Harriet Anena

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Ber (Harriet) Anena
BornHarriet Anena
Gulu District, Uganda
Alma materMakerere University
(Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication)
(Master of Arts in human rights) Columbia University
(MFA Writing, Creative Nonfiction)
GenrePoetry, fiction, nonfiction
Notable worksA Nation In Labour (2015)
Notable awards2018 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa

Ber Anena born and previously published as Harriet Anena[1] is a Ugandan writer and performer, whose writing includes poetry, nonfiction and fiction. She is the author of a collection of poems, A Nation In Labour, published in 2015,[2] won the 2018 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa.[3] The Economist described her poetry performance as "an arresting evocation of love and war".[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Anena was born to Acholi parents and raised in the Gulu District of Uganda.[5] She grew up during the two-decade war led by the Lord's Resistance Army rebels, an episode that birthed and influenced her early writing. Anena attended Gulu Public Primary School, Sacred Heart Secondary School, and Gulu Central High School. She graduated with a Bachelor of Mass Communication degree from Makerere University in 2010 and completed a Master of Arts degree in human rights from the same institution in 2018.[6] She is pursuing the MFA Writing program at Columbia University in New York.[7][8]

Journalistic work[edit]

Anena worked with the Daily Monitor newspaper as a reporter, sub-editor, and deputy chief sub-editor from 2009 to September 2014.[9] She joined the African Centre for Media Excellence in 2014 and worked as a journalism trainer, media researcher, program coordinator and online content producer until 2019. In August 2019, Anena joined Columbia Journal as its online copy editor. Her journalistic articles have been published in the Daily Monitor,[10][11] New Vision, The Observer, Columbia Journal, The Atlantic and Popula. She has also taught Specialized Writing to journalism students at Islamic University in Uganda.[12]


Anena wrote her first poem, "The plight of the Acholi child", in 2003.[13] It won a writing competition organised by the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative and helped secure her a bursary for A-Level education.[6] She attended the 2013 Caine Prize workshop held in Uganda, and her story "Watchdog Games" was published in the anthology A Memory This Size and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing, 2013.[14] In 2013, she was shortlisted for the "Ghana Poetry prize" for her poem "We Arise".[15]

A Nation In Labour, published in 2015, is her debut book,[16] a "socially conscious" collection of poems. The New Vision wrote that "Anena and her buffet of poetry will keep you hooked."[17] As described by Tomiwa Ilori, "A Nation in Labour is a four-part treatise that uses elevated language to tell of horror. Anena's collection of poetry warns society about its warped value system through a disciplined use of satiric responses that resonate. Each part of the treatise soaks our desiccated humanity in fluid cadences."[18]

In November 2018, A Nation In Labour was shortlisted for the biennial Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, alongside collections by Tanure Ojaide and Servio Gbadamosi.[19][20][21][22] On 9 December 2018, at an award ceremony held in Lagos, Nigeria, Anena and Ojaide were announced joint winners. The prize was judged by Toyin Falola, Olu Obafemi and Margaret Busby (chair).[23] The award was presented by Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka.[24][25][26]

Her work appears in 2019's New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent,[27] edited by Margaret Busby.

Awards and recognition[edit]

In December 2018, Anena was named winner of the 2018 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa for her book A Nation in Labour, published in 2015.[28][29] She jointly won the prize with Professor Tanure Ojaide. Anena received her award at a ceremony in Lagos, Nigeria, attended by Wole Soyinka, Africa's first Nobel Laureate in literature, after whom the prize is named. The Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature is a "pan-African writing prize awarded biennially to the best literary work produced by an African".[30]

Anena's short story "Dancing with Ma" was shortlisted for the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.[31][32] In 2017 and 2018, her short fiction, "The Satans Inside My Jimmy" and "Waiting", were longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize.[33]

Published works[edit]

Poetry collections[edit]

  • A Nation In Labour. Kampala, Uganda: CreateSpace Publishing. 2015.[34]

Selected poems[edit]

Selected short stories[edit]

Selected articles[edit]


