Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) last Saturday held the Peer Gynt Awards at Old Mutual Auditorium in Blantyre which saw writer Wesley Macheso come out top pocketing K400,000 as the grand prize.
The Peer Gynt Awards ceremony which is sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Embassy through the Cultural Support Scheme attracted the presence of several writers including veterans Desmond Dudwa Phiri, Alfred Msadala, Sam Mpasu, Leona Chilemba, Levi Zeleza Manda and Benedicto Wokomaatani Malunga.
But apart from celebrating the success of those who did well in the Peer Gynt Awards, Mawu also seized this opportunity to celebrate its 20 years anniversary.
It was in this same room – Old Mutual Auditorium in Blantyre when 17 writers came together to form Mawu which today has grown and prides into having several members.
The body which today is being driven by Sambalikagwa Mvona as its president has helped propel writing in the country.
Forget about some members voicing out their concerns recently that Mvona, who has been at the helm for more terms has overstayed, Mawu is still there and is going forward.
Writer Kingston Lapukeni is one of the 17 founding members of the writer’s body and a long-time friend of late Edson Mpina, the first Mawu president.
Lapukeni said it was through his companionship with Mpina, who he describes as a prolific writer, poet, novelist and essayist that he invited him to become the first 100 signatories of Malawi Pen where he has been general secretary.
He said it was while he was a founding member of Malawi Pen that at the first Pen Congress attended by late Mpina, that he (Mpina) was advised to organise a grouping of writers at national level before Malawi could be considered for membership at the international body (Pen International).
Lapukeni said that when late Mpina came back he organised the meeting of writers who were still in Malawi at that time and those who had returned from exile.
He said the meeting took place on July 22, 1995 in the Old Mutual Auditorium.
“There were 17 of us on that day and late Edison Mpina who was the then President of Malawi Pen chaired that meeting. Being a grouping of creative writers, it was not surprising that the acronym Mawu was adopted to stand for initially, ‘Words’ but also as an abbreviation for Malawi Writers Union,” he explained.
Lapukeni added that the group united in the free expression of the word.
“This is where I need to emphasize, Mawu could not be formed at any other time before the mid 1990s because the political environment could not allow its existence.
It was a matter of coincidence that late Edison Mpina was busy communicating with Pen International at a time when there was a burning desire among writers in the country to form some kind of a grouping to promote freedom of expression, fight the ills associated with bad governance while at the same time promote an aggressive culture of reading and writing,” he said.
It was at the end of that first meeting, that late Mpina was elected the first President of Mawu.
“At that time, I was still an academic writer, but late Mpina had already been exposed, having been given an artistic award by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on his poem titled ‘Monkey Bay’. He was also writing several articles for the international media,” said Lapukeni, who admits that late Mpina inspired him locally.
Apart from Lapukeni the other founders include Akwete Sande, Albert Kalimbakatha, Norah Ngoma and Marvin Hanke.
Born on April 11, 1956 at Mpondas Village, Traditional Authority Mponda in Fort Johnston district now known as Mangochi, Lapukeni did his primary schools at Mpondas and briefly at Chipoka in Salima and went to Malosa Secondary School.
Lapukeni said he was among the first group of undergraduates to start first year at the new University of Malawi – Chancellor College in Zomba.
“My colleagues nicknamed me Chomsky, others Russianized my name (Kingsvich Lapkensky) because I was in Jack Mapanje’s class and I with late Jika Nkolokosa were attending a special course called ‘Stylistics and we both liked the writings of Destoyesivky,” said the veteran writer, who read late Mpina’s poem during the celebration.
Lapukeni said he liked writing and enjoyed writing even during his secondary school days during which he was an active member of the English and French drama groups.
He said he wrote some poems at secondary school level but never really thought he would go far with writing and little did he know that it was an in born talent.
While still a student at Chancellor College, Lapukeni worked as a Sub Editor for Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC)’s English Desk.
After his university, he joined the Reserve Bank of Malawi and has been in matters of finance ever since passing through Ministry of Finance to Malawi Revenue Authority.
Despite working, Lapukeni said he has continued to write poems some of which have been published and that others have appeared in the newspapers.
“I have edited a collection of poems, short stories and essays under the title Malawi Writing Today and the book is available in the bookshops,” he said.
Lapukeni admits that having been a founding member of both Malawi Pen and Mawu at around the same time, he has been more active in Malawi Pen than in Mawu.
“I would be doing a disservice to those who have been active in Mawu if I were to throw weight in the current goings on of the body.
Suffice to say, however that I have been closely following progress through joint programmes of Malawi Pen and Mawu whose goals are very much the same, we have similar target groups except that Malawi Pen is an affiliate of an International body known as Pen International,” said the veteran poet.
He added that members of Malawi Pen are de facto members of Mawu except that one cannot hold an executive position in both groupings and that as general secretary of Malawi Pen; he is just an ordinary member of Mawu.
Lapukeni hails the current leadership of Mawu for pushing the body forward since it started.
His last words go to budding writers:
“My advice to the budding writers is to read more than you can eat, because a writer who does not read what others have written will never write what others can find worth reading.”
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