Jackee Budesta Batanda is a Ugandan journalist, author, speaker and entrepreneur. Jackee has a long and rich writing CV but it is her passion for writing that will get you. This year, she was one of the three Ugandans (the others being Glydah Namukasa and 2007 Caine Prize winner Monica Arac de Nyeko) that made the Africa39 list.
I spoke to Jackee when Sooo Many Stories was only beginning to take shape and I learnt so much from her attitude towards writing and getting the work done. Thank you so much, Jackee!
You recently made the Africa39 Project list. 39 African writers under 40 who will shape the future of African literature. Congratulations!
Before Africa39 and all these other things you are working on, you must have started somewhere. When did you start writing?
I started consciously writing in high school while at Maryhill High School. We used to write compositions in English class, however, I also used to read a lot. My reading trajectory started with reading Ladybird books, Famous Five, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Pacesetters, Danielle Steele and Ludlum, among others. That was the rite of passage. I read books that my big sister initially borrowed for herself from a library run by Alliance Francaise in Kampala, until she actually started borrowing more for me. When I started writing stories in an exercise book, my classmates were very huge fans. My exercise book novel was set in Uganda, Rwanda and Italy; places I had never been to (apart from Uganda) except in the books I had read.
Whatever became of that novel in the exercise book?
I actually wrote to Danielle Steele’s publishers and asked them if they would be interested in publishing my novel. Surprisingly, they wrote back and asked for a synopsis (I had no idea what that was. Thank God for dictionaries!) and three chapters of the novel. The next time my father came to visit me at school, I gave him another letter to post with what they had asked. A couple of weeks later, I received my first of what would turn out to be many rejection letters. They told me they it was against their policy to review hand-written manuscripts.
How many rejection letters have you received since?
Quite a number. There is a time I used to tell my friends at Femrite that I could write a book on how to deal with rejection letters because I had received so many of them. But that is part of the process. Behind every successful writer is a pile of rejection letters and the successful ones are the ones that never give up. I never stopped improving my craft and I understood that they were preparing me for bigger things. It still hurts but I know that that is the process.
Read full interview here