How Zambia’s modern literary movements are nurturing talent

bird story agency Kenya July 3, 2024

Oliver Ochieng, bird story agency….

Zambia has a rich literary history, cultivated in the past by groups like the New Writers Group and the Mphala Creative Society. These organizations have nurtured world-renowned authors such as Binwell Sinyangwe and Ellen Banda-Aaku, among others.

However, a new wave of modern literary groups is emerging, promising to develop and elevate talent while continuing Zambia’s rich literary tradition. These groups provide crucial networking and empowerment platforms, especially for entry-level creatives, ensuring the next generation of Zambian authors thrive in a fast-changing digital world.

“Zambian writing is expanding, a lot of good writing has come out of the country in recent years,” Mubanga Kalimamukwento, founder and editor-in-chief of Ubwali Literary Magazine, explained in an interview with bird story agency.

Writer and brand strategist, Mukandi Siame is one of the latest beneficiaries of the ecosystem’s ongoing growth after she was announced winner of the inaugural Hope Prize, a collaborative award by two digital magazines, the Ubwali Literary Magazine in collaboration with Shenandoah.

Kalimamukwento who is known for her 2019 novel, ‘The Mourning Bird’, founded the Minnesota-headquartered magazine as a volunteer-run publication to support Zambian writers. Shenandoah is a US-based digital publication.

“The editors came together because they observed a lacuna in the digital publication and archiving of Zambian stories, essays and poetry. Ubwali Literary Magazine’s core mission, therefore, is to publish and promote work by Zambian artists,” she explained.

“The Hope Prize, run in collaboration with Shenandoah, is an extension of that mission,” she added.

Siame won with her essay, “Like Mother” in a star-studded five-man shortlist that included Gerry Sikazwe, a Zambian poet and author of collections of poems ‘Words That Matter’ (2018), Mutinta Nanchengwa, an avid reader and writer who sits as an ordinary board member on the Zambian writing cooperative, Myaambo, Anna Zgambo who studies creative writing at Open Window University and Emily Pensulo, a Zambian writer and economist.

Siame’s stories ‘Landing On Clouds’ and ‘No Strings Attached’ were runners-up in the Zambia Women Writers Award, and Kalemba Short Story Prize 2023, respectively.

While the win includes a US$500 prize and publication in the fall issue of Shenandoah, Siame explains that the recognition’s impact is profound.

“I had motivation but not much direction. Ubwali has bridged the gap with resources and teams that offer insight. Aside from the excitement, the warmth of community and support from other writers and readers, now I know that mastery is possible and within reach,” she explained in the interview.

Going by her mantra ‘great stories can change the world,’ Siame said she hopes that her writing can bring tangible transformation within individuals and communities.

“I hope my writing can become so good that it’s transformative. If it can make a person think, feel, or act then it has done something. On a technical level, I am often refreshed by an inventive, clean or poignant sentence and I hope others can enjoy that with me,” she explained.

“Out of personal curiosity, I like to explore the humanity behind people’s actions – even my own. It’s not easy because it’s a reactive space with a lot of vulnerability. But being human is the best thing we have and that’s what will change the world,” she asserted.

Siame was declared winner of the inaugural Ubwali Hope Prize after undergoing a multi-stage selection process that starts at submission.

According to Kalimamukwento, all unsolicited submissions are blind-read by readers and writers from around the world who help sieve through the submissions. Afterwards, from the finalists (for publication), section editors make independent selections.

The writers who go on to get published are all eligible for the Hope Prize. After publication, the section editors (4 in number) select the best 1-3 pieces in their genre, and the winner is selected by the Editor-in-Chief.

“Through the donations we receive, for instance, we are able to pay all our artists a small token for their art. After publication, we nominate them for awards. We also follow their post-publication progress and make a point of celebrating their successes beyond the magazine,” Kalimamukwento explained.

Other notable literary initiatives include the Kalemba Writing Prize, introduced in 2017 to honour contemporary Zambian short fiction. Additionally, Myaambo, a cooperative of Zambian writers, publishes an annual themed anthology showcasing the diversity of Zambian fiction.

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