Do you recall what you were like at ten years? I do. I wished I had long hair like my Sindy doll. The Five Star sibling music group of three sisters and two brothers was my favourite and I was the fastest runner in my class. I should mention that I was absolutely loved to read and write. Enid Blyton probably had a lot to do with that.

Lillian Aujo, the very first BN Poetry Award winner. Photo Credits (Prophix Studios)

In 2019, the BN Poetry Award, which I began ten years ago, is celebrating ten years. It’s wildly crazy. The idea popped into my head like many of my noble ideas. I couldn’t keep still; spoke to a few of my close friends who knew better than to stop me when I was running with such high energy. I was like a circus clown on steroids.  If you had met me then, you’d understand why celebrating ten years is so important to all of us; in this space of poetry.

The award began, as a way to motivate Ugandan women into sharing their poetry to other Ugandan readers, lovers of poetry and hopefully, through a cash prize, these Ugandan women would feel encouraged that their poetry was valuable.

Purity the poet.

I started sending out calls for submissions. And guess what! People actually responded. This is what happens when you run with an idea that’s so important that you’d sell off your house to make it work. True Story! I sold my laptop to cover some of the costs. The first laptop I’d ever owned; an IBM, durable and magical.

The Ugandan women. Yes. I sent out the calls for submissions and as a first prize, was ready to offer $250. No one had done it before. I was as certain as anything that Ugandan women poets were at their prime of writing and just needed a platform to share their verses. The submissions came in as I started reeling out a plan. It was time to select a judges’ panel. Hilda Twongyeirwe, Iga Zinunula and other prolific poets, whom I knew tremendously well, and had participated in numerous literary events with them. I also knew that they would buy into this untamed spirit of mine.

Poetry on Mt. Rwenzori, 2016.

The BN Poetry Award, which by the way, was named after me, Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award, was gathering the interest of curious by-standers, some of whom relished the thought of a poetry prize and others who were waiting for me to fall flat on my ridiculous face. The media caught wind of it and I found myself answering calls for interviews and sitting before distinguished panels, sharing the idea of the award. When the judges unanimously decided upon their winner, Lillian Aujo, it was time to select a date and venue for this poetry award giving ceremony. I had just left my well-paying job, sold my lavish car and had no money at all. I was also a new mother, a pivotal point that spurred me into making lasting memories and worthy legacies.

What I had, stirring inside of me like molten lava, was priceless.

Contacting a few colleagues whom I had worked with before, I sent them proposals to support this grand award-giving dinner. Word Alive Publishers, based in Kenya, Uganda Health Marketing Group, Gilgal Media Arts and Uganda Clays Limited, each contributed financially towards the dinner, scheduled for Friday 21 August, 2009 at Fang Fang Restaurant. Femrite was my unofficial office at the time. I jotted down a guest list and threw a few names for Chief Guest. None was deemed worthy enough until I thought of Rt. Honourabe Rebecca Kadaga. At the time, she served as the Deputy Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament.

On receiving the call from her office that she would be more than glad to officiate at the ceremony, made me almost run around Kampala town like my feet were lit by burning charcoal. Like I said, I was a clown on steroids.

That dinner was the most marvellous literary event I had ever attended in my entire life. I was at the edge of my seat the entire evening just trying to hold it all in. The faces staring back at me; a reflection of a dream come true. The Deputy Speaker of Parliament right beside me like we were colleagues. Academics, publishers, CEOs of leading organisations, my family and friends. All of them.

John Wafula, CEO of Uganda Clays (RIP)

Rebecca Kadaga mentioned that she had received so many invitations for that date, 21 August, but the idea of the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award, was so intriguing that she just had to turn down all her other invitations. There were over one hundred guests that sat in the chilly evening listening to the story of the Beverley Nambozo Poetry Award, who applauded Lillian Aujo, Catherine Kemigisha and Sophie Alal, the top three winners of this award. Over a hundred people, some of them from The New Vision and Daily Monitor, who retold the story and continue to retell it today.

We’re celebrating ten years. We have to. We invite you to join us.

On 26 January, there shall be a Luganda poetry workshop, first of its kind at 4Reign Office at Equatoria Hotel Lower Parking. The fee is only 50,000/- per individual and we have some of the most sought after Luganda poets, who shall facilitate. Lule Ssebo Lule, whose Luganda works have been published and Nakisanze Segawa, the latter who is a BN Poetry awardee.

From 21-24 March, we shall be in Kabale, holding our first festival of the year. Meeting students of Kabale University to train, perform and dialogue, launch books and spread the work of poetry from Kampala to beyond.

In the ten years, we have published three poetry anthologies, A Thousand Voices Rising, Boda Boda Anthem: A Kampala Poetry Anthology and When Children Dare to Dream. We have organized four successful poetry festivals and held poetry in nature excursions from Mt. Rwenzori, Mabira Forest and Sipi Falls, This year, it’s Lake Bunyonyi in Kabale.

Thanks to the individuals, organisations, financiers, media, social groups and the communities in the diaspora that have held our hand. We Thank you.

All photos by Prophix Studios, except for Mt. Rwenzori.

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