James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

A Beer is A Fitting Reward for Literary Struggle

A Beer is A Fitting Reward for Literary Struggle

Lager in Uganda

This is my third visit to Uganda. What brings me here, to the pearl of Africa, is the search for literary inspiration.

The blue expanse of Lake Victoria dazzles beneath us as we descend into Entebbe. Daredevil boda boda operators weave in and out of standstill traffic with reckless assurance. Our driver names each stop along the way: Abayita Ababiri. Kajjansi. Zzana. Namasuba. Najjanankumbi. Kibuye. Katwe. The sun sinks behind rooftops and billboards as we head north-east and I think, it looks just like home: Kenya.

The following morning, I survey the verdant hills of Kampala from my hotel rooftop. A motley crew of contemporary African writers has descended on Kampala for the Writivism Festival, now in its fourth year. Youthful vigor abounds, exchanges are inspired and inspiring. Out of curiosity, I ask a random selection of attendees from different countries to name a Kenyan writer. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, they all respond, some reverentially. Ngugi’s shadow looms large, and with good reason. Back in my hotel room, I attempt to conjure the days when Kampala was a hotbed of independence-era literary fervor.

On the last day of the festival, I sit on a panel to discuss the book in which my work is included: an anthology of new creative non-fiction. We read excerpts and answer questions from the audience. It is a nerve-wracking but rewarding experience, as my foray into this genre commenced in Kampala, not very far from this very place. This is a homecoming of sorts, a return to the source. A comrade in the literary struggle buys me a celebratory beer, a Nile Special. The label says, “True Reward from the Source,” thus named because the beer is brewed in Jinja, the birthplace of the Nile. I take a sip of the frothy golden brew, and think that it seems especially fitting.

Up Next

24 Things to Know Before You Go to Kampala

Featured City Guides