Success is measured differently by different people.
For some, it is the contentment that comes with putting food on the table; for others, it is the sought-after job promotion, and yet others it is fame and wealth.
But for the outspoken, bespectacled and fair-skinned Jackee Budesta Batanda, it is the ecstasy that comes with living one’s dream. Her success as a writer, a dream she has nurtured since childhood, is awe-inspiring.
It won her some of the world’s coveted awards such as the Macmillan Writer’s prize which recognizes unpublished African fiction for children and the 2004 African regional winner for the Commonwealth short story competition.
It has also triggered off her energies in entrepreneurship and motivational speaking. In her writing sojourn, she has learnt that one can never limit oneself to one dream because once it is fulfilled, you are on to another adventure. Her dream was once to become a writer; and that, she has ably accomplished.
She is the author of The Blue Marble, a children’s book with a theme on tolerance, cultural diversity and peace. Her works have been published in different anthologies (collection of short stories) and in the international press, such as Transitions magazine, the Foreign Policy magazine website, the New York Times, Boston Globe, Latitude News, The Global Post, The Star- Africa Edition and The Sunday Times.
She has just been named among the top 39 African writers, under 40, likely to shape the future of literature on the African continent.
Not in a moment in her life did 34-year-old Batanda fancy taking on the common-dream ‘doctor, lawyer, engineer…’ professions. To her, literature fired her budding life. While her fellow students concentrated on reading to understand teachers’ notes, she concentrated on reading novels in a row.
By the end of primary seven, she had read Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Petals of Blood and majority of the Mills and Boon novels. Thanks to this avidness, she had mopped up all Danielle Steel and Sidney Sheldon novels by the end of her senior two at Maryhill High School in Mbarara.
“Novels always created an interesting world for me where my thoughts would escape to and I grew the desire to do some writing of my own. I always excelled in composition writing and friends always borrowed my exam and test papers to read them,” Batanda recalls.
Her first novel, Slave To The Past, was penned in senior two. Although she had never crossed the boundaries of Uganda, she carried her readers to Rwanda and Italy through this book.
Her enthusiasm to follow her literature dream became even more intense and she sought an avenue through which she could publish the first fruits of her work.
‘What better way to do this than have the Bantam Press (UK-based publishers of some of the world’s bestselling novels) publish her work?’ a quick thought flashed through her mind.
She was fired by the thought so much that she decided to write to the publishing house.
A positive response from Bantam requiring submission of three chapters of the book and its synopsis had her jumping over the moon. But there was still one challenge; Batanda had no computer skills, owing to the limited access of computers then, and she had to write out these requirements on A4 paper.
“Well, [I received] a rejection letter from them, saying they don’t receive handwritten work,” she recollects with a tone of disappointment.
From that experience, she learnt to take ‘No’ in a positive way.
Picking herself up
After completing her diploma in Fine Art from the Institute of Teacher Education, Kyambogo (ITEK) in 2000, a friend, Banura Bailey, introduced her to Goretti Kyomuhendo, the head of Femrite - Uganda Women Writers’ Association, an organization that aims to develop and promote women writers.
To Batanda, this was like dangling cheese in front of a rat. She snapped up the opportunity and joined Femrite in September 2000. It was here that she met a fellow sojourner, Beverley Nambozo, with whom she has trekked valleys and hills, notching both modest and extraordinary milestones.
Together, they would write short stories for the organization’s anthologies, the Sunday Monitor and Sunday Vision. Nambozo describes Batanda as a visionary and committed friend.
“She always inspires me to look to the future and work towards realising my dreams,” Nambozo said of her. She quickly adds, however, that she needs to sometimes relax her uptight principles and swim with the tide.
Batanda, whose first short story was published in Femrite’s 2001 ‘Words Of A Granary’ anthology, has never looked back since. She wrote as much as she read. Goretti Kyomuhendo always told aspiring writers that they were not ‘mad enough’ (did not pull all their weight).
These words have kept oscillating in Batanda’s mind and she uses them to keep raising the bar. Her assortment of awards and recognition testify to this. In fact, she began growing dreadlocks in her quest for ‘madness.’
In her search for ‘madness,’ she always made it early at the Femrite offices in Kamwokya in order to use the organisation’s one computer to enhance her dream. In this pursuit, she ploughed through the internet looking for opportunities. She chanced on one; a three-day conference in UK. This was in 2002.
“For this conference, I remember I made multi-coloured business cards for myself and it was a certain Ugandan philanthropist who paid for my airfare,” she remembers.
She was then a first-year student doing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Arts, majoring in Communication and ‘minoring’ in French, at Makerere University. She graduated with a first-class honours degree in 2004.
In 2003, she won the Commonwealth short story competition for her 500-word story, Dance With Me and this came with a £500 prize. The story is a narrative of a 10-year-old landmine victim in a rehabilitation centre.
Other milestones include: recipient of Uganda 2010’s Young Achiever’s award in the corporate and professionals category, writer in residence at Lancaster University, UK (2005) and Elizabeth Neuffer fellow (2011-2012).
She is currently working on a series of books on Africa’s successful entrepreneurs and transformational leaders through the Mastermind Africa Group Ltd, a business networking group that she co-founded.
Batanda is looking forward to publishing her first novel and teaching creative and non-creative writing through her Success Spark Brand Ltd, a communications and educational company specializing in media relations, content creation, digital communications and educational programmes.
“More than anything now, I want to inspire others just as I was inspired,” she says.
In her free time, Batanda loves to read anything and everything. She also likes travelling.