Goretti Kyomuhendo

Goretti Kyomuhendo was born in Hoima, Uganda, in 1965.  She went to school in rural areas. After leaving school she went to study in Kampala, where she attained a diploma in Business Administration.  In 1996 she was a founder member of the Ugandan Women Writers’ Association FEMWRITE.  This was also the year she published her debut novel, ‘The First Daughter’. As the first female writer in her country, Kyomuhendo was awarded a grant from the University of Iowa International Writing Program. A children’s book, ‘Different Worlds’, was published in 1998, followed by her second novel, ‘Secrets no More’ (1999), in 1999. This received the first prize from the National Book Trust of Uganda the same year. Kyomuhendo is now a freelance writer and lives in Kampala.  She has also published short stories and has been writing regular columns for ‘The Monitor’ and ‘The Crusader’.

Kyomuhendo explains her literary motivation as follows: “I write because I am dissatisfied with the world I live in.  I want to create another.” She is particularly keen to improve the lot of women in her country. She joined FEMRITE to campaign for the publication of works by female Ugandan authors. In her first novel, Kyomuhendo addresses the typical experiences which young African women face.  The heroine, Kaasemiire, conceives a child by her first serious lover at the age of 15.  Her father, who is accustomed to asserting the traditional family hierarchy by force, disowns her, and her lover also appears to let her down.  The hope of emancipation lies mainly in the girl’s academic education.  This is quite clear despite the happy ending.  A young woman is also the central character of Kyomuhendo’s second novel, ‘Secrets no More’. The male violence she is exposed to is, however, much more brutal. The plot unfolds in Rwanda during the Tutsi genocide.  “I knew people who died during that period, or who were suffering.”  This is how the author explains why she wrote about this chapter in recent African history. Yet she portrays the shocking elements of sexual violence with the same attention to detail as the few moments of tender seduction.  In doing this, she breaks a double taboo. She emphasizes that neither the pain or the pleasure women experience during sex are given due consideration in Africa.  “So I write about these things very openly.  Unfortunately some people take those scenes out of context, and the work gets read for the wrong reasons, but you get sex scenes by the male writers too, and nobody ever considers them obscene.”

Kyomuhendo picked up these motives in her subsequent, internationally renowned novels. “Whispers from Vera” (2002) describes – from a female point of view – the tension between tradition and modernity that is not only crucial for people from rural areas such as the protagonist Vera, but also for women living in Uganda’s cities. “Waiting” (2007) deals with fear and courage of a family before, during and after the fall of dictator Idi Amin in 1979.

© international literature festival berlin