When Goretti asked me to write a short piece on how the African Writers Trust Publishing Fellowship Programme impacted me, my knee jerk reaction was to speak to the technical transformation. And there was so much to talk about in that space. I wanted to talk about the completely eye-opening sessions where we were taught about the editorial phase of the book cycle. It’s easy to romanticize the process of writing because it comes from a very personal place and when an audience consumes your writing, you expect from them a raw emotion reaction to your raw emotion work.
The idea of panel beating your honest expression into a sellable product would have seemed counter creative before the programme. What AWT does well is get you in contact with masters of the craft in the different phases of the process to open your eyes in ways that you didn’t think possible. With Otieno Owino and Crystal B. Rutangye at the helm, you get a sense from the very beginning, and as you move along, that you’ve been doing everything wrong. But the experience behind and the passion with which these knowledge gems were dropped on us had me feeling like they had handed me a sense of control over my work. I also felt eager, eager to go off and make sure that my future publications will uphold a standard of quality so high that the audience is not distracted from the actual body of work.
This was my knee jerk reaction. I wanted to delve deeper into those aspects and celebrate them for the empowering moments that they really were. But when I sat down to write I found that becoming a better technical book producer was not my heart`s story. My story lay elsewhere, in a series of moments that seemed kismet in hindsight. To understand the gravity of these moments you must understand my background as a writer.
My introduction to writing for an audience came on a grand scale. I had spent a decade or more writing snippets that were used solely as an emotional outlet. I would have landed in a padded room with a straight jacket on if it wasn’t for writing. Those snippets never made it to an audience, and I was comfortable with that. That is, until I was offered a publishing contract. The scrutiny that came along with having my book out there for people to see made me shy away from other writing opportunities and it brought with it a myriad of insecurities. Topping the list being that because I had not been trained in school to write, my writing couldn’t be that good despite the publishing contract. I had skipped the public initiation into writing, where a thick skin and confidence are borne from years of public opinion experience. Because of that I often felt like I was lacking the x factor that would truly crown me a true writer.
A couple of friends tagged me on the call out for submissions for the Publishing Fellowship Programme. After having faced countless rejections for similar programmes and residencies, I put on my glutton for punishment hat and applied anyway. When I got the email that I had made it, I was certain that it was because I was probably the only Motswana who applied. Queue in the face palm.
The first thing Goretti said to us on day one of the Programme was that we had all made it in to the programme on merit. A small thing to say, inconsequential really in the grand scheme of things but for me it stood out as the moment I started to believe in the idea of me being a good writer. The moment I started believing that I could belong in this prestigious category of African Writers. Goretti has been in this industry for many years, and in all those years she has read and written amazing works. In all the applications that sat on her desk, she saw me and what she saw in me was enough for her to invest her resources in nurturing. I was enough. The rest of the programme could have flown by from that moment on because that was what I was taking home with me. I was enough.
The programme only got better from that point on but what stands out again for me was the sense of community I felt throughout the week of the programme. I have never had a feeling of belonging like I did during that week. A friend texted me during the week asking me how everything was going. My response to him was, “It feels amazing. I have never been around so many people who are like me. I think I’m hooked.” There is something sweetly liberating about being accepted for the thing you often feel that you must downplay or hide from other people simply because they don’t understand it. How is it possible for all of us to be there in the same room, all from different countries, and find a kinship in our shared love for storytelling? How comforting a thought that I will never again have to endure the malady of being a writer alone.
Those were my moments; those were my life changing moments that shifted my story from a solo journey to a shared experience for the rest of my life. I am grateful for this community and for the validation that this community has given me, whether they were aware of it or not. AWT, the work that you do transcends the original objectives. You are creating more than a network of African writers; you’re creating a family.
Botho Lejowa is a 30-year-old woman from Botswana who holds a Bachelors of Commerce in Management and Marketing. She is a qualified chef and works as a Strategic Marketing consultant. She is a published author of Leah: A Seer`s Legend.