26 July 2013 10:12

A Lancaster University lecturer has scooped first place in a prestigious, new literary award for unpublished African fiction writers.

Dr Jennifer Makumbi heard this week that her novel, The Kintu Saga, won The Kwani? Manuscript Project.

Her work was selected from a shortlist of seven by a high-profile panel of judges chaired by award-winning Sudanese novelist Jamal Mahjoub.

Jennifer’s novel follows the life and misfortunes of the Kintu clan over 250 years, blending Ganda oral tradition, forms of myth, folktale and history with biblical elements.

 “The Kwani? Manuscript prize is now one of the leading awards for emergent African writers,” says Professor Graham Mort, of Lancaster University’s Department of English and Creative Writing and Jennifer’s supervisor.

“Jenny Makumbi has gained the award against strong international competition within Africa and that's a very impressive achievement. 

“Her novel 'The Kintu Saga' breaks the mould of much contemporary Ugandan fiction through its breadth and technique. It's an ambitious work that takes in pre and postcolonial history whilst creating a sharp and ironical view of contemporary Ugandan society.

“I think it's a significant work and I'm really proud to have been associated with it and to feel that Lancaster University continues to engage with contemporary African writing in such a positive way.”

As part of Jennifer’s prize, literary journal Kwani? (which means ‘so what?’) will publish her novel as well as partnering with regional and global agents and publishing houses to create high profile international publication opportunities

She also wins £2000 cash which, she says, will fund a return trip to her native Uganda for her late father’s memorial service.

Jennifer, who has a degree in education and was a teacher in Uganda, explained: “The novel had been on my mind for some time and it captures issues concerning my dad’s mental health. He was a banker, who was brutalised during Idi Amin’s reign. I had real problems with that and it has come out in this novel. When I read it back for the first time I actually thought it was utter drivel.”

It was a close friend who, after reading the manuscript, encouraged Jennifer to pursue her writing further and encouraged her to come to the UK to take up a writing qualification. It was later that Professor Graham Mort, familiar with Ugandan women’s writing, agreed to support Jennifer in completing the novel as part of her PhD.

“It was a very long journey,” said Jennifer. “There were some very exciting writers shortlisted from Nigeria and Kenya. When I opened the email I just sat down and cried. I won this for Uganda as well.

“This means I am now visible on the writing scene in Africa and I really hope my career as an author will pick up now after writing for so long.”

Jennifer is an Associate Lecturer at Lancaster University where she completed a PhD in Creative Writing. She was born in Uganda and moved to the UK in 2001 to study for an MA. She lives in Manchester with her husband Damian and son, Jordan. Her work has been published by African Writing Online and Commonword. She also runs the African reading group, ARG!, in Manchester which focuses on obscure African writers. She is currently working on her second novel.