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Interview with Tim Crothers, Author of ‘Queen of Katwe’

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Ugandan national chess champion Phiona Mutesi arrives at the world premiere of Disney’s “Queen of Katwe” at Roy Thompson Hall

Ugandan national chess champion Phiona Mutesi arrives at the world premiere of Disney’s “Queen of Katwe” at Roy Thompson Hall

Africa in general has its fair share of underdogs who rise up above tough circumstances to do extraordinary things and Phiona Mutesi is one of them. Her living situation was dire, she smelled so badly as a survival tactic to avoid the possibility of getting molested in the street. Today her story will be gracing the silver screen.

Queen of Katwe is a 2016 biographical sports drama film that depicts the life of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan chess player from Katwe who becomes a Woman Candidate Master after her performances at World Chess Olympiads. The film stars David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, and Madina Nalwanga.

The film is produced by Walt Disney Pictures and ESPN Films, and will be released in North America today, September 23, 2016, and will be followed by a general theatrical release on September 30.

Phiona Mutesi’s story would not have gotten the attention it deserved if it were not for Tim Crothers, a former Sports Illustrated senior writer who wrote Mutesi’s story in an article that appeared in ESPN Magazine’s Jan. 10, 2011 edition.

When Tim Crothers first met Phiona Mutesi in Uganda, she was very shy and not comfortable with talking about herself. It took a game of chess between Crothers and Mutesi in Siberia, where the 2010 Chess Olympiad was taking place, to break the ice.

“To be African is to be an underdog in the world. To be Ugandan is to be an underdog in Africa. To be from Katwe is to be an underdog in Uganda. And finally, to be female is to be an underdog in Katwe.”

Tim Crothers, ESPN the Magazine, “Game of Her Life”

Today, what was once an article of an underdog in the slums of Uganda has morphed into a book and a movie. Proceeds from both mediums have changed Phiona’s life for the better as has the lives of those who draw inspiration from her story.

AV: What inspired you to write a story about Phiona Mutesi?

Tim Crothers: When I first heard the story of a 9-year-old girl who was basically homeless in a Ugandan slum, couldn’t read or write and was essentially homeless suddenly stumbling upon the game of chess, a game so foreign there is no word for it in her native language, and four years later becoming an international chess champion I couldn’t wait to find out more details. I love stories of underdogs and Phiona is the ultimate underdog.

AV: Why is the book titled “Queen of Katwe”?

Tim Crothers: It’s a play on the game of chess and the fact that the queen is the most powerful piece on the board, but I had no idea when I wrote the book that Phiona would actually become an important female voice in Katwe and all over Uganda, really. So she really could become the queen of Katwe.

AV: Did Mutesi’s story change you?

Tim Crothers: Of course. Just having the opportunity to travel to Africa for the first time changed me. The experience has redefined the meaning of the word “hope” in my eyes. Phiona had no reason for hope, yet she never gave up, never surrendered despite her desperate circumstances and I love to visit Katwe because of the hope I always see there despite the trying circumstances.

AV: With the movie coming out this week, what will you like the audience to take away from this story?

Tim Crothers: I hope audiences will see that you should always dream big. Most girls in Katwe aren’t encouraged to dream, but Phiona was given a chance to dream by Robert Katende and his chess program and once she was allowed to have a dream, she has pursued it relentlessly even when it seemed impossible. All of us should pursue our own dreams with that level of hope and faith

AV: Did you approach Disney or did Disney approach you on this story?

Tim Crothers: Disney approached me to option the story for the film. At first, I wasn’t sure that it would ever be made into a film, but Disney obviously saw the power of Phiona’s story and transformed my book to the screen expertly and beautifully.

AV: How will you describe the transformation you now see in Phiona as compared to your first encounter?

It is hard to believe that Phiona is the same girl that I first met in 2010. At that time she was a shy 14-year-old who wouldn’t look me in the eye and answered my questions with one word whenever possible. At that time she had only left the Kampala area once in her life. Now she is a poised, confident, curious 20-year-old who asks me more questions than I ask her. She has traveled to Russia, Norway, Turkey, Dubai, Azerbaijan, all over Africa and several times to the U.S. All of that travel has helped her mature very quickly.

Tim Crothers' family with Robert Katende and Phiona Mutesi

Queen of Katwe Author, Tim Crothers’ family with Robert Katende and Phiona Mutesi

 

The Movie

 

Disney Queen of Katwe Production

Tendo Nagenda

Queen of Katwe comes out in select theaters today. The authenticity of the story on the big screen was made possible by Disney’s senior executive, Tendo Nagenda, whose father is Ugandan. After Disney optioned the rights to do the movie, it was Nagenda who developed the project into production working with Director Mira Nair. This is Disney’s first feature film that is not about animals in the jungle.

