Maria Birungi Kakinda, Honing a Writing Career

There is a story that every writer tells. It is one which only comes out after much pushing. It is often told last in a soft tone without revealing a lot of details. To some who have writing buddies that is the only place where these stories are shared. For others like Maria Kakinda, the story stays with you. You scroll through the phone as you read the emails, one after another, reread them as you let the details sink in properly that you didn’t make it. These stories bring back the memories of the midnight oil that was burnt in the process. It is then that you recall how uneasy you were biting the edges of your finger nails with lips twitched to the right wondering whether the character should be a journalist or a lawyer. Then you recalled the last experience with a certain lawyer who could not stop playing with his ML car key that you had mistaken for another version of a screw driver. When you remember that, you laugh, turn off the data of your phone and move on. It seems to be part of the process. Rejection. Tomorrow, you promise yourself to write another story.

Maria is not any different from other writers. She has her rejection story too. Unlike maybe other writers, hers is a lone writing life. She has had to take in the news and deal with it herself. And yet she has not given up on writing.

The afternoon we met, she could not hide her exhilaration of the recent events that have crossed her writing path. Not even the sun that had eaten into the shade we were sitting could affect this part of the story. And the story goes…

Sometime in 2017, she received an email. This time round, it was not a reply to any of the many she had sent out. No. it was a direct email from Writivism to her, asking her if she would be interested in taking part in a writing workshop for the young and emerging writers. She had been selected. The word is ‘handpicked’ for this particular one.

Over the years since 2014, Maria had been submitting her short stories for the Writivism short story prize but she had not had a chance to make it. It had always been the rejection email. She was so happy for this consideration and she immediately signed up for the training which was facilitated by Nick Makoha. The workshop had a number of participants with whom she had the opportunity to share and learn from. She was under the mentorship of Beatrice Lamwaka.

During the course of the workshop, they each had to work on a short story which would then be submitted to a short story anthology that was published by Writivism in 2018 titled Odokonyero. Her story is titled Which Season Is This?” 

“After the workshop, I felt so good. I’s published and I decided to write more,” she joyously tells me.

A friend shared with her a link calling out for short story submissions for interested parties to attend the Success Spark Brand retreat courtesy of the Ntwatwa fellowship. The fellowship is in honour of the late Joel Ntwatwa, a writer who passed away at the beginning of 2018. She applied.

“The days were running out and I was very anxious. May be I had not made it! I diverted my attention from the entire project only to get an email saying I had made it. I screamed!” a beaming Maria recalls gleefully.

“I was so excited to be the first beneficiary of this fellowship. I didn’t know what to expect but I had heard of Joel and I knew this was a good thing for me,”

The fellowship fell at a time Maria was considering to take on writing as a full time career but had not decided yet. The retreat exposed her to biographical writing which was so exciting given that she had mainly dealt in writing fiction.

“The writing process is more intense than perceived. It requires a lot of attention as you develop your characters. It does not need to be rushed.”

Maria is so excited of the time ahead of her. She wants to write more but most importantly she wants to be deliberate of bettering her craft. She is now working on a number of projects which she hopes will turn out better.

Her confidence has immensely improved. She is quick to assure me, “…am no longer bothered about the rejections. I will still write and submit my work.”

As a secondary school student at St. Mary’s Namagunga, Maria took part in her first writing competition facilitated by Writing Our World which she did not win and it made her think she was not good enough a writer. Today, she no longer holds the same view and she is grateful.

The past fears and rejections only made her a better writer. She is grateful to Success Spark Brand for the fellowship opportunity.

Success Spark Brand organizes annual writing retreats for people interested in sharpening their writing skills. This year, they will hold their retreats on the 4-7th July and on 28th November- 1st December. You can book here.


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