  1. ^ "Participant Anena, Ber". Global Africa and the Humanities Series. Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 25 December 2022.
  2. ^ Richard Oduor; Grace Kenganzi; David Kangye (March 2015). "Book Review: A Nation In Labour - Three voices, one book". So Many Stories. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  3. ^ "Nigerian professor, Ugandan win Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature". 2018-12-10. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
  4. ^ L.T. (23 August 2019). "The writers breathing fresh life into Ugandan literature". The Economist. Kampala.
  5. ^ "'For Me, Life Is Political.' An Interview With Harriet Anena". Short Story Day Africa. 30 September 2015. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  6. ^ a b Joseph Ssemutooke (7 February 2015). "The making of a budding poet". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  7. ^ Anena, Harriet (2019-07-18). "I'm Emptying My Bank Account to Go to Columbia". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  8. ^ "Harriet Anena: Now that Columbia has called…". Kangye Writes. 2019-05-22. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  9. ^ "Harriet Anena: I Question Politics through Poetry". Itanile. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  10. ^ Harriet Anena (27 November 2012). "If Uganda 'divorced' colonialism, why are we on our knees over aid cuts?". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  11. ^ Harriet Anena (27 January 2012). "Govt must live up to its mandate and tackle the nodding disease". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  12. ^ Bamuturaki Musinguzi (28 December 2018). "Anena's poetry wins Wole Soyinka Prize". Retrieved 12 February 2022.
  13. ^ "Uganda at 56: Writing Independence (2000-2009)". Writivism. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  14. ^ Dennis D. Muhumuza (27 April 2013). "Caine prize anthology launched". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  15. ^ "Shortlist for Ghana Poetry Prize 2013 Released". poetryfoundationghana.org. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  16. ^ Oduor Jagero (15 March 2015). "A Nation In Labour". The Magunga. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  17. ^ Caroline Ariba (27 June 2016), "Book review: A nation is in labour", New Vision.
  18. ^ Tomiwa Ilori (27 October 2015). "Rhetoric of Pain and Other Resources". Wawa Book Review.
  19. ^ Kazeem Ugbodada (3 November 2018). "Nine African poets shortlisted for 2018 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature". P.M. News.
  20. ^ Daily Graphic (19 November 2018), "9 African poets on 2018 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature list", Graphic Online.
  21. ^ Jemilat Nasiru (28 November 2018). "Arena, Ojaide, Gbadamosi shortlisted for Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature". The Cable.
  22. ^ James Murua (29 November 2018). "Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature 2018 shortlist announced". James Murua's Literature Blog.
  23. ^ Bamuturaki Musinguzi (10 November 2018), "Ugandan poet longlisted for Wole Soyinka prize", The East African.
  24. ^ James Murua (10 December 2018). "Prof Tanure Ojaide, Harriet Anena are joint Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature 2018 winners". James Murua's Literature Blog.
  25. ^ Joseph Kizza, "Ugandan wins 2018 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature", New Vision, 10 December 2018.
  26. ^ Kungu Al-Mahadi Adam, "Ugandan Author, Harriet Anena Wins 2018 Wole Soyinka Prize", SoftPower News, 10 December 2018.
  27. ^ New Daughters of Africa at Myriad Editions.
  28. ^ Ninsiima Julian, "Uganda’s Harriet Anena wins Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa 2018", PML Daily, 10 December 2018.
  29. ^ "Ugandan writer Harriet Anena wins Wole Soyinka Literature Prize", Edge, 10 December 2018.
  30. ^ Monitor Reporter (10 December 2018). "Ugandan author is joint winner of Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature". Daily Monitor. Kampala. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  31. ^ "2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Shortlist", Commonwealth Writers, 23 May 2018.
  32. ^ Bamuturaki Musinguzi (8 June 2018). "Ugandan writer shortlisted for Commonwealth prize". The East African.
  33. ^ "Books". Short Story Day Africa. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  34. ^ "A Nation in Labour | A Poetry Collection". www.goodreads.com. Retrieved 11 August 2020.

External links[edit]