By Kye Makyeli
Passion. Charisma. Captivation. Vivacity.
These are just a few of the words that can describe Mrs. Beverley Nambozo Nsengyiyunva; a Ugandan writer strongly affiliated with the arts and women’s rights activism.
After her undergraduate stint at the prestigious Makerere University, and further being awarded a distinction in Creative Writing from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, Beverley took the world by the horns. Armed with a quill and ambition, she scooped a number of bulbous accolades as she went along. In 2010, she emerged first runner-up in the Erbecce-Press International Poetry Awards, which led to the publication of her first chapbook collection titled ‘Unjumping.’ She went ahead to start the Babishai Niwe (BN) Poetry Foundation, formerly known as the ‘Beverley Namboozo Poetry Award,’ for Ugandan women. In 2013, she was shortlisted for the Poetry Foundation Ghana Prize, and also long listed for the Short Story Day Africa Prize.
Her short stories, poetry and articles have graced local and international publications like Drumvoices Review, Kwani?, Copperfield Review and Feast Famine. And it is with that that I decided to catch up with this amazing lady so that we could introduce her to all of the ElleAfrique readership.
Who is Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva?
A writer, poet, activist, actress, world traveler, explorer, teacher, trainer, learner.
When did you first realize that writing was your calling?
From a young age as the passion grew, but I seriously called it my vocation when I turned thirty.
From whom or what did you draw your inspiration to write? What motivates you to keep doing it?
My father encouraged me to read from a very young age and, being a diplomat who travelled a lot, he brought home experiences of global cultures. I am inspired by deep emotions like betrayal, anger, heated passion, lust, parental love and social change mostly. I keep writing because I believe in writing for social change and that art does create important discourse and debate for shifting policies. I write for the aesthetics too.
Your brainchild, the Babishai Niwe (BN) Poetry Foundation. Tell us a little more about that.
It began in 2008 when I was a young mother and desired to create an impact that was close to giving birth to a child. Making the decision to become a stay at home mother, I invested a lot of time and resources to develop the project, especially since poetry was marginalized, hardly understood and women were constantly on the periphery. For five years, it has been the only poetry award for women in Eastern Africa. From 2014, it has grown to include the entire continent. The winners have performed on stages with world known poets and interacted with some of the finest poetic minds in the universe through festivals, workshops and publications.
A good number of people want to venture into creative writing, but are discouraged by the fact that writers get little pay or recognition for their work. What advice would you give to these people?
I would advise them to venture into it for the aesthetics first, to be drawn by such a hungry passion which alleviates their other causes. By doing so, even as they pursue income in other vocations, they will always come back to writing because that is what drives their creative soul. There will always be a place where they can make time for writing early in the mornings, in between breaks, write stories in their minds first and read a lot.
Do you have any personal projects in the works that you would like us to know about?
Yes, in a few years I would like to start a leadership academy for girls and women aged 15 to 20 years. The goal would be leadership through readership. By focusing on reading, they will build confidence, character and charisma, thus creating a better environment for themselves for personal and global growth.
Recently, in light of the passing of the Anti-Pornography Bill, a young lady was publicly undressed for having been clad in what was deemed as “inappropriate clothing.” Do you think that this new Bill contains a form of bias towards women in this country in any way?
There has always been a bias towards women in varying degrees. If you are exceedingly brilliant, rich, good-looking, industrious or enterprising, sectors will regard you as unmarriageable or too manly, as if marriage is every woman’s goal. Many sectors also despise women who have made personal choices of entrepreneurship or vocation because their empowerment frightens their traditional and conventional ways. The bill is just a reflection of how structures intend to confine women to heinous and tiny constructs that are meant to belittle and torture them psychologically and physically. The bill is also concealing a bigger agenda of the policy makers. Men who are undressing women are just revealing their animalistic capacities which have always been there. The bill is an advancement towards a very unfortunate time when we should be celebrating women’s achievements and working towards improving health and the economy.
What do you do in your spare time, when you’re not indulging in your ‘creative writer juice?’
Swimming, dancing, travelling, parenting and reading a lot.
Many African women have looked to their natural side and embraced their ‘nappy,’ or natural hair, and you are one of them. What persuaded you to make that decision?
It was more of convenience and experiment. I am blessed with good natural hair which grows fast so the decision was easy. It is also very convenient since I spend a lot of time as a stay at home mother as well.
What is your definition of a true African woman?
To answer that question, I will have to unravel the multiple identities from the continent and that will take more than a life-time.