.
      I have so many anecdotes to share where language has been a stepping-stone or stumbling block in my writing, as well as in my migrations.

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    Mariya Nikolova 15. January 2015 Reply

    Good morning, Tom, I will inhabit a part of this ‘everyone’ for the question at hand; especially because it is an enquiry that concerns many of us and lies at the heart of struggles to disband Euro-centric hegemonic structures. I am eager to hear Deborah’s take on this, and everyone else’s of course. I find answer to your question in Native American stories for children (in which you will never find one or three sons fighting three-headed dragons for the hand of one princess; the characters will never stand at a juncture with three roads, and their ‘quests’ don’t involve golden apples, nor do they resolve in a three-staged period). Instead, these stories follow their own rhythm (which points at a different narrative construction and is great for contesting the pattern of European individualistic quests). Sherman Alexie is great to read and watch here, for being swung between these two narrative dominions (his own inner contradictions reach a peak in the film ‘The Business of Fancy Dancing’; the poetry collection is a masterpiece as well). (Although Alexie does dissipate ‘the other’ when noting: ‘the thing that Columbus truly discovered is that in the absence of enemies we destroy our beloved’). Once you constitute that the binary pillars European modes of thinking to a great extent, you do ocean yourself to an openness of accepting that not only the prince doesn’t get the princess but that the prince wasn’t a prince on the first place (and never wanted a princess) (this is perhaps a fanciful example but it does correlate to our narrative constructions of I and the other). To rid myself of narrative (and not only) ceilings (and get a glimpse of bluer skies) I read Glissant (and greatly recommend it)!Reference

  27. Dear friends, thank you for this warm conversation.

    Hi Mariya, you’ve articulated perfectly what I think a good number of us are struggling with. False binaries. They seem to disproportionately underpin the concept of ‘otherness’, with regrettable consequences. Too often, they tend to negate or ignore common human values. It also further highlights the existential tensions within the cultures we have been raised in. Maybe the world is changing too fast, and we are inhabiting increasingly diverse spaces that require us to examine the relevance of expressions which we hold dear. Perhaps the other holds a mirror to us, and it can be real scary because that forces us to reckon with our own selves, our traditions, our history and identity. Yolanda Onghena says, “The more we doubt our own identity, the weaker it appears to us, and the greater our need to reinforce or reinvent it.”

    Is this the same Glissant who talks about Creolisation as a counterpoint to the binary us vs them?

    Tom, in your exploration of more contemporary African philosophy, you might find this article useful. It drops a few helpful names:

    It’s difficult to speak equivocally about language and yet Ubuntu philosophy has become a global phenomenon. I think it helps to be mindful of the various language families in Africa in order to understand the local understanding of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is to a South African what Tenne is to a Ugandan of Luo heritage. Tenne means to bring together,to join, to unify. Here’s an illustration. Kidi means stone. Kenu is hearth. When someone says, “Ten kidi kenu”, it translates into bring the hearth stones together. There’s something practical and beautiful in the coexistence of disparate elements. In this case three different stones coming together to support the cooking pot. Following from Deborah’s excellent explanation, many communities have a similar concept, but it is approached through a world view unique to them. Even those nerds at Firefox created Ubuntu for Linux :-)

    I fully agree with you Deborah. With Ubuntu, the strain of otherness falls away, and humanism takes root. It urges us to break the silence on cultural blindness, which renders many of us unable to imagine the “other” as a potential “I”. I think this is the blindness that dares us to question the humanity of people who are different from us. Anyway, now that globalisation has brought us closer together, what concessions can we make to foster understanding? It’s interesting that this baby christened “Transcultural” is being mainstreamed right after the failure of Multiculturalism, Multi Kulti. More than anything, I hope it can foster understanding.

    Last week Charlie Hebdo happened. PEGIDA and anti-PEGIDA marches took place. Boko Haram is on going, but quietly.

    The burden of white guilt from colonialism to the current excesses of neoliberalism –in which we are all complicit, exists. But does guilt without responsibility even mean anything? I’ve heard people in my family ask several times. I reply that in my culture, ideally, there is no place for guilt when restorative systems of communal accountability exist to give substantial justice. If you’ve killed a person, you perform mato oput, if you’ve committed a crime you undergo moyo kom or riyu tal. These rituals restore the oneness that has been broken. I mentioned that there is a movement for reparations growing among Afrodescendant communities, maybe that can help with the guilt. I don’t know, may be this is a spiritual quest just like that which Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and the Elders counsel about. Compassion.

