AWT EDITORS WORKSHOP WAS AWESOME

By Crystal Rutangye

The month of June 2014 was an exciting one for Kampala’s litterateurs. After celebrating Jennifer Makumbi at the Commonwealth Writers prize-giving dinner, then having a panel discussion on Sustainable Writing – all after a one-week non-fiction writers’ workshop – the literary jamboree ended with a Writivism festival that ran almost concurrently with the phenomenal African Writers Trust Editors’ Workshop.

THE EDITORS WORKSHOP

It all began on Sunday, 15th June 2014, at Entebbe airport, where the international participants were picked up. First came Clifton and Otieno from Kenya, then Lydia and Olivier from Rwanda. By 6:30pm, they were checked into their rooms at Sir Jose Hotel in Bunga, along with six other participants from Uganda and one from Tanzania. There was a bit of a hyper buzz in the hotel corridors as faces were matched with the names shared in prior emails, during the preparation process.

The workshop venue was about a ten minutes drive from the hotel, so after a good breakfast on Monday morning, the participants were chauffeured off to the African Centre for Media Excellence conference room (ACME). By this time, everybody was friends with each other, so while they waited for the facilitators, lots of loud, intelligent, editor-like conversations were going on.

ACME is a most wonderful venue for small-group workshops and the like. In addition to the conference room, there is a library well-stocked with journalistic material, a pantry, and offices for its friendly employees. They availed stationary and printing services. The caretakers assigned to us were swift to cater to every query and need. All the facilities were clean, neat and functioning properly! They have a large compound, partly layered with stones in the parking area, and the other part comprising a spacious garden where break tea, lunch and evening tea were served under a tent. Everybody agreed too, that the food they served was excellent.

At 9:30am on Monday morning, the workshop facilitators breezed into the conference room announcing their greetings, to the excitement of the eager participants. Who wouldn’t be excited to be taught by Ellah Alfrey? Ellah was joined by Vimbai Shire, the proprietor of ‘Beyond White Space Ltd,’ who Ellah says is one of the best copy editors she knows. By the end of the workshop, we all understood why.

The workshop began with a big bang. It was clear that the facilitators were well prepared. They had studied the participants’ workshop applications before hand, and thus were able to address each one’s particular work situations during discussions. Their preparation was a culture shock of sorts to the participants; you don’t always find such organised facilitators.

All the participants had come in the capacity of practicing editors; some even labelled some of the best in their country. However, by the end of day 1, they were all asking each other; “If this is what editing is really about, then I wonder what I have been doing all this time!” After learning the recommended life cycle of a book from the time a manuscript is submitted to the time it is ready for print, they were taught the new ‘concepts/roles’ of commissioning a manuscript, and structural editing. And, on day two, they had the privilege of doing a structural edit of the first chapter of Kintu, Jennifer Makumbi’s first novel.

It is amazing how not one of the East African editors had thoroughly commissioned manuscripts before in their workplaces; and it is amazing how such a crucial skill was imparted to them in just a day and a half! Then the sessions evolved into other new concepts over the next few days; copy-editing, production and proof-reading. None of the editors had ever used proof-reading marks before. So imagine their awe when they were each given brand new copies of New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors, and Butcher’s Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders, courtesy of the workshop funders – Commonwealth Writers. The exercises and assignments for each new editing skill taught were just as fun and engaging as they were tough and expository of how much editing needs to be professionalised in Uganda.

On Tuesday afternoon, Billy Kahora of Kwani? came to address the participants after they had been interviewed by organisers from the Commonwealth Writers. On Wednesday evening, participants were chauffeured to the launch of Makumbis’ award-winning novel, Kintu. Thursday was also a huge highlight, because Jennifer Makumbi herself came to speak to the editors about her experience working with editors Ellah and Vimbai, on her novel Kintu. This was after David Godwin, renown UK-based literary agent, had a morning session with them about the nature of his work and its possible introduction into the Uganda publishing industry. Then the evening was spent at KK beach, having boat rides and eating fish and chips with Goretti, Jennifer, Ellah and Vimbai.

The last day of the workshop was spent reviewing the previous days’ sessions, and then having a lengthy discussion on contracts. ‘Why don’t African editors sign contracts with their clients?’ This was the biggest debate of the day, because most participants were prone to this flaw. The way forward was then discussed, with best practice guidelines outlined, and the question of whether an East African Editors alliance could be formed.

At the end of it all, towards lunch time on Friday, during the thanksgiving session, it was unanimously agreed that the participants had gained MUCH more than they had anticipated. Words were not enough to describe the emotions that were pouring out. If these 11 participants were the best selected out 36 East African applicants, then drawing by how much of the skills gap was filled, I dare say this 2014 AWT Editors workshop was a revolution.

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