Full Bloom: Learning to Blossom at AWT’s Writing and Reading Residency.

By Precious C. Kemigisha

Arrival: Rose of Sharon
The first thing I noticed as we entered the gate at HotSprings Villa were the flowers adorning the perfectly trimmed hedges. I walked to the Hibiscus tree and simply stared at the pretty red petals and yellow anthers of its Rose of Sharon flower. The colours reminded me of the book cover we were to discuss in our first session of AWT’s Reading and Writing Residency the next day, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s The First Woman. I plucked one flower from the stem and made a mental note to place it in my copy of the book once I was settled.

I had been looking forward to this day since I’d received the email a month ago congratulating me on being selected for the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP) sponsorship to attend the residency hosted by AWT. Now that I had arrived I took the encounter with the red and yellow flower as a sign that it was where I was meant to be. It is only recently that I finally admitted to myself that I loved flowers. I suppose I’d denied my love for them for most of my life because of some misguided feminist/independent woman theories that I had adopted to suppress any form of neediness that would be detected in me if I conceded to such a girlish notion as harbouring a deep adoration of flowers! Needless to say, I had gotten over that weird patch of my life and embraced my flower obsession with gusto. That was why seeing that flower on the first day was such an affirmation.

Discussion Days: Lantana Camara
The first thing I noticed as Jennifer’s face appeared on my laptop screen for the scheduled zoom discussion AWT had organised for the attendees was the white brilliance of her teeth. I made a mental note to get my teeth done as soon as I made money from my not-yet-written novel and I simply stared at her, totally taken up by her charm and wit and dazzling teeth. All too late I realised the discussion moderator, AWT’s Director Goretti Kyomuhendo, was asking us to present our questions to Ms Makumbi and I could see that my fellow attendees were also caught in Ms Makumbi’s spell and were ill-prepared to be asked to think of questions so quickly into the session.

Eventually, we warmed up and opinions were exchanged, passion for the characters reignited and our brains stimulated by the wonderful insights into the writing process that Ms Makumbi so graciously shared with us. In fact, all the author discussions we had were deeply enlightening and highly entertaining. Okey Ndibe’s effortless charisma lured us all in and the question from one of the participants, Lillian Tibasiima, about the discrepancy between his contagious smile and the grim subject of his book, Arrows of Rain, drew deep laughter from him and the rest of the participants. Mildred Barya expertly took us through the aspects of plot and POV in Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage and offered her expertise to us through a twenty-minute exercise to create a plot from scratch. Chris Merrill of IWP read from his stunning poetry collection and his anecdotes made us all feel like we were part of his family. These sessions made us reflect on ourselves as writers, our journey to publication and our grasp of the craft. There is nothing more satisfying than realising what you have been getting wrong and finally knowing how to fix it! That is what our time with the experts did for me – point a spotlight on the broken parts of my craft and give me ways to get those bits mended!

On Saturday, the second last day, we got some extra participants who brought more colour and vigour to our discussions especially in the afternoon session as we listened to the publishing expert, Otieno Owino, take us through the intricacies of editing our work. The articles he recommended from the New Yorker about the relationships famous writers had with their editors was eye-opening and made me realise what a blessing a good editor is!

When evening fell and all the participants plus guests sat on the terrace overlooking Kampala to sip cocktails and partake of the awesome barbeque prepared by the expert chef Michael, we read from our work and reflected on a magnificent week filled with both laughter and knowledge. I was reminded of the flower I had picked earlier in the morning. It was a collection of multicoloured individual flowers growing into splendid beauty in unison. The week was just like that Wild Sage – a kaleidoscope of unique individuals with wonderful stories to tell. Each personality had enhanced my experience during the week and their different styles of writing had challenged my understanding of the craft and what it meant to be a good writer.

As we danced together under the stars, a sense of contentedness washed over me. I had made new friends and rekindled old friendships, reignited my love for writing and learned so much about the intricacies of words from internationally recognised authors as well as from my fellow participants. I felt stretched and expanded both as an individual and as a writer.

Departure: Purple Bougainvillea
The first thing I noticed on my way from breakfast on the last morning of the residency was the Purple Queen flower that had finally entered full bloom. I’d walked past it previously but hadn’t been arrested by it probably because it had been a few days shy of full bloom. Now it beckoned to me, its vibrant petals singing a chorus of passion and peace, the things this flower symbolises in many cultures.

As we ate our last meal together, everyone reminisced about the previous days and also talked about random things in the way that people who have developed a friendship usually do. There seemed to be a fresh passion for the craft in all the writers present and as we parted ways, exchanging numbers and promising to write, I knew that my revived passion would need me to notice it and work on it until it was in full bloom lest I walked past it, again and again, failing to notice its brilliant beauty and how, by letting this beauty be seen by others, I could play my small part in touching someone’s life through my words. The plan remained to revive some old stories gathering digital dust on my hard drive and to see how to put them in my collection of short stories. Then there was that novel that had been whispering to me for many months now, simply waiting to be told. I would start on that right away and the friends I’d made over the week had already agreed to be my first readers. It wouldn’t be easy but, with the right conditions, I knew that my time to bloom as a writer was on the horizon.

Photo Credit: Precious C. Kemigisha


PRECIOUS COLETTE KEMIGISHA is a writer and editor. Her weird and wonderful short stories have been published online in magazines like Omenana and Lolwe, and in anthologies published by Writivism, Goethe (SA) and others. In 2020 she was privileged to be chosen amongst five other international writers to participate in the first-ever virtual residency organised by LCB Diplomatique (Berlin). Her essay from the residency was published in an anthology titled Un_masking Difference. Currently, she is still clinging to the untethered hope of having her stories published in a collection in 2021.

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