‘Queen of Katwe’ movie Trailer

Editor’s Note

Africa has it’s fair share of strife but with it comes stories that will inspire, stories to be celebrated, people to be revered. This is one such story and it is our hope that it will encourage many others to be told, stories that are uplifting and shift from the typical themes that often shape how the continent is perceived. While the responsibility remains primarily ours as Africans, it is important to also celebrate those who trouble themselves to tell our stories authentically, showing how we as Africans pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and make the most of our circumstances.

– Belle Niba

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Celebrities

Zimbabwe Artists Unite To Raise Funds For Cyclone Idai Victims

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Cyclone Idah

Cyclone Idai hit Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe

Last week Thursday, cyclone Idai hit Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe destroying human and properties on its path. It is said to be one of the worst disaster to hit the south-eastern African region. According to statistics, over 2.6 million people are affected across the three countries. Subsequently, the cyclone led to devastating flooding. The cyclone hit the port city of Beira in Sofala province at over 177 km/h (106 mph). Consequently, the port city of Beira which was once home to 500,000 people is now an ‘island’.

The President of Mozambique, Filipe Nyusi on Tuesday announced three days of national mourning. The official death toll as of Monday across Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique are 56, 98, and 200 respectively. However, many are still missing. President believes over 1,000 people may have been killed in the disaster. Consequently, the real death toll may remain unknown for many months as the disaster unfolds.

The urgent need for humanitarian services

There is an urgent need to rescue people still trapped within the devastated cities hit by cyclone Idai. Also, the survivors will be relying on humanitarian aid for survival. In the ‘new island’ people are clinging to trees and house roofs for survival. Speaking about the disaster, Manuel Rodrigues, Manica province governor, said,

“We saw people besieged and asking for help… on top of their roofs made up of zinc sheets. Others under flood waters. We can only imagine that they had been there for more than two or three days, without food and without clean drinking water.”

Several aid agencies in Mozambique are complementing government efforts in the distribution of food. Over 3,800 families are taking refuge in Mozambique’s National Institute for Disaster Management.

Zimbabwe musicians rise for cyclone Idai victims

Veteran Zimbabwe musicians have taken to their social media pages to solicit for donations to assist the victims. They also used the medium to share their condolence with the victims. The hip hop icon, Ex Q, Jah Prayzah said,

Jah Prayzah soliciting for donations for victims of cyclone Idai

“Let’s join hands and help those who have been affected by the cyclone Idai. No donation is too small to make a change. Anything you think can assist those in need right now in Chimanimani please bring it over… to 31 Hebert Chitepo in Belvedere.”

Michael Mahendere, a renowned gospel musician wrote,

“Our hearts and prayers go out to those affected by the cyclone Idai. The scenes are saddening but we know that there is Hope in the God we pray to. The relief that comes from Him is permanent and we stand with them during this devastating season.”

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Books

3 Nigerian Authors Make The 16 Author Longlist For The Most Prestigious Literary Prize In The UK For Women

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L-R: Diana Evans, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Akwaeke Emezi

The Women’s Prize for Fiction is the most prestigious literary prize in the United Kingdom. Formerly known as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the prize goes to female authors of any nationality for full-length English novel published in the United Kingdom the preceding year. There are 163 entries this year but the judges painstakingly cut it down to 16. However, three Nigerian authors (Oyinkan Braithwaite, Akwaeke Emezi, and Diana Evans) made it to the longlist.

The Women’s Prize for Fiction was founded in 1996. The inspiration for the prize was prompted by the 1991 Booker Prize which sidelined female authors in the six shortlisted books. However, that year it was on record that sixty percent of books were by female authors. That event made journalists, librarians, booksellers, agents, and publishers to take action.

About the prize and judging panel

The winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction will go home with £30,000 and a bronze sculpture, ‘Bessie’. Consequently, this year’s award ceremony will take place on June 5 in Central London. This year’s judging panel consists of Sarah Wood (a digital entrepreneur), Leyla Hussein (campaigner and psychotherapist), Dolly Alderton (author, broadcaster, and columnist), and Arifa Akbar (journalist and critic). The chairperson of this year’s judging panel is Professor Kate Williams. In a statement after the release of the longlist, Williams said,

“I am thrilled to share this longlist – 16 incredible books by a diverse group of women, from the UK and countries across the world, all brilliant stories that sweep you into another world. Each of them has been a privilege to read, and they have taken us into places a million miles from each other, exploring the lives of women and men in so many different but utterly compelling ways.”

