Diana Santiago of Kujiezela Wall reflects on the recent challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and imagines the future of literature work: a future in which funders, beneficiaries, artists and literature workers collaborate more closely than ever.

Commissioned for the International Literature Showcase.

As creatives and cultural enthusiasts, the universe has entrusted us with an inconceivably vast mandate to document and preserve our cultures. It is a responsibility we have had to take on and deliver with such dignity and truthfulness.

The fluidity of the recent times has not made this task any easier. 

In this industry, our work is characterized by giving. Everything we create, we create for others. It goes beyond just grammar and composition into changing societies and setting paces for those around us. 

The weight that we carry, is what has built the unadulterated resilience, innovativeness and commitment that we have seen exhibited across the universe. It hasn’t been easy; I repeat. It doesn’t mean we haven’t thought of giving up. But then give up and do what? We ask ourselves. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson says, ‘it’s not the destination, it’s the journey’.

Through the journey, we have come to realize that the art of writing is in some way a pivot point or a balance for all other art forms. Film, sculpture, theatre, comedy, music, to mention but a few, all start or end with literature in them.

This pushed us into opening our boundaries to more collaborations in the arts leading to creation of new and exciting works altogether which has given us more mileage and new audiences.

Just like anywhere else in the world, writing projects in Uganda, have always been shaped by the experiences and activities that take place in the country.

It has been a challenge matching the interest of funders with the real needs at hand as organizations are forced to bend projects to fit the interests of donors often looking away from the real need.

How about we all sat at a round table; beneficiaries and funding institutions and got involved in the planning, taking into consideration the reality and the expectations on both sides.

Much as we are all the same, every community has its own unique challenge. The experiences from the pandemic era have taught us to move from just emulating what we see others do, to using those ideas to tailor make solutions for our own confrontations. What we create does not have to be just theoretical but functionally practical.

This is the time to best put to use the wealth of information, networks and resources we have collected over the years.  Everybody has been affected and has learnt a thing or two. More conversations, network meetings and communing with the fraternity is where we will find the solutions we are looking for. Often ask yourself, If I can not do it, who can I reach to make it happen for me?

We need to reach that place of acceptance that the past is gone. We may never be able to do things the way we used to. That doesn’t mean we give up, but retrospectively evaluate the validity of what is at hand against our hopes and plans.

Let us regain our psychological wholeness and remodel ourselves to move forward, not rushing at anything we put our hands on but thoroughly analyzing what we have against what opportunities have presented themselves.

With one-foot in front of the other, we can still continue with the awesome works that we are doing. As for me, there is nothing I would rather do.

Diana Santiago is a far-sighted cultural leader and literary programmer. She worked with the African Writers Trust, a literary organization, as a Programme Officer providing programmatic support to the Director including developing Concept notes, Funding Proposals and Budgets and coordinated the activities of the organization including training workshops and conferences with international participation. Diana worked with Bayimba Cultural Foundation and Sundance Institute East Africa curating Arts Festival. She is a trained Cultural Leader with Arterial Network and has served on its executive board on the national chapter. In 2016, Diana was part of the team at the Nairobi-based Jalada Pan-African Writers Collective, which translated Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s short story, ‘The Upright Revolution’, from English into over 80 African languages. Diana worked as the first Managing Director for West Nile Web a Multimedia company based in West Nile, Uganda. She currently works as the Director of the Kujieleza Wall an organization that provides a platform for creative expression.