Nyana Kakoma is the founder of Sooo Many Stories, a publishing house and online platform which allows Ugandan writers to express their creativity. To date, Sooo Many Stories has published two books: The Headline That Morning and Other Poems by Peter Kagayi and Flame and Song by Philippa Namutebi, along with several other short stories. The blog she started in 2014 with the support of her husband has now morphed into a publishing house with a dedicated staff of four, and a wealth of Ugandan literal content in short stories, poems and book reviews.
After several years in the journalism and communications industry, Nyana quit her job and dedicated herself to creating this space that would be home to Ugandan writers and an outlet for so many stories. Her inspiration to start the blog was rooted in the fact that not many people knew about Ugandan literature. While an editor for the in-house Magazine and other publications at Madhivani group, she horned her writing skills and got to interact with other people in the African literary space.
“It was during this time that I started traveling for workshops outside Uganda and people were talking about publishers, writers and editors in their countries, but there were not so many from Uganda. I started getting a hunger for a platform that would talk about Ugandan writers.” Nyana says
When she took the plunge into the publishing world, she attended several trainings and an editorial internship with Modjaji books in Cape town where she learnt from the extra ordinary Colleen Higgs, who still remains one of her biggest influences alongside Ella Allfrey, Jennifer Makumbi and Goretti Kyomuhendo (Founder of African Writers Trust). Through this internship, she learnt the ins and outs of publishing and got the necessary tools and motivation to expand her blog into a publishing for Ugandan literature.
“I wanted people to take me seriously, to take the blog seriously. I was doing this for real, not as a part time job. That meant that I put in a lot. I would do interviews, book reviews and attend all these events. No one was paying me but the sheer joy of doing what I love made it worth it.”
Sooo Many Stories has taken on the responsibility of cultivating a reading culture in Uganda through book clubs for adults, teenagers and children. The Fireplace: Tot tales is where children from the ages of 4 to 12 gather to read books. Divided into groups of 4 – 6, 7 – 9 and 10 – 12 years, these books clubs see up to 45 children at every session. These sessions are held in Ntinda at the Innovation Village and in Bugolobi. Two more chapters will be opened next year in Muyenga and Entebbe. This initiative has gone a long way in nurturing a keen interest in books both for children and adults.
“People throw around the phrase “reading culture in Uganda is so bad” but you don’t know how quite terrible it is that is until you try to sell a book, until you try to convince someone to buy a book. It was terrible, we started thinking. So we decided to start book clubs, which are called fireplaces. To boost the reading culture, it has to be done from the grass roots. If we are to promote Ugandan literature, it has to be through a holistic approach by making books available for children to read.” Nyana says
This brilliant concept has had a visible transformational effect on the children.
“The book clubs have created an explosion of reading. We’ve seen results. We’ve seen parents say “watch out for my kid he doesn’t talk to anyone” but that kid will be the first one to speak when we ask for volunteers to read. We’ve seen parents tell us that my kid is interested in books now. We are approaching reading from a fun side. Showing these kids that books are fun. They don’t have to be academic.”
Nyana envisions a time in Uganda when reading will become a thing. For people to stay in doors on weekends just to read without having people ask “Do you have a paper?” With the state of the economy, buying a book may not necessarily be a priority like soap and food but just like food, when you do not read you die too. It may not be a physical death, but lack of knowledge kills