    At least we agreed that things would be better for all of us in the long run if we set more value in one another, by respecting humanity in full, in a meaningful and substantial way. And that’s largely a matter of global political will. Meaning that the powerful and the powerless negotiate their rights and responsibilities from an enlightened perspective. UN anyone? IMF? World Bank? Highly unlikely, but on the personal level my husband concluded, “So, we have to make this work?”, I nodded in agreement and said, “Hm hm.”

    An enlightened perspective can save us from this “Crises of Representation” which Nikolas presents. Whenever I write something 2D, a friend of mine who is also in my writing group rolls her eyes and tells me something that goes like this, “Only journalists write monsters. Writers write human beings.” In other words no matter how monstrous or depraved a person may be, there are always itsy bitsy little details of their life that shows us us how human they really are.Reference

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Getting out there! How to find an audience.
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It was the end of the evening. I was the last one of twelve participants. I was 22 years old, extremely nervous, and maybe a little bit drunk. I’ve had three or four glasses of red wine, perhaps too much, but I had to calm myself down – this was my first stage appearance ever. I was standing in the spotlight which was too bright for me. I had a couple of pages with poems in my hands and a microphone in front of my face (I had never read with a mic before). The presenter introduced me and joked with the audience. I was too tense to listen. Then he addressed me directly, and from then on things were up to me. I bumped into the microphone and people in the audience started laughing, but I began reading – or rather: I tried to read. It was anything but a good performance. My voice was trembling, I was sweating, I read too fast, and (to be honest) my poems were actually really bad. But surprisingly, the event didn’t end in a disaster. I read my poems, I received my applause, and – most importantly – I survived.

1-poetry-slam-stage - Lagerhaus

This was my first experience of reading at a poetry slam. It was held at the culture centre Lagerhaus in Bremen – which was the only place in town that organized slams at that time. Nowadays there is a vivid slam culture in Bremen and these so-called ‘open mics’ are a good opportunity for authors to get out and present their texts to an audience. But, these kind of events are only suitable for specific types of texts. Where to go, if you are not a slammer? Where to go to present more complex poetry or prose writing to an audience? Why do people seem to be so much more interested in open mic sessions than in other forms of public readings? The Slammer Filet which is organized by the Tower club for instance is always crowded with students, whereas you usually don’t find more than a handful of people under the age of 60 at more conventional readings. 

So, the question for me was and still is: how to create a space for local authors of all kinds of genres to present their work? And: is there a way to bring the above mentioned audiences and generations together? In collaboration with the Bremer Literaturkontor I started a reading series called Doppelpack at the culture centre Dete last spring. Each time we brought together two writers of different generations for a public reading of their works. Afterwards, we opened the stage for other writers of all age groups to participate. Almost one hundred people between the ages of 16 to 80 showed up for these readings. They listened with dedication and gave some terrific feedback after the event. I loved it, and I hope that we will continue to make this happen.

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  1. Profile photo of Nyana Kakoma
    Nyana Kakoma 13. January 2015 Reply

    I believe that poetry is much easier to perform. You can use music, lighting and even audience participation to make your poem memorable. But what about people like me who write prose? How do I read my 3,000 words story to people? You know how those gatherings are: so much wine; short attention spans. Maybe if you circulate the story (a shorter version) prior to the event so that you then do a short reading and then talk about the story? I think it might be more memorable if people discuss it and try to understand why as the author you made certain decisions. Or maybe if you give it to someone who is naturally a performer to read it so that they add some character to the reading.

    I used to like the idea of Facebook notes but there are very few people who can outrightly tell you that you are writing crap. Most people will like your post without even reading it and you run the risk of thinking you are doing great when you really aren’t. Getting a group of people who can critique your work honestly is also a good way to start. It builds your confidence in as far as reading to a crowd is concerned and it really gives you an opportunity to actually work on your writing.

    My worry about the poetry slams, as you have mentioned, is whereas it is good for getting your name out, it isn’t so great for posterity. I may say I love Jens’ performances without even remembering one single poem. Which is why publishing is very important. We can read these poems, we can get personal interpretations of the poems and for posterity. The publishing industry is still struggling here but there are number of options for one to get published online. Some newspapers also have sections for short stories but publishing in general is something we still need to grow as an industry.

    Thanks for this.

