The Launch of Goretti Kyomuhendo’s Whispers from Vera happened during the 6th Mashariki Literary and Cultural Studies Conference. It was held at the zenith of the Conference, shortly before the official closure of the event. It was held in the Yusuf Lule Central Teaching Facility Auditorium at Makerere University. The event celebrated Goretti Kyomuhendo’s novel under the theme: From Serial Text to Novella to Novel: The Journey of Goretti Kyomuhendo’s Whispers from Vera. This is a short report on the event, detailing what took place and the nature of critical acclaim that has come from the debate that took place regarding the novel. The novel was officially launched by Mr Moses Matovu, Founder of Afrigo Band, who was the guest of honour at the closing ceremony of the conference. He generally appreciated Goretti for sharing this novel with the world and with the people who were at the Conference. He also saw it as a platform to underscore the true meaning of the humanities to life’s experiences.
A Panel Discussion Celebrating The Novel’s Journey
The panel to discuss Whispers from Vera was convened by Dr Edgar Nabutanyi, the Chair of the Makerere University Department of Literature and Dr Susan Kiguli, an Associate Professor of Literature in the same Department. The panelists included Prof Lynda Spencer from Rhodes University, Dr Evelyn Cindy Magara and Dr Isaac Tibasiima from the Department of Literature, Makerere University and Ms Racheall Kizza from Goethe Zentrum Kampala. Goretti Kyomuhendo, the writer, was also a panelist.
The panel began with Goretti Kyomuhendo detailing the journey of the novel, right from 2002 when it was serial text to when it was published by the Monitor Publications. Her experiences and desire to deal with a general phenomenon of a working woman, with her sense of independence sharing her experiences was the motive behind the book. To Goretti, Vera speaks her heart out, based on what she observes and how she feels. She is the everyday woman struggling to live.
Prof Lynda explained the notion of the novel as chick lit, and the new ways in which this genre of literature contested Western perspectives on the romance genre. She gave a history of the chick lit genre and how Whispers from Vera fitted this description from an African perspective. 3 Notably, Spencer’s own PhD work at Stellenbosch University dealt with women’s portrayals in Ugandan literature and Goretti Kyomuhendo’s books feature in her discussion on chick lit.
As a writer, Goretti Kyomuhendo has been taught as a special author in the Literature Department, as revealed by Dr Magara. Her argument was that it was important to place at the centre of literary debates Ugandan writing which was closer to the environment her students were operating in. She noted the fact that Goretti Kyomuhendo’s books have become a delight for her children ever since she introduced them to the children.
Rachael Kizza explained why this book was important. She single handedly typed it out from an old text because she wanted it re-issued. Her experiences with Vera were the type she wanted to share with other women and readers and so she determined that there must be ways to have the book reprinted. Kizza’s resolve gave Goretti the zeal to have the book out again. It was at Rachael’s insistence that the book was expanded, with new material added so it could move from novella to the novel that is in its current state.
All panelists agreed that Whispers from Vera had become a worthwhile book to read. Dr Tibasiima saw connections between the novel, Vera’s experiences and his personal experiences with a single mother. Importantly, the rumour aspect in the novel gives it its most powerful force as a text: the power of stories about us and other people and how they show the wide networks and connections we create with the human world. It is for this reason that the timeless nature of the novel was invoked by both him and other panelists of the day.