‘More Malawians want to publish books’

This week, our reporter Ayami Mkwanda engages Malawi Writer Union President MIKE sambalikagwa Mvona on a wide range of issues affecting writers in Malawi. Excerpts.

Mvona: Many budding writers have now graduated to become established

Q

: How much progress has the Malawi Writers Union made under your administration since being voted back to office in 2007?

A

: Since being voted back in 2007, a lot of progress has occurred in the union. We moved from NBS House in Limbe to Development House in Blantyre. Later we moved to Bhana House on Livingstone Avenue where we stayed for two years before we moved to CLAIM Building on Glyn Jones Road where we are now. As a writing body, we have managed to publish several anthologies, poetry and short-stories. One of  the anthologies, The Bachelor of Chikanda and Other Stories was in 2011 selected to be read in Senior Secondary School Syllabus as a core textbook. But later the curriculum changed and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology called for new bidders. The union did not tire but responded to the call by sending in new titles. Against all odds, we managed to get three of our titles, The Conductress & Other Stories, The Time Traveller of Maravi – New Poetry from Malawi and Kusintha Maganizo ndi Nkhani Zina on the Senior Secondary School Syllabus.

Above all, my leadership has put sanity in the union. Members are encouraged to write seriously, whether poetry, short-stories or even novels. We have a vibrant library in our office for our members’ references, reading and updates. My work at the Union is to give counsel and direction to members’ writings. Things like the type of writings our readers cherish to read, the behaviour of our writings on the market, how they should write and present their writings to our valued readers, and how to write in general. I spend most of my time looking at members’ manuscripts, give them direction and how they should be improved apart from the general administration and welfare of our writers. There are also literary competitions to be looked into so that they should be sustained. Currently, we have three competitions running and we are looking for more so that our writers are busy throughout the year, for in competitions, our writers advance their writing skills. These apart, I am also involved in writing proposals for sustenance of the union.

 

Q

: We heard that Mawu published Ananiya Ponje’s book against his will. Tell us why the union did this?

A

: Ananiya Ponje’s book was one of the winners of the 2013 Peer Gynt Literary Award. One of the rules was that the three winning scripts, would be published with an international printing press. And prior to this, an international editor, Pam Thornely of South Africa, was engaged to work on the scripts. But just like any other published works, there are always some silly errors that arise, and Ponje’s had a few, like some of the words which were supposed to be in italics were not in italics. This could be the fault of the printer as some of these machines hardly such jargons. One or two minors were detected on the back cover, which one can hardly notice. But that’s all about it. As a mother, we adhered to the author’s suggestion not to put the book on the market and the union further suggested to the author to burn all the copies in front of the media, including the stakeholders and the Copyright Society of Malawi.

 

Q

: Another issue is that of anthologies Mawu publishes. Does the union pay the authors?

A

: Of course yes, we do. We pay all the contributors at an agreed amount, plus a copy of the book. But when the book has been picked to be read at classroom situation as indicated earlier in the three selected books, the contributors are/will be written a fresh contract that will see them receiving royalties on every book or consignment sold. This will encourage our writers to write more as they will also be enjoying their economic rewards for their sweat. This is Mawu’s arrangement, not other publishers as you will find out.       However, such arrangement sometimes doesn’t work as it happens that at the time of publication other contributors are either dead, have disappeared or their current addresses are not known.

 

Q

: How do you rate the progress and vibrancy of the Malawi Writers Union under your presidency?

A

: Quite vibrant. Writers are now writing and everyone wants to publish a book. Almost everyday I receive calls or a new member at the secretariat to become a member. We are not talking of only beginners but also the established. Those who had doubts in the sanity of the Union are now coming in full force with their works either to be edited or counselled. Many budding writers have now graduated to become established after they have been assisted and published their books. Right now there is a backlash or heaps of manuscripts to be edited. There is a lot of excitement and we are receiving many enquiries from well-wishers and would-be donors for sponsorship including those outside the country. Mind you, my leadership is not only for Mawu. I have been vice president of the International Authors Forum [IAF], responsible for the African Region and Asia. IAF is a global body for authors and I am also board Chair of Artsa Sacco, a financial microfinance institution for all artists in the country.

 

Q

: How did the union manage to source funds for the Peer Gynt Literary Award in publishing the three books?

A

: According to the proposal we submitted to the former Norwegian Ambassador, AsbjornEidhammer, he saw the need to advance writing and publishing of more quality books in the country. He personally sourced international judges like Jack Mapanje and Ellen Aaku Banda and flew them to Malawi to preside over the award. As a writer himself, he made sure everything was put in the right place. However, the current administration at the Norwegian Embassy is equally good. It has further expanded the Cultural Support Scheme to become the Cultural Fund which is equally inclusive and relevant. Mawu is applauding Hivos and the Royal Norwegian Embassy for sustaining this lucrative contest which has since been rebranded, National Literary Award (Nala). n

 

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