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cc With this year's Caine Prize for African Writing shortlist now announced, Mildred Kiconco Barya interviews Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, the 2003 winner of the prize. The winner of the 2009 prize will be announced at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, on Monday 6 July.

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor roams inner and outer landscapes. She is the winner of the 2003 Caine Prize for her story 'Weight of Whispers'. Currently she is flirting with the Aga Khan University as they plan for a liberal education campus to be established in Arusha, Tanzania. Creative writing will feature on the proposed curriculum. She has just ended her long wrestling match with her first novel, which currently bears the title ‘A Season of Dust and Memory’. The novel won. Yvonne is sulking.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Why do you write?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: I like talking to myself and making patterns out of the letters of the alphabet on blank surfaces.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: At what age did you start writing creatively?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: Anecdotal evidence. Two years old. The discovery of crayons and white walls.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Describe your writing journey.

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: Long, erratic, fraught with misadventures, misanthropes, hiatus, celestial fun and shamanic interventions.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What are the thematic concerns in your writing?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: Life, death, magic, humans and solitude in landscapes.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What inspired you to write ‘Weight of Whispers'?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: Outrage, Binyavanga and the suppressed flame of story-telling finally seeping from my soul.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: How did you know about the Caine Prize?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: I didn’t. Binyavanga Wainaina did.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What was your initial response when you won the Caine Prize?


MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What has been happening or not happening since winning the Caine?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: Life has been happening. More adventures in this delightful experiment of existence.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: If you were to rewrite your submitted story what would you change?


MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: How often do you revise or redraft your stories?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: Muse dependant. Sometimes once. Sometimes ten thousand and thirty three times plus one.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What’s your take on writing?


MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: How do you deal with a writer’s rejections?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: Writing is a cosmos of learning. Rejection reads adapt, learn, improve, grow and grow.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Apart from writing, what else do you do and why?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: Live. Why? I must. I must. So much to see, so much to do, so much to learn, so many people to meet. So many sunsets to inhale. What a wild grace and tremendously mysterious gift being [alive].

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Forty years from now where do you see yourself?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: On a farm by the Indian Ocean, in a community of mad, never-retiring artists and global misfits who smoke peace pipes, swimming four times a day and waving at dolphins and passing good angels while conducting exorcisms for pleasure while I wait for the call-up (and hope that among my peers I won’t be the one left behind to switch off the lights on my way out).

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What’s your best quote?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: 'In the beginning was the Word.'

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: Which five authors do you admire most and why?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: Such a grown-up question. I love (luuuuuurve) so many, I admire even more. Why? Writers are other eyes and wisdom-givers. Daring travellers to unreachable parts of the cosmos, meeting people, suggesting views, angles that tease different parts of my spirit and dreams.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: List your favourite five books.

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: See my answer to the authors question above.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What’s your vision?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: Depends on which psychedelic experiences I am enjoying, enduring, figuring out. Vision – mhh, let’s see, peace on earth and love to all humankind.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: What genre do you read most and why?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: Landscapes. I want landscapes to like me and show me the secrets in their memories and tell me who else has passed through and what they did or did not do.

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: If you were to make a wish right now what would it be?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: That laughter and joy will invade the lives of all creatures of existence and secure these with playfulness and holy mischief. (After Kenya’s post-election thing, I am deep into kumbayah – let’s make the world a better place.)

MILDRED KICONCO BARYA: If you were to have the powers of a genie, what two things would you change?

YVONNE ADHIAMBO OWUOR: Er … I do have the powers of a genie. And I am about to change that three-wishes limit. It is now infinite. Wish number one: I wish the questions end… And they did.

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