Interview with Beatrice Lamwaka on Butterfly Dreams and Other Stories

Beatrice Lamwaka (born and raised in Alokolum, Gulu) is a Ugandan writer. She was shortlisted for the 2011 Caine Prize for her story “Butterfly Dreams”. She is the founder and director of the Arts Therapy Foundation,[ a non-profit organisation that provides psychological and emotional support through creative arts therapies. She is the general secretary of PEN Uganda Chapter and an executive member of the Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO). She has served on the executive board of the Uganda Women Writers Association (FEMRITE), where she has been a member since 1998. Lamwaka’s writing has been translated into Spanish and Italian; she released her anthology of short stories Butterfly Dreams and Other Stories in 2016.

A. As you are Acholi, how did you find the experience of writing about War and Displacement in northern Uganda?

B.L I couldn’t write without writing about the war experience… Because I feel for some reason who I was or what I could write about was to focus on what was going on in my community, and so that’s why I focus a lot on writing about war. I do get frustrated with so many things and the best way I could deal with them was through writing.

 A. In a few of your stories the narration is done by children, why did you choose to adopt this style?

B.L I find children are very intelligent, sometimes naive, but then they bring out so many important aspects to the things that happen in our community. I felt that telling a story through children would be a nicer way to deal with some of the issues which sometimes are very hard to deal with… And maybe the emotions they deal with can easily come out too, people can easily relate with or understand them. I like to write through children because I also think a lot of humour can come out through them, the contradictions and the drama and so on… And the things that conflict can come out nicely through children too.

 A. What motivated you to write ‘Pillar of Love’?

B.L I think I reached a point where I had dealt with a lot of issues and that I should try something new, which was different for me, different from war. I’m not so sure if I did it well…But yes, it was my own way of respecting an issue. I felt also that’s one thing (same sex relationships) that people pretend doesn’t exist in our community, and so I thought, why not write about it? I had heard a story about a couple that live among us and no one questions anything about them, and they are comfortable and no one has tried to kill them. I thought there are people among us who would like such a story so why not write about it.

 A. As gender is a recurrent theme in the collection how do you feel about gender roles in Uganda?

B.L I feel like everything is so gendered…Language, everything, everything, everything and you deal with it on daily basis because you are either a woman or a man, and you see it happening all around you… And I actually didn’t realise I had written it in such a way but I think it’s what was happening in our society that is reflected in what I write. Everything, everything…You are treated differently, even if you go to buy something, you are treated differently because of who you are and what your gender is…And so I think I sort of see everything in a gendered way because when I was a child I didn’t see a lot of that but it is today when I see gender everywhere, you can see it in the way people comment on one another, it’s just in your face, there is nowhere you can avoid it.

 A. If you could go back in time and be any historical figure from any time or place, who would you be and why?

B.L I really really really really like Okot p’Bitek the writer, mainly because I feel like he, in such a way, has had a great influence in my writing. When I read his work I felt I could write about me as me and not be ashamed of anything, and it helped me find my voice in literature and write a lot about my Acholi culture. He gave me the confidence to write. Yes, it would be him really. If he hadn’t existed or I hadn’t read his work I might still be trying to find my voice and not know what I’m writing about. He was so bold with the things that he wrote, I’m sure if he had lived up until now he would still be saying things that many of us are afraid to say.

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