Defining Nonfiction with 2017 judge, Angela Kintu

Angela Kintu Rwabose is one of three judges for the Koffi Addo Prize for nonfiction.

Why she writes.
I’m a very distant last born. It is 8 years between me and the person I follow so I’m a bit of a loner. My refuge was books. I think I write because I can. That’s how I’d describe it. It came from reading.

About books.
I read everything. The last book I read was Kagayi’s book, The Headline that Morning. And my constant one is the Bible.
I can’t say I have favorite authors. I can say; however, I have seasonal favorites. I think everyone, when they are younger, goes through the ‘season’ of John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer, Khaled Hosseini… This season for me is Roald Dahl, children’s stories that I have been reading to my 3-year old daughter. Roald Dahl was the first book my mother ever gave me.

My all-time favorite book, which I have found to be like none else is Ben Okri’s The Famished Road.
When it comes to nonfiction, I mostly read autobiographies. There is of course, ‘Dreams from my Father’ by Barack Obama which is not particularly wonderful or anything but because it’s Obama. My all-time favorite is ‘From Third World to First: The Singapore story’ by Lee Kuan Yew.

Any preferred nonfiction writing style. And defining nonfiction.
I can’t say I prefer one writing style over the other. I find that because most of my interaction with writers is editing, I have come to appreciate all writing efforts. It also comes from being a columnist because when you are one, you have times when there is no inspiration but you have a deadline so you have more sympathy for the issues of other writers.

Nonfiction is always going to be bogged down with facts so you run the risk of being boring, or struggling to make sure you stay to true to the history of what you are writing about. I’d say at its most basic the heart of nonfiction is write what you know. It is not possible to divorce oneself from nonfiction because it is your perspective or your version of events. There is a bit of you in it. it is like old school journalism – writing a journal of society.

On the difference between fiction and nonfiction
The line between fiction and nonfiction can be blurred. I have heard people complaining about fiction books which are not true to facts. I think that’s the distinction. With nonfiction, you can only get creative with your writing style while with fiction you can get creative with the facts as well.

How has motherhood/marriage affected your writing?
I did a lot of writing when I was on my own because I had the time and the fuel. I don’t have as much time for those things now. But it has also grounded me. My writing is more realistic. Plus, I am married to someone who writes brilliantly so he makes everything better and he gives me more honest criticism. Being an editor has also made me write less because when I sit down to write, I can already tell what will need to be changed.

Last word to writers
My advice to writers has always been ‘write what you know’. The more you read, or the more you have been through, the better.

Submission to the Koffi Addo Prize for nonfiction are still open till 31 March, 2017 11:59pm GMT.