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Little Hands

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Susan Kiguli’s formative reading experiences

Dr Susan-Kiguli Once upon a time in Uganda, a time long before she ever thought she’d be an award-winning, world-travelling poet, author of The African Saga, and lecturer of Literature at the lush campus of Makerere University, Dr Susan Nalugwa Kiguli had little hands and this is what she read …

Susan’s early memories of books and reading:

I do not know if it is possible to express adequately what sharing another world and space or being part and parcel of an exciting creative process, and to feel that it is acceptable as well as good to imagine means even to a young mind. As a child, in books I found the power to dream, to laugh to hide my face behind my palms in pure terror. This is where I could think freely and sympathise with children unjustly treated by friends and adults, it was the corner where I was allowed to gawk at illustrations of delicious food without being reminded to mind my manners! I loved the words and the pictures with their strong primary colours.

Susan’s books:

With a book I thought I was allowed to ask endless questions and some of the books had the most exciting and adventurous tales. I remember the story in our English Nile Course Book Two which read like this “Kapere went to the river. Kapere sat on a stone. The stone got up. Kapere ran and ran and ran.” The illustration showed poor Kapere sitting on a hippo in the river and then taking off like a concord. Oh I wonder what could ever beat the pleasure of those illustrations and stories.
I also suppose that reading became so pleasurable because in my and siblings’ case , it was a progressive transition from the primary skills of speaking and listening in both Luganda and English. Sometimes our mum and the teachers recited rhymes to us and later we found they were also written in a book. One of my favourite rhymes which I remember so vividly to this day was: Once there was a rabbit grey/Met a hunter on his way/ “Wait a minute”, Rabbit cried/ Shook his head/ and suddenly said/ ” Why did you? said he/ set your dogs on me? ” With the singsong rhythm when recited and the fabulous pictures when read in a book, it was simply magnetic. I believe I loved books as a child because they gave me the exceptional gift of freedom to be in a space occupied by, as I fancied then, me alone. May be the above explanation will make you understand why I loved the Lucy Maud Montgomery Anne series, particularly Anne of Green Gables, Anne of the Island and Anne’s House of Dreams. I also thought Barbara Kimenye’s books an enchanting read especially the Moses series and Kalasanda revisited. If one has ever been in boarding school in Uganda, then Kimenye’s book Moses in Trouble cannot be anything but fascinating and almost real. Barbara Kimenye In Luganda, I read a variety of books and some of my favourites were Michael Bazzebulala Nsimbi’s Kitagenda ne Kagenda, Njize Okusoma Kato ne Nnaku and later I read Solomon Mpalanyi’s books.

Susan, as an adult, on reading with children:
I still think that nothing beats reading especially if all children could have adults willing to first read to them aloud. I think it is a magical experience. I have written a poem about reading which is published in the Anthology : Gifts of Harvest published by Femrite publishers Kampala. It summarises my feeling on reading, but hope this also communicates an overall impression of what I think about childhood reading experiences.

Betty Kituyi on Rapture and Reading
From a FEMRITE Public dialogue held on the 14th March, 2008

There needs to be a complete rapture between pre-colonial and rural traditions of story telling which give women significant roles as preservers of the social order. More women writers need to engage in performing arts. Write film and drama scripts to reach the growing television audience. We need to confront ourselves and insert our stories into the public domain to live audiences. For example, we should recite and perform our poetry in public gatherings like funerals, weddings and conferences. When given chance, politically committed writers should always sell their works and view points at rallies. … Perhaps we need to reconstruct our voices to make our literature, relevant, urgent and to cater for the future needs of our readers; Literature that will inspire and enable tomorrow’s reader to form meaningful social connections, towards social transformation.

Dr. Susan Kiguli (1998) in her poem ‘Deconstructing you’, seems to tell us to do just that:

I want to deconstruct the
Codes that make you
Separate each piece and
See what makes it you.
I want to read those codes
So I probe your identity
Possibly understand difference.
I want to turn over each piece
Slowly read the centre
And the margin
I want to study how they merge.
I want to pore over your
Lack of explicit boundaries
Toss and turn the reflections
And capture representations.
Trying to open you up
I discover the maze
Of tiny well-woven delights.
I get lost in these
And discard my mission.
Now that I have failed
To deconstruct you
What should I label you?
Whatever you are
You are our most intriguing Experience.

[Read more from the presentation on Literature and Social Sustainability: The Woman’s Creative Potential at BBCF]

Aims of The Little Hands Trust
• To support initiatives that promote reading for enjoyment.
• To mentor African literary artists, including writers, illustrators and editors, to produce creative, suitable and appropriate children’s storybooks for children of various ages with a focus on early childhood (ages 0 to 9 years).
• To collaborate with African publishers to increase and sustain publication of children’s books in African languages. To initiate and support translations of stories between African languages, from African languages to ex-colonial languages and from ex-colonial languages to African languages.
• To help to orientate and educate adults in the importance and significance of reading to and with children.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    March 17th, 2009 @15:06 #

    Susan's poem here relates well to the comments on Tom's post about whale-sharks, mammals, Youtube and readers.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    March 17th, 2009 @15:42 #

    Love it, I adored Anne of Green of Gables too. Love what she says about imagination and that reading offered a space where she "could think freely and sympathise with children unjustly treated by friends and adults" - viva to that too.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    March 17th, 2009 @19:19 #

    Gorgeous. I love this series. Good to see Susan and to taste her magic in this space.


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