Crémoux Le Roux Marguerite

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Summary : “Writing to keep on living: FEMRITE – Ugandan Woman Writers Association”

Two generations of women got together in the middle of the 1990s in a small office at Makerere University, Uganda, to talk about literature, about their hopes and fears and their wishes to be seen and recognized on the national literature stage. Twenty years later, it is now three (if not four) generations of women that come together in this small house on Kira Road, Kampala. Some were born before the independence of the country in 1962, others have never known the time of dictatorships of Amin and Obote. Yet, their age gap, their ethnic and language differences have no consequence in this place.

Their goal? The first “dream” was to get women published, to get women on the stage of Ugandan and African literature. Who could described the violence they had suffered, the loss and assaults they had been through, the courage and resilience that had to be found to survive the horrors of the civil war – who could described women’s journey and fight but women?

Yet, with time and the end of the dictatorships, the association grew and changed. The goal was no longer just to get women who already had texts and words lying around published. Their new agenda was set to help, push and propel women and girls into the world of literature. The many anthologies published by the association are the result of workshops and residencies where those who participate are taught and trained about fiction prose writing, poetry, characterization, but also editing, … FEMRITE gives a place where one can find space and quiet to write, rewrite and exchange on texts and ideas.

Themes changed as new generations joined: the shadow of the dictatorships slowly disappearing in the distance to leave room to more resent topic such as the bush war led by Joseph Kony in northern Uganda, the social problems resulting from corruption and the inequalities it creates (transformation of education into a business, strong capitalisation and growing presence of Chinese investors, auto censorship …), the conflict between the aspiration of becoming a modern and working woman and the weight of traditions and social expectations.

By looking at the evolution and development of FEMRITE, I will try to question and analyse how a women’s association is trying to make a difference for Ugandan women by giving them the space and support needed to make their voice heard despite the weight of the past and present. Moreover, a generational approach will enable me to depict the different kind of political violence women faced and how some may have evolved, grown or diminished. I will illustrate this analysis by firstly using the poems of Susan N. Kiguli and the prose of Mary Karooro Okurut that will represent the first generation of authors; and the short stories and poems by Lillian Akampurira Aujo, Regina Asinde, Beatrice Lamwaka, and Hilda Twongyeirwe for the second and third generation; and secondly, their own words that I collected threw a series of interviews in which they explained their texts and their choice of themes.

When asked to one member of FEMRITE “what does FEMRITE represents to you”, she summed it up by saying “FEMRITE is firstly the place where you can really meet fellow authors, men or women, but it is most importantly a place where you get a connection with people who understand your struggle.”

Marguerite Crémoux Le Roux est étudiante en master II littérature à l’université Paris IV Sorbonne.