The departed literary maestro Professor Steve Chimombo once described writing as a foundation of great nations. He believed that in writing, there was truth, great ideas and hope to moving the nations to greater prosperity.
His sentiments imply that a non-writing nation is prone to disaster, especially resulting from having people that do not enjoy good literature.
Through good literature, people’s thinking is sharpened as they acquire creative ideas for running everyday affairs for personal, community and national development.
However, Chimombo’s thinking and values on the power of writing seemed to mock the Malawi’s culture of writing over the past couple of years.
The scene was seemingly deserted by writers with only veteran author Alfred Msadala holding an official launch of his new book The War Drums Are Beating at Blantyre Sports Club.
But Msadala, who is also chairperson of Malawi Pen, a grouping of writers in Malawi, defended fellow writers: “We have members who are always working on something throughout years. But currently I don’t have a database to tell you the exact number of books they have written in 2015. But I only managed to launch mine as an individual writer.”
He added that individual writers work hand-in-hand with publishers to produce books.
Malawi Writers Union (Mawu), which is this year clocking 20 years, is mandated with the task of promoting writing culture in the country.
But, unlike 2014 where it published about six books, including an anthology, 2015 was a bleak year as there was nothing closer to that from Mawu members.
Instead, it was more of running writing competitions such as FMB/Mawu and Mawu/Fattani Essay competition for junior secondary school students.
Mawu president Mike Tsambalikagwa Mvona admitted that 2015 was more of setting the ground for budding writers.
He said: “2015 was a successful year in terms of developing writers from the grassroots levels. It was also a planning year for a number of books that we want to publish in 2016.”
The year was also not so impressive year to Malawi Union of Academic and Non-Fiction Athours (Muana), which also appealed to academic writers to pull up their socks.
Muana president Max Iphani said there was little the union achieved, especially for tertiary education, which had high demand of text books written by local authors.
Iphani said: “Academic and non-fiction authors are key to improving the quality of education in Malawi. If they can produce good quality books then the assumptions is that learners will be introduced to good material and knowledge which will be translated into meaningful development.”
He said as a union, they were set to bridge the gap to contribute to the development of Malawi, describing good literature as the ‘oxygen’ for thriving economies.
Iphani said last year, they successfully organised two workshops for academic and non-fiction authors which bordered around the basics of writing academic textbooks, general writing, research and guiding principle.
Iphani said: “We hope that from next year the fruits of these workshops will start showing.”
Currently, Malawi’s education system, colleges in particular, lack textbooks authored by local writers. Most learners and institutions heavily rely on imported textbooks.
Professor Pascal Kishindo, director for Centre of Language Studies and Lecturer in African Languages and Linguistics at Chancellor College (Chanco), also said that in 2015 writing was not really at a level where it was supposed to be.
“If people are familiar with the college publishing industry, they will see that there is not much that is written for colleges by Malawians. What we get are imported textbooks that are written by foreigners. So, as Malawian writers we really have a huge task to seal this gap,” said Kishindo.