Before putting pen to paper on the topic to be discussed below, I had to ask myself whether this page is the right channel of communication. Would it not be better to express such views through newsletter of the Malawi Writers Union (Mawu)? That would be better. But where is that newsletter?
Would it not be better to read the article as a memorandum before Mawu general meeting? But how often are such general meetings held and when was the last one held?
Since neither a newsletter nor a general meeting of Mawu has offered the facilities, would it not be better to keep the views just to oneself? This was not an option because the progress of Mawu and success of its members do matter to me.
As a professional body, Mawu is not quite self-supporting. That is has an office, and sometimes it holds semi-public meetings is due to donors like the Norwegian Embassy, FMB Bank, Dossani Trust and others.
Members are aware of problems writers face. The reading public is small. It is difficult to sell enough books and subsist on the proceeds, so what to do?
Two years or so a workshop was held at Liwonde, courtesy of donors. Several resolutions were passed on how to create the reading public. A catalogue of members’ books was suggested, so was a joint advertisement and regular programmes in the media.
Some members alluded to the close relationship that is known to exist between writers unions and ministries of Culture in other countries. Could a visit to some of these countries, especially Senegal and Ghana be worthwhile? This question was asked.
It was resolved that a Mawu delegation consisting of, among others, the Mawu president, the writer of this article, should go and see the minister responsible for culture and forward these ideas. There has never been a follow-up.
From time to time, the president of Mawu travels abroad to attend gatherings of writers unions from various countries. No doubt something useful is taken or brought from such jomboreese, but meetings are never held to appraise members on what transpired.
I am not here to find faults with anyone or group of persons, but just to think aloud on what needs to be done.
Our counterparts in the music profession are highly committed to publicity work. Hardly a newspaper issue circulates which does not feature musicians both renowned and debutantes. Again and again you read that musician X has cut an album.
Clients or customers are like fields. If you want them to yield something for you, you cultivate them. I think Mawu needs collective leadership. Members of the younger generation should be forthcoming and cooperate with the president in getting resolutions that were made implemented.
Now and again, young and eager men or women have called or visited me and said I want to be a writer. Tell me, they ask, how do I go about it? I have often told them that what I would tell them might not be enough and advised them to read my bookWhat the Achievers Teach about Success, especially the chapter on how to be a writer. Then I have told them to visit Mawu offices and seek further advice.
One of the basic problems facing writers both established and budding is getting one’s manuscripts published. Gone are the days of Montfort Popular Publications. As far as I know, there are no publishing houses locally incorporated which are dedicated to soliciting, examining and publishing manuscripts. To get published in Malawi, you have to find your own publisher and pay for it.
Being a self-publisher was the first step of some authors who later became famous. Jane Austen famous book Pride and Prejudice was first self-published. The book that first brought the attention of the world to genius of John Maynard Keynes was the Economic Consequences of the Peace. He paid the firm of Macmillan to publish it for him.
Mawu executive should meet and discuss how writers could receive help with publishing their books. There ought to be an institution offering credit to those who are unable to find a publisher.
No one is a writer until his or her manuscripts have been transformed into books and are in the workshops. If there are publishing houses ready to consider manuscripts, they should communicate with Mawu and Mawu should inform writers with waiting manuscripts.
So long as Mawu executive gives short shrift to getting manuscripts published and published books marketed, it is underperforming. Let there be collective leadership composed of the younger generation.