Stories that represent who I am.

by Divin Ishimwe

I was 11 years old the first time I received a prize in an essay contest at school. We had a French teacher who was a true lover of African, French and English literature. In his numerous sessions, he spent most of his time reciting the classic poems that marked the 20th century. From Victor Hugo, Lamine Senghor, Mariama Bâ to Wole Soyinka, he never tired of telling us the great stories that have marked this world, which I found quite fascinating.

During one of his evaluations, he asked us to create a short fictional story around love and its constraints. The exercise was to say what we thought about this theme in general and what it inspired us in particular. I submitted the story of “Lisa and Marc”, a story about two childhood friends who had a toxic friendship, tormented by the constraints of society, the definition of what a friendship between a boy and a girl should be, and the behaviour of Marc, a young boy consumed by the desire to prove his masculinity and strength at all costs; a “bad boy”, a soul who tried to live by the codes of the street. The story was based on the questioning of a certain preconceived idea of what friendship and affection between two young humans, just out of adolescence can be, which affection evolved into feelings revolving around love. With this story, I got the best grade in the class and an award from my high school. At the award ceremony, I remember my teacher insisting that one of my parents be present, so I asked my father to come to school. “Sir, your son has a real gift of imagination in creating stories. It is a talent that needs to be nurtured. I ask you to encourage him to read a lot and write,” my teacher told my father. I remember my father hugged me and said “Wagize neza cane” which means “You did very good son”.

I grew up in a family with two intellectual parents who always loved reading, so somehow, I think that’s where I got my love and interest in literature. As far as I can remember, I have always loved creating stories, especially fictional ones. Over the years, with the experience gained from different places, I have had the opportunity to improve and learn other writing styles, such as nonfiction. Over time, through the many novels I read, the majority of which were from the West, I found myself copying the realities of the novels I read. The characters I was creating were all white people who lived in the West, in Norway, the United States and I remember Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The danger of a single story” speech, which made me think about the content of the stories I was creating; and their direct impact on my society.

Today, after participating in many writing workshops and being around many African writers, I am learning how to create stories that represent who I am, where I come from, and the realities of my country, my continent, my home. The 4 days of training I received from African Writers Trust added a little something to the way I write and think. The exercises on describing “my mother’s chicken”, “the place, the country where I live” helped me grow my personal desire to want to write nonfiction stories. The session that sticks in my mind the most is the exercise on how to use our mother tongues to make our stories more powerful and deeper. That session remains a great revelation in my head and my mind. I plan to write and publish my second book towards the end of 2022 and all the great things I have learned in the AWT Emerging Writers workshop will help me to better direct my story.

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