A Breathing Space Project
In 2020 we saw many of our assumptions about society, culture and economy upturned or broken. We saw in equal measure the emergence of possibilities for rapid and transformative change, and the deepening of existing fractures and injustices. It is clear we are inside a period of disruption that neither began nor will end with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in which the larger social-economic-ecological crises of our time become vivid and present. Against this backdrop, the Breathing Space grant programme of Pro Helvetia’s Johannesburg office looked to enable modest relief, or ‘breathing space’, for arts practitioners, organisations and networks across the subcontinent to rethink ways of working, to experiment with new formats of production, exchange and collaboration and reimagine the shape and position of cultural and creative work.
The Writivism Literary Initiative based in Kampala, Uganda, promotes African literature and emerging writers through writing workshops, mentoring, anthologies, literary prizes, a residency and festival. Over 500 African writers have been involved with the Writivism eco-system over the last five years. Historically, the annual literary festival has been the leading literary event in Uganda.
With the global pandemic and political instability in Uganda making it impossible to host a 2020 edition of the festival, Writivism has developed an Interlude programme that utilises the situation to engage its community in restructuring the programme for the post COVID-19 era and to publicly wrap-up its first major phase of activities from the past seven years (2012 – 2019).
The Interlude programme includes four major aspects: Working with publishing partner, Black Letter Media, Writivism will co-publish the three annual anthologies on print-on-demand and e-book platforms alongside re-issuing the UnBreakable Bonds anthology. This will include working with over 80 contributors to the various anthologies through the final editing processes of their stories. 6-8 stories will be record and featured in a new Interlude season of the Writivism podcast. A photography exhibition will be published on the Writivism website featuring select photographs from the UnBreakable Bonds anthology. Speakers at the virtual mini-festival hosted on social media will be drawn from the various contributors to the four anthologies and the core audience will be drawn from the Writivism community and the general public.
Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire is the cofounder of the Centre for African Cultural Excellence. He has published on African Arguments, Chimurenga Chronic, This is Africa, among others. He is currently studying for a doctorate in English at Cornell University.
Sumayya Lee is the Mentoring and Residency Co-ordinator at Writivism and part of the Writivism Advisory Board. Her debut, The Story of Maha (Kwela, 2007) was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book – Africa and longlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Award.
Esther Mirembe are a Center for Arts, Design + Social Research Fellow (2020) exploring African literary networks and how they can be archived. They are also the Managing Editor (September 2018) at the Writivism Literary Initiative. They have edited Daughters who Become Lovers (Afridiaspora, 2017) and UnBreakable Bonds (CACE, 2019), both Writivism anthologies. They edited and managed the publication of Dr Stella Nyanzi’s poetry manuscript from prison, No Roses From My Mouth (Ubuntu Reading Group, 2020). They are a writer whose work has been featured on Literary Hub, Africa is a Country, African Feminism, Africa In Words; and others.
Black Letter Media is a black-owned and directed story development company. With nearly two decades of experience in the worlds of South African film, television, books and poetry, Black Letter Media is uniquely positioned to support a variety of storytelling outputs. We work with commissioning editors, writer teams and producers to produce compelling, relevant work. In addition to our commercial work, we have also run the Black Letter Media Short Story competition, and continue to encourage a new generation of African storytellers to take courage, put pen paper and create their own stories.
Duduzile Mabaso has marked South African film, television and literature with her distinct pen. She has been a strong force behind some of South Africa’s best-loved shows and films. With a versatile creative approach, and a keen ability to spin stories out of everyday life, she has been head writer on projects as diverse as cult-classic Isidingo and new favourite Housekeepers. Duduzile is also well-known for her important work in poetry, having founded Poetry Potion. She has also become accomplished in publishing, of which Black Letter Media is a central part.