Brief bio of the Nigerian authors and summary of their stories

Oyinkan Braithwaite

Oyinkan Braithwaite is a Kingston University graduate of Creative Writing and Law. In 2016 her story was part of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize shortlist. “My Sister, the Serial Killer” explores the tale of Korede, whose younger sister Ayoola kills her boyfriends in the name of self-defense. Korede loves her sister and finds it difficult reporting to the police. All that changes when Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede is in love with the doctor and doesn’t want him to be one of Ayoola’s victims. However, saving one will mean sacrificing the other.

Diana Evans

Diana Evans is a Nigerian-British novelist living in London. She has three novels to her name. “Ordinary People” follows the tale of two couples at the brink of revolution or surrender. Everything changes when Melissa gives birth to a new baby. Michael still loves her but is finding it hard to stay faithful. In the suburbs, Stephanie and Damian are happy with their three children until the death of Damian’s father.

Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil writer. “Freshwater,” tells the story of Ada, a child prayed into existence. Her parents struggle to contain the contradictory and volatile spirits within her. While in college an assault leads to crystallization of her selves. Subsequently, Ada’s life takes a dangerous and dark dimension.

The longlist

Books and their authors that made it to the longlist this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction include;

  • The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  • Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • The Pisces by Melissa Broder
  • Milkman by Anna Burns
  • Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
  • Ordinary People by Diana Evans
  • Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lilian Li
  • Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn
  • Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
  • Praise Songs for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden
  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney

Freshwater is first non-binary inclusion

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi earlier in 2018 won the Quartz Africa’s as the best African book. The inclusion of Emezi’s ‘Freshwater’ is the first time a non-binary trans author will make it to the long list of the Women’s Prize for Fiction. The same day of the longlist announcement, the competition judges published an editorial believed to put an end to the controversy surrounding the inclusion of the novel on the list. Reacting to the novel, one of the judges, Arifa Akbar said,

Emezi’s novel takes the conversation about female-only spaces and non-binary identities out of an often inward-looking, white, Western enclave, to give it new meaning.”

Past African winners

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the only African to have won the coveted Women’s Prize for Fiction (then Orange Prize for Fiction). The multiple-award-winning writer took home the prize in 2007 for her novel, ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’. If Oyinkan Braithwaite, Akwaeke Emezi or Diana Evans should win, it will be the second time the prize will come to Africa. The announcement for the shortlist will be on April 29.

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Sports

Yomif Kejelcha Has Set A New 1-Mile Indoor World Record

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Yomi Kajelcha set new indoor mile record

Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha on Sunday 3rd March set a new 1-mile indoor world record. The previous record was set in 1997 by Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj. Yomif Kejelcha finished at 3:47.01 to break the previous record of 3:48.45. Three weeks earlier, Kajelcha came close to breaking the record but missed by hundredth of a second with a time of 3:48.46.

The 21-year old runner trumped the former record by 1.44 seconds in Boston. Yomif Kejelcha who is a two-time champion of 3000m came to Boston with the intention of breaking the 1500m and 1-mile world record. Although he missed the former, his split time of 3:31.25 is the third-best all-time indoor behind Tefera and El Guerrouj.

Yomif Kejelcha’ lap performance at the race

The race began with Sowinski, the indoor bronze medalist leading. However, Kajelcha got his big break from the pack after the first 409 meters. The indoor 1-mile record is one of the longest in tracks and field. Yomif Kejelcha cruised through the 809m in 1:52, leaving no doubt about his intention. He hit the bell at 3:18.54 and ran a time of 28.47 in the last lap to break the 22-year old record. Second-placed Johnny Gregorek also put himself second on all-time America indoor list with 3:49.98.

https://t.co/C3mLNgzQ7n

After crossing the finish line, Yomif Kejelcha did not hide his joy. The moment the result was displayed on the scoreboard he did a series of celebratory jumps amid the cheering crowd. This was a clear contrast to his mood after the Millrose Games miss on February 9. Yomif Kejelcha current record shows great improvement from his 2018 season.

ALSO READEthiopia Makes History With Their New President

Other Africans that hold world records

Africans fare well in the track and fields and Yomif Kejelcha is another addition to the record book. Both in the male and female categories, a large number of Africans hold the world record. In the indoor men’s category, Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele holds both the 2000 meters, Two miles, and 5000 meters world record set in 2007, 2008 and 2004 respectively. This also makes him the highest African world record holder in the indoor long distance category.

In the female category, Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba has no rival in the long distance race. Dibaba holds the world record for the 1500 meters, 1-mile, 2000 meters, 3,000 meters, Two miles, and 5,000 meters. However, her most recent record was in 2,000 meters in 2017.

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