In Conversation With Harriet Anena

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This topic contains 45 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  Mable Amuron 4 months, 1 week ago.

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  • #20566 Reply

    Byagaba Roland
    Keymaster

    This week in the Obukiko Forums, we have Harriet Anena. Harriet Anena is a poet, and journalist, essayist, teacher, editor and writer from Gulu, Uganda. She is the author of A Nation In Labour – a poetry collection. Her poems have been published by Prairie Schooner, Lawino Magazine, African Writers Trust, African Sun Press, Babishai Niwe Foundation, The Real G Inc, among others. In 2013, she was shortlisted for the Ghana Poetry Prize.  Harriet Anena was named as joint winner of the 2018 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa for her book A Nation in Labour. Her short stories have featured in the Caine Prize anthology 2013, Sooo Many Stories, Bookslive and Writivism, among others. She finds great pleasure in bullying words for poetic pleasure. Anena has been accepted to Columbia University, for an MFA in Creative Writing and is currently fundraising for the course that starts in August 2019 with a GoFundMe page and had a poetry and music experience in Uganda on the 28th, 29th and 30th of June.

    Procedure for participation is simple:

    • Scroll to the bottom of this page and use the form there to ask your question or hit reply to one of the existing responses and use the form to reply to that.
    • Ask your question and wait for Anena’s reply.

    Anena will enter the conversation at 12 noon EAT and exit after 2 hours/when we run out of questions/when he is tired, whichever comes first. But you can leave your question before the session starts and he will answer when the session starts.

  • #20572 Reply

    Ronald Ssekajja

    Hello Anena,

    Congrats on such a wonderful show last weekend. I was greatly amazed by the theatrical transformation, what is the secret to transform written poetry to performance poetry

    • #20588 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      Hello guys,
      Sorry I’m late to this. I’ll try and answer all questions.

    • #20590 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      Hi Ronald. Thank you! I’m glad you could make it to the show.
      I believe that my director understood my vision and my work which made it easy for her to help me translate the poems from the page to the stage.

      • #20605 Reply

        Byagaba Roland
        Keymaster

        Really bummed I wasn’t able to make it to any of the showings 🙁 . How different was this from your last performance, ‘Bow from my boobs’? How have you evolved as a performance since then?

  • #20573 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    Hello Harriet. I am a big fan of yours. You inspire me. Kakati, let me jump in right away with this question, growing up, who were some of the poets that you looked up to?

    • #20591 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      Hello Mable, thank you! Nice name meanwhile.
      The first poems I read were Okot p’Bitek. Then in high school, I read Henry Barlow’s Building the Nation and all the poems that were on the set text. Otherwise, I read Mills & Boon more than anything 🙂

  • #20574 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    What writers did you enjoy reading as a child?

    • #20592 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      I enjoyed Okot p’Bitek, Soyinka, Ngugi Wathiongo, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi Wa Mwiri, Ayi Kwei Armah. Coincidentally, most of these writers were on the set texts for high school.

    • #20630 Reply

      Mable Amuron
      Keymaster

      Thank you!!

  • #20575 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    Often times, african parents are not very supportive of some the avenues that their children want to pursue. I know someone who’s mother abhors the fact that they write for a living. Have you had this same issue?

    • #20593 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      The lack of support to writers generally, not just poets, comes from the misinformation and misconception that arts don’t sell. A parent would rather their child is a doctor or pilot, someone with an office. As a writer, my office is in my head, on the tip of my pen, on the pages I bleed on. While my dad is an avid reader and introduced me to reading early, he wanted me to study law. Of course he was disappointed when I took a different path. He is proud of me now. And I don’t hold anything against him, because it’s the system that makes it hard for one to earn from their art. And for any parent, they would want to see their children earn something tangible after school.

  • #20576 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    How did you get started as a poet?

    • #20595 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      My writing journey began in 2003, when i entered a writing competition and won. Thereafter, writing became a routine, but mostly because i had questions i needed answered, i needed to imagine what life outside the war-torn northern Uganda was. Everyone was so busy trying to stay safe and alive to answer my questions, so I bled them on a page, and felt a sense of release after. Until 2013, I had been writing for myself.

  • #20577 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    I know that poetry isn’t the only creative medium that you express your self in, but I have to ask, why poetry?

    • #20596 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      Honestly, I don’t know. Like I said earlier, I read more novels than poetry while growing up. But I guess Song of Lawino left an imprint whose impact I didn’t know was as big until now. I made a gamble with that one poem in 2003, and never looked back, even when I wasn’t sure what I wrote was actually poetry proper.

  • #20578 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    How was the idea of A Nation In Labour conceived? Congratulations on winning the Wole Soyinka Prize!

    • #20597 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      A Nation in Labour – the title poem of my debut collection, was born in 2012, a year that the office of the prime minister was engulfed in a cash scandal. Donors had cut aid, while others withheld it. It was also the year Uganda was celebrating it’s 50th year of attaining independence from the British. There were voices telling the donors, we don’t need your aid, you can take it, while others were pleading with the donors to reinstate funding since it was the ordinary man suffering. In all those exchanges, I saw confusion and contradiction and dishonesty and pride and suffering and uncertainty. Don’t women in labour feel the uncertainty I was seeing and hearing and reading about? Definitely. So I wrote a poem which paints Uganda as a woman in labour, a woman who is unsure whether the baby will come out still or alive, and what it’s future will hold.

