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Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende is a writer, activist and Hedgebrook alumna. We asked her about her work as an activist and about being a Woman Authoring Change.


Tell us about your work as a writer—do you write in multiple genres/forms?

My writing takes on many different forms. I write short stories, novella, poetry, and prose/poetry and currently I am working on a novel. I write both fiction and non-fiction, with the fiction being realist fiction. The non-fiction is usually essays or social commentary on my blog. Simply put the form it takes depends on what sparks it. The social commentary on my blog is usually sparked by some incident or topic that I have a point of view on. I write fiction which is usually sparked by events around me, conversations or parts of conversations, an image on a billboard or even someone I know. There are so many untold stories and sometimes the story itself will dictate the manner in which I tell it. I have written in prose/poetry to convey a vision of a world where men and women live freely and women are safe. It was supposed to be an essay but it didn’t come out that way. I try to let the story dictate what form it will take, like a woman choosing what dress to wear because she knows best what will be most complementary!


Do you consider yourself an activist?

Yes, I am an activist. This is not something I chose to be. What I did choose was to never turn away from things that are not right, both within myself and in the world around me. I think in making this choice, I became an activist because not turning away comes with the compulsion to do what I can in the fight to end injustice of all kinds and violence against women and girls. This has also meant envisioning and working towards justice and towards the kind of world that I and many others long to live in. It is no longer enough to act against what we don’t want but vital to be proactive in creating what we do want. This is what my activism is about.


Would you characterize your writing as activist? Why or why not?

I think a lot of my writing is activist. I don’t intentionally write it as activist writing, but I find that the social justice issues that I am obsessed with will invariably work themselves into my fiction. There is a term that was coined by Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire a young writer from Uganda, which basically means that all writing is activism. The term is writivism and it is now in wide use among African writers who are often criticized for writing stories of poverty, rape, child soldiers and so on. The reality is that most of us from the continent write about many things but the context is what it is and it is not often pretty. So the not so pretty social issues are woven into my story telling. As a writer of realist fiction there is not much I can do about this. My non-fiction pieces are activist. I tend to be drawn to issues that very few people want to bring out into the open.


What impact do you hope your writing will have in the world?

I hope that my writing makes people feel. I would like to write stories that entertain as much as they bring a new perspective to the reader, on any given subject or topic. I want to create pieces that induce ‘laugh out loud’ moments as well as stories that have the power to reduce a reader to a teary, snot nosed mess. I want to create unforgettable characters doing unforgettable things. I hope that my writing can shrink the globe and help bring us closer to one another as human beings, while it expands our hearts and minds so that we are more compassionate, tolerant and understanding.


What’s the best feedback you’ve received from a reader/audience member?

The best response was to a blog called I Believe You. The blog is an open letter to a sister who has been raped by someone she trusted. The reader of that blog wrote: Thank you for believing me and validating my pain. No one else has ever done that.


About Barbara Mhangami–Ruwende:

Barbara Mhangami–Ruwende is a scholar-practitioner in public health with a focus on minority women’s sexual and reproductive health, and founder/director of the Africa Research Foundation for the Safety of Women. She is originally from Zimbabwe. She has been anthologized in Where to Now? (AmaBooks), Still (Negative Press), The Journal of African Writing 2014, African Roar 2013, the Caine Prize Anthology 2014, The Gonjon Pin and Other Stories, and the journal Storytime. She was a 2014 Hedgebrook Writer in Residence and Caine Prize for African Writing workshop attendee. She is a mentor with the Writivism program at the Centre for African Cultural Excellence (CACE) and a member of Rotary International.



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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

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