“Poetry is sacred. It means everything. It is my first and truest love,” says Grace Sharra. “It allows me to express myself in the most satisfying and therapeutical manner. You may say it sanctifies me”.
The young poet, who is also a short story writer, editor and translator, recently came out second in a continental poetry competition called Babishai Niwe Poetry Contest, which is administered in Uganda. From 2000 entries, the list was trimmed to 11, and she was there with her debut entry, My letter to You.
Sharra has crafted over a hundred poems. Some have been published in local media, but many others are yet to be in the public domain.
The 31-year-old, from Ntcheu, has several poems and short stories in various anthologies. Her popular short stories include ‘Sacred Vows’, which appears in a book titled Familiar Stranger published by Claim Mabuku; ‘We Wear The Mask’ in A Place Apart book authored by Asbjorn Eidhammer [former Norwegian High Commissioner to Malawi]; and ‘Tomorrow Will Come’ in War Drums are Beating, a book by Alfred Msadala, who is Pen Malawi International president.
She is also proud of Ichabod, Tomorrow Has Come, Woman, Myopia, which are among her great poems published in local newspapers and magazines. She has also published short stories and feature articles.
“I never discovered poetry; poetry discovered me,” she declares. “I grew up in a strong cultural setting. The way we lived in our village back then, was all poetry,” she adds.
As a young girl growing up in the village, Sharra remembers going to fetch firewood with girls of her age, and singing as they returned home, with bundles of firewood balanced on their little heads.
On holidays, she and her siblings would go and visit her grandmother, who was a great storyteller.
“She moulded our thinking and values in many wondrous ways that included singing. Those were the days,” she recalls.
Apart from that, Sharra explains that her father is one of the people who believe that books are the greatest wealth anyone can amass.
“I grew up with lots of books and magazines. There was always something to read in my home. Somehow, by the time I turned eight, I had already started writing poetry and short stories,” says the poet.
Despite all the love she has for the pen, the Babishai Niwe Poetry Contest was the first competition she entered, and says she submitted her entry to see how her poetry would fare.
Describing her winning poem, My Letter to You, she says it is a sad one which talks about falling down and rising up.
“It is about having a high degree of determination and that indomitable will to rise up and own up your grief only wiser. It is a promise to be less trusting and not still being so naive to expect kindness or loyalty. It is a product of sad amusement about many things that have gone wrong in our society,” she explains.
Commenting on Sharra’s poem, Beverley Nambozo-Nsengiyunva, the Ugandan writer, poet, actress and literary activist who founded the Babishai Niwe (BN) Poetry Foundation, said the poem impressed for its theme, composition and inventiveness.
She described Sharra’s poetry as unique in the sense that she writes with confidence.
“The form of the epistolary is revised and deployed to achieve certain intimacy; this poet has great promise,” she said.
Resonating with Nambozo-Nsengiyunva, president for Malawi Pen, Alfred Msadala also commended the woman of the pen on her work, saying: “People say we cannot continue to practise because of lack of publishing avenues, but that is committing homicide of the muse in oneself. What she has achieved is so impressive, and as a country, we must all be celebrating.”
In general, however, Msadala observes that Sharra has a natural gift of intelligence and a good observer.
“With her current trend, I can see a lot of potential in her. Writers in Malawi and within the region get a lot of discouragements but those who persevere make it big and I believe she is one of the persevering type,” he says.
Sharra dreams of publishing her poetry collection and reaching as many people as possible.
“I want my poetry to kiss all the corners of this world,” she says.
A language teacher at Mitundu Secondary School in Lilongwe, Sharra, the ‘Miss Principled’ as described by her friend Wanangwa Mzumara regrets, among other things, that people perceive others based on what they write.
“They always associate the persona in the poem with the author, which can be frustrating to say the least,” says Sharra
Apart from that, she notes that it is not easy to publish poems in Malawi.
“Many people do not appreciate poems, let alone poets,” she adds.
The mother of an eight-year-old daughter, Destiny, was born and raised in Ntcheu’s Austen Village, Traditional Authority Makwangwala, where her parents still live.
In 2010, she obtained a Diploma in Education from Domasi College of Education and is now reading for a degree in education at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College.
She has been a teacher at Dedza Secondary School for seven years [2011-2018] before moving to Mitundu Secondary School early this year.
Reading, writing, having a quiet time with her nieces are some of the things she likes to do in her free time. She also likes discussing literary stuff with her literary comrades.
She believes that poetry is a powerful tool that can be used to fight the evils in our society.