    • Profile photo of Jens Laloire
      Jens Laloire 13. January 2015 Reply

      Dear Nyana,

      Yes, publishing is important, the more successful slam poets do that as well. But as I said somewhere else on this blog to Ronald, unfortunately, most of the slam poems lose a lot of their magic, if they are written down. So many of the spoken word performers publish them together with an audio, or someone like Dalibor Markovic published his poems on a pen drive.
      You´re right, it´s harder to read prose in front of an audience if you compare it to poetry slams (I think, for ordinary public poetry readings it´s hard, too). But there are quite a lot of public readings of prose writers in Bremen – and if they are famous, it could be that there are a lot of people in the audience. Last Sunday, I was at a public reading of the “LiteraTour Nord”, which is a reading series in Northern Germany, combined with a competition (from October to February six authors read in six cities and the winner gets 15.000 euros in the end). On Sunday, the Austrian novelist Robert Seethaler was reading. There were about 170 people in the audience. And there is a simple explanation, why there were so many people: his book has been in the top ten of the most important literature ranking in Germany for weeks (the ranking of the weekly news magazine “Der Spiegel”).
      For not so famous authors like me, who write prose, too, it´s not so easy to find an audience (I had readings with 100 people, but also with only 7). You have to build up your own group of followers and you have to promote yourself, and even tiny things like a good title of your event are important, too. The location is also very important. You should have a location, that has its own community, so that some people just come, because they like to go to events in this location – even if they don’t know you.
      Something else that helps me a bit during public readings is, that most of my stories are a bit satirical or humorous, so that the people laugh, sometimes. This is good for the atmosphere of public readings, but not so good for getting accepted as a serious writer in Germany. There are still a lot of people who think that literature can’t be serious, if it makes you laugh. How is that in Uganda? Is humorous prose common and accepted as serious literature?

    • Profile photo of Deborah Asiimwe
      Deborah Asiimwe 23. January 2015 Reply

      Hey Nyana,
      I hear you about “performing” prose. Given that my writing is always intended for performance, I have always wondered how a writer of short stories may benefit by hearing their work read out loud, especially if it is still work in progress. I think you are right about getting a performer who can read an excerpt of your prose before an audience, for example. If it were still work in progress, I would have different performers and have each read at least a page. That way, I would be able to hear the way it sounds, “see” it with someone else’s eyes, and that would give me an opportunity to decided whether what I intended to say is being said or not, and therefore to revise the story accordingly.
      If it is not a work in progress anymore and I want to be able to give my audience an understanding of the whole story, I would get three performers and pick excerpts that bring the whole story together, and have them perform it. (Speaking as a theatre person here), I would get a director to work with the performers for some few hours. This is all to say that I think it is helpful for prose writers to hear their work read out loud not by them, but by someone else.

  2. Profile photo of Nyana Kakoma
    Nyana Kakoma 15. January 2015 Reply

    “You have to build up your own group of followers and you have to promote yourself, and even tiny things like a good title of your event are important, too. The location is also very important. You should have a location, that has its own community, so that some people just come, because they like to go to events in this location – even if they don’t know you.” Great, great advice!

    There are a couple of humour and satire writers in Kampala that are respected. Most of them built their following as newspaper columnists. Some have gone on to publish books/chap books so I believe there are certain people that respect that as serious literature. One of such writers is Ernest Bazanye:

  3. Profile photo of Nikolas Hoppe
    Nikolas Hoppe 16. January 2015 Reply

    Not on how to find an audience but on how to find a schoolarship: Gloria Kiconco asked for an overview of international writer’s residence programs. Joel Benjamin Nevender once posted this link on Facebook:

    Are there any further tips? Deborah Asiimwe?

  4. Profile photo of Deborah Asiimwe
    Deborah Asiimwe 23. January 2015 Reply

    Hello Nikolas,
    Sorry for having taken long to respond to this. I am currently doing a writing residence at Akademie Schloss Solitude (, maybe, we can start from there. The other day, someone sent me this website: There is also a writing residence that is open to international writers. The Commonwealth Writers has workshops and residencies as well. There is one at Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown (FAWC). See the website here ( I am not sure what Gloria Kiconco writes, but given that my background is playwriting and theatre, I am more aware of playwriting and theatre making residencies. The ones I have shared above though are open to different writing genres. Also, my advice to Gloria is to get herself on as many mailing lists of as many writing support organizations like Femrite, Kwani? etc as possible. That way, she will be able to get to know opportunities that are out there. The other advice I can give Gloria is to make the internet her friend. I sometimes land on writing residencies by simply surfing the net. But, also Gloria, keep asking your colleagues, contemporaries and gather as much information as possible to determine what residences may work for you and what may not. I hope this is helpful.

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