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Writing in Malawi: ‘slightly above average’

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There is supreme beauty in creative writing.

But, often, it seems that this beauty goes unseen by the reading public because the writers do not get to the point of writing where the beauty is appreciated.

It is as if beautiful writing, like everything else, has been democratised and made to lose value. It is often that one comes across a creative work of art such as a short story that is singularly lacking in grandeur, and the plot is chaotical.

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But maybe, just maybe, the days of mediocrity are about to fly past us, ushering a new era of maturity.

If ever there was a taste of the future, it, surely, must be the Malawi Writers Union/ FMB Short Story Awards. Last Saturday, writers from hamlets far and near gathered at Livingstone Towers in Blantyre to identify the one individual whose short story imitates the greats.

Yes, the one man whose work would have wiped the veil of melancholy that has enveloped us because the standards have sunk so low that, if it were a borehole, it would have been so deep its waters would satisfy all of us.

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But, as Chief Judge, veteran poet Hoffman Aipira, put it, Malawian writers seem to be walking in the right direction.

“Compared with previous entries, this year’s awards were slightly above average’,” Aipira said.

Aipira suggests that, moving forward, Mawu should consider publishing outstanding stories and compiling them into a book.

“This will help the public at large access them without problems,” Aipira said.

This year, the short stories’ menu had a number of dishes. Writers delved into such themes as the plight of the girl-child, Cashgate, among others.

The encouraging aspect, according to Aipira, is that some writers experimented with time-travel, which are short stories that address issues to do with the future.

In addition, women are said to have been represented “very well”— whatever that means.

Director of Culture in the Ministry of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development, Dr Elizabeth Chindebvu, was impressed, but urged organisers to encourage women to venture into writing.

“Women look at writing as a men-dominated profession and, yet, in Uganda and Kenya women win competitions,” Chindebvu said.

True to her words, the Mawu/ FMB awards have been running for 10 years, but the closest a woman came to winning is second position.

But Mawu has tried to fill the men/women gap, according to president Sambalikagwa Mvona.

“For example, we introduced the Best Women Entry category. Again, a number of women have shown interest in creative writing and this signals a change,” Mvona said.

Apart from the top three positions in Mawu/FMB Awards, men and women were awarded for short stories from position four to 10.

In addition, other writers received awards under different categories. For example, James Matupi was awarded for being the Best Upcoming Writer, Foster Benjamin for being the Most Imaginative Writer and Mercy Rudani for Best Women Entry.

While others claim that there is nothing infinite about human beings, let alone competitions such as Mawu/FMB Awards, the short story awards seem to have something infinite about them.

As FMB Head of Marketing, Sylvia Mataka, said, the Mawu/FMB Awards are set to continue— like a fixed feature on the calendar.

“We want to promote our culture and the only way to do that is by continuing sponsoring the awards,” Mataka said.

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