Nyana Kakoma took a big risk last year when she took a leap of faith and went from being a blogger about books to becoming an actual book publisher in her own right. That’s when www.somanybooks.ug was born.
But it wasn’t the first time Nyana had taken risks with her career. She’d been preparing as an undergrad in Literature and Communications at Makerere University for a full time job as a journalist. In her first year alone, she’d started writing feature stories for The New Vision newspaper. She was so successful that once she graduated she was given a full-time position at the paper.
But already she had her sights set on greener pastures. And so, when she had the chance, she moved over to The Daily Monitor where she quickly proved her editorial prowess. In no time she’d won a three month fellowship to do an internship in sub-editing at the home base of The Nation Media Group in Nairobi.
Returning to Kampala and the Monitor after that, Nyana soon realized she wasn’t really cut out to be a sub-editor.
“I confess I found the newsroom grueling,” she told Business Daily. “Besides, I wanted more time to do my writing.”
So to stay afloat financially, she quit the Monitor and got a job with the Madvani Group, doing public relations work for them while still writing and exploring other options, one of which was to start a literary blog in 2014.
Initially, she did her blogging as a sideline since her PR work was a full-time affair. But gradually she found working and writing for her blog far more exciting/fulfilling than PR.
“I called it ‘Sooo Many Stories’ (with three o’s in the ‘so’),” she said.
“It involved my attending book launches and literary talks, interviewing writers and publishers,” she added.
Considering herself both a writer for and editor of her blog, it was in the latter capacity that she came to Kenya to attend a workshop run by Kwani? specifically for editors.
“It was toward the end of that workshop that as a group of [ambitious] writer-editors, we decided to start our own online literary journal. That was how Jalada was born. I was one of the first members of the board,” she added.
That was when Nyana was also introduced to the African Writers Trust, a group that, among other things, sponsored fellowships for young African editors.
“I won one of those fellowships and went to Cape Town where I interned at Modjoyi Books, a small feminist publisher run by Colleen Higgs,” she said.
“Colleen operated her publishing business out of her home. That showed me that someone didn’t need necessarily to start off big. Colleen started small and already had 80 authors whose works she published,” said Nyana who admits Colleen’s example gave her courage to go home and start up her own book business.
Currently, she’s just publishing two Ugandan authors, the political poet and lawyer Peter Kagayi and Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa, a poet and novelist. They both came with her last week to Kenya to attend the Storymoja Literary and Arts Festival, run a workshop and promote their books.
“It was Colleen who got me started,” said Nyana gratefully. “She gave me rights to sell Philippa’s book, ‘Flame and Song’ within East Africa while she covers the rest of Africa.”
Peter who is both a poet and performing artist had been bugging her for some time to help him publish his poetry and promote his book, ‘The Headline that Morning, and other poems’.
“Peter is also a spoken word artist who likes to perform his poetry, so I helped him produce the DVD for ‘The Headline that Morning,” Nyana added.
So now she’s in the risky business of publishing, but Nyana isn’t in doubt about having done the right thing. “Right now, I’m only publishing Ugandan writers,” she said.
But what she knows is that her countrymen and women have ‘so many stories’ to tell, she’s made it her job to get those stories out in the public domain both in Uganda and in the wider world.
Last Saturday at the Storymoja Fete, Peter and Philippa performed a literary dialogue based on an exchange of their poetry and her prose.
“Their performance felt like a revelation for Kenyans, so we’ll be back next year, bringing more books and Ugandan writers to what we found to be an appreciative Kenyan book-loving audience,” Nyana added.