  • #20579 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    Can you guide us through how your poems develop?

    • #20599 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      My poems get born out of things and people I see, hear, read about and imagine. And that happens all the time, so how do I know this is what i should write about. It always just hits me, a hit that can’t be ignored. So when that happens, i write the poem down immediately.

  • #20580 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    What is your writing process like?

    • #20601 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      Once I have been struck by an idea, I’ll write it down, then leave it to fallow. I’ll go back to it and rewrite, edit then share it or keep it for later submission elsewhere.

  • #20581 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    How do you manage to fit writing in with other demands on your time?

    • #20604 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      It’s about planning really. You can have one job a day and still fail to accomplish what you are suppose to. The realisation that writing is my life keeps me going. Even if I have a different 9-5 job, I have to find time for my writing, whether it being at midnight or 4am. Time is never enough so I create it.

  • #20582 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    I love that you’re an editor by the way. This is something that I want to do professionally, do you have any advice for me?

    • #20606 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      Thank you. I developed my editing skills while working at the Daily Monitor but studying journalism also helped a big deal. The trick is to read and know the rules, so that when someone sends you work with the rules broken, you’ll be able to identify it. So for a start, I’d suggest you read a lot, know the grammar rules so that you can break or correct them accordingly. Also look out for editing courses, especially if you want to edit creative writing. Short Story Day Africa (SSDA) runs an editing mentorship program yearly. One of the people who went through the SSDA program is my editor; very professional and thorough guy.

    • #20610 Reply

      Byagaba Roland
      Keymaster

      Related…A Nation In Labor wasn’t edited in Uganda because, as per that interview with SMS, you failed to find editors you were confident in here. What are your thoughts on this service in Uganda now? Have there been positive changes since then?

  • #20583 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    Tell us about some of the books you’ve enjoyed.

  • #20589 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    Congratulations on getting into Columbia University and I pray that the financial aspect of it is sorted out soon. What do you hope to achieve with the MFA?

    • #20608 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      Thank you. Fingers and toes crossed about the money. I’m looking forward to sharpening my writing craft, making use of the networks and people who move and make things work in the writing industry there. Despite my strides as a writer, I’ve never really studied creative writing, and so I hope getting into the course will make me even better at what I have been doing.

      • #20625 Reply

        Byagaba Roland
        Keymaster

        The trend for African writers after going to outside countries for further studies in writing is to stay there. I understand the reasons and the main one seems to understandably be that the opportunities are better over there. Is this a potential outcome for you or are you determined to come back and use the knowledge gained there to uplift the sector here while on the ground?

  • #20594 Reply

    Mable Amuron
    Keymaster

    How do you get inspiration for the stories and the poetry that you write?

    • #20609 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      My poems and stories come from observing, watching, listening, reading, eavesdropping, etc. I then sieve the different things i’m expose to basing on what appeals to me most and write about them.

  • #20598 Reply

    Byagaba Roland
    Keymaster

    Hey Harriet. What are your most important tips for those looking to self publish? I saw somewhere that you have 2 poetry collections waiting to be published and released. Will you self publish again? Why or why not?

    • #20612 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      A Nation in Labour is self-published. Once I realised that I was not going to get a publisher, I invested in an editor. A lot of times people give their work to teachers, friends, family members or journalists. While these can give you valuable feedback, often at no cost, it’s important to invest in a professional editor who will do proper chopping and mending or even discarding.

      • #20627 Reply

        Byagaba Roland
        Keymaster

        Solid advice. What about post production? What strategies have you used to make sure you recoup the money invested and do several princess runs?

  • #20600 Reply

    Pius Andru’da

    Just so you don’t survive the usual question 😂, how do you deal with writer’s block?

    • #20615 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      I no longer suffer from writer’s block. I have trained myself into a routine of writing daily. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a word, a paragraph or a page. But it takes persistence to get to that place of habit.

  • #20602 Reply

    Hadijjah Sebunya

    Hey Harriet. Wonderful show. Quick question, when you perform a poem, what audience do you have in mind for those poems and what do you want them to take away from the show. For example nation in labor.

    • #20621 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      I don’t think about the audience when writing and I also don’t prescribe what they should take away. All I go with is my package of performance. If the audience sees what my content carried, so be it, if they see other things, also fine. I believe that audiences are smart enough to discern what they can from any piece of art and so they don’t put them in any kind of box. In fact, often times, my readers and audiences have pointed me to stuff I didn’t know existed in my work.

  • #20603 Reply

    Byagaba Roland
    Keymaster

    I think it was your interview with Soooo Many Stories where you also mentioned there’s a children’s book in the pipeline. What can you tell us about its contents? Why a children’s book?

    • #20622 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      yes. I am not at liberty to share any details for now. But the novel is being published by Storymoja Publishers.

      • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by  Harriet Anena.
  • #20607 Reply

    Byagaba Roland
    Keymaster

    Considering the political tone of a lot your poetry, do you see yourself joining politics to try and directly address the issues you highlight in your art?

    • #20624 Reply

      Harriet Anena
      Participant

      Lol. No. My tools are my pens and paper. The only time I’ll address a crowd is when I’m presenting my art.

  • #20628 Reply

    Harriet Anena
    Participant

    Thank you all for the questions. It’s been a pleasure.
    Cheers!
    H. A

    • #20629 Reply

      Byagaba Roland
      Keymaster

      Thank you for making the time, Harriet. Best of luck with fundraising and the MA.

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