Book Publishers Association of Malawi President Maureen Masamba said recently, at a book launch in Blantyre that the country has to embrace reading culture.
Masamba said there was a need for, among other things, competitions to motivate young people to write.
And while there are not many writing contests in the country to motivate writers to write more stories and tell their stories, there are some players who are striving to create platforms aimed at giving the writing discipline the space.
This brings us to the story of a writing competition, spearheaded by renowned social media influencer Pemphero Mphande, whose finale took place recently.
Dubbed Pemphero Mphande Short Story Writing Competition, the debut contest saw Emmanuel Kaisoni emerging the overall winner with his story titled Guilt.
The story outsmarted over a thousand other stories and, for his labour, he carted home K200,000. Coming a close second was Jonathan Ngoma, whose Mombera University short story earned him K150,000, whereas Nomsa Nungu’s Glass Doors came third and earned her K100,000.
Winfrida Kamwana, who got a cash prize of K50,000, and Linda Mlamba, who took home K25,000, came fourth and fifth, respectively.
Five other entrants received certificates of recognition for making it to the top 10.
University of Malawi— formerly Chancellor College— Head of Linguistics, Professor Nick Tembo, who was guest of honour at the prize presentation ceremony held at Golden Peacock Hotel in Blantyre, described the five stories as top grade.
“I consider Ken Lipenga Senior as the biggest short story writer but, when I read the young man (Emmanuel)’s short story I thought, ‘Well, we have something else’,” said Tembo, adding that the other four stories were equally impressive.
Tembo commended Mphande and sponsors Bradley and Teely for initiating the competition, which, he said, had churned out probably the best pieces he has read in recent times.
“We have seen talented people coming through in Malawi. The five winning stories can claim a place in any Malawian anthology, past or present. This competition was able to recognise talent irrespective of what age it is coming from or what generation it is coming from,” Tembo said.
In an interview, Kaisoni said Guilt is a story about a suicidal married man.
“There are growing cases of suicide among men, especially married men. I wrote this story out of concern for fellow men who suffer in silence, sometimes ending up committing suicide due to marital problems,” he said.
Mphande, who is founder and competition co-chairperson, said transparency characterised the selection process.
“We had a panel of nine judges who chose five stories each from their share of the 1000+ stories submitted. I was the middle judge and, then, there was the chief judge, who declared the top five list which we have all come to know just now. Though two of my favourite stories did not make it to the top five, I agree with the chief judge because it was a tough competition that had to be fair,” Mphande said.
He said Hold On by top- 10 finalist Dalitsani Lucy Anselmo was his favourite, but fairness had to outshine preference.
“The event we will have next year will be bigger and better,” said Mphande, who has grown famous through his popular Facebook page, which enables thousands of people, largely youths, to share and discuss their most intimate stories, whether mystical or romantic, under the safe means of their hidden identity.
Echoing Mphande’s pledge for a bigger and better competition next year was Lerato Magulula from Bradley and Teely, a taxation, auditing, advisory and accounting firm that sponsored the competition from start to finish.
“Writing is a fundamental contributor to national and economic affairs. This debut competition has inspired many, including myself, to become competitive writers. Bradley and Teely will make sure that the competition continues annually,” she said.
Young sensations Nthondwa and Laughter entertained guests with poetic performances at the colourful prize presentation ceremony.