International (Literature) Love
April 26, 2013
As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, part of my responsibility is to spend time outside the classrooms (or in my case, our Language Center) contributing to community projects. The project that walked into my life last December was a literary journal with one of the few academic language and linguistics groups in Rwanda. With the help of one of my INATEK colleagues, I was put in contact with the Language and Linguistics Student Association of the National University of Rwanda and told a bit of their story. A literary journal had been tried there several times including a promised attempt by travel writer, Rick Bass (see his recently published book In My House, There is No More Sorrow: Ten Days in Rwanda for a terribly inaccurate, guilt-ridden, narrow view of Rwanda). So to say the least, I was frustrated for the group and embarrassed by another American’s false promises.
Literature has always wriggled its way back into my life, no matter how often I try to deny it out of a falsely practical standpoint. And today, I find myself in a project that encourages the study of literature in myself and others. The journal has been much of a success logistically: it has its own ISBN and is funded by the US Embassy of Kigali; but also in how it has affected the writer’s to see an actual product come from their efforts.The Language and Linguistics Student Association of the National University of Rwanda wrote and edited all the works in the literary journal and I have watched their excitement and enthusiasm for the project grow over the last few months.
The book will be circulated through secondary schools to encourage the study of literature in university (pending approval by the National Curriculum Development Center). It will also be available as an ebook. Below is an excerpt from the Foreword that I prepared for the journal (some of it is repeated info FYI).
Stories are meant to be told. I learned this from listening to the many stories my close family friend and adoptive grandmother Caroline would tell me when I was growing up. These stories were always taken from her life experiences, and she wove important lessons into each.They included stories about remaining faithful to a husband who went off to war for years, unable to be reached by phone or mail. Stories about the importance of providing a meal to her family, promptly at the hours of noon and six, no matter what other activities threatened her time. Stories of providing support to neighbors and friends when they needed it most.
Stories have always been an important way to pass cultural values from generation to generation in both Rwandan and American culture. This form of American oral tradition has taught me more about life, love, and the importance of promises than the most famous books. But in the face of the increasing promotion of science and technology education, societies around the worldseem to place less importance on telling stories, both in their written and oral forms. The cultural values and critical thinking skillsthat the creation and discussion of such stories transmit are just as important to any society as science and technology. The study of literature and histories is not just a study for those who attend university, or for the rich. The study and creation of stories is meant for all people, to ask questions of their changing society and to better understand the values within their culture.
Rwanda has manywriters who cannot resist the urge to put pen to paper and offer thoughtful views of their own culture and the world.This literary journal is the culmination of the efforts of a group of students from the National University of Rwanda’s Linguistic and Language Student Association who are inspired by the written word. Multiple times, theywere told that their work was good, and that they would receive help to publish it. And multiple times, they were disappointed. When I heard about their dedication, I knew I wanted to do what I could to promote the publication of their journal, given the importance stories have played in my life. Sent to Rwanda on a Fulbright grant to teach English, I enlisted the support of the U.S. Embassy in Kigali. They welcomed the opportunity to help these talented authors.
This group of writers desperately wants to encourage other Rwandans to read more, so everyone can profit from both the enjoyment it gives and analytical thinking skills it promotes. They also hope to maintain Rwanda’s oral tradition through this written journal by including poetry and stories meant to be read aloud, discussed and enjoyed by students at both the secondary and university level. The goal of the journal is also to encourage interest in the literary arts and their expression in Rwandan culture. This journal is a Rwandan oeuvre, produced by and for Rwandans.