Creative Writing Professor Patricia Keeney recently gave a reading from her novel One Man Dancing (Inanna, 2016) at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Connecticut. The Stowe Center is attached to the actual house that Stowe lived in for most of her life. (Stowe is most well-known for her early anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.)
The center hosts regular discussions about Stowe’s life and works, and also hosts readings by authors who have created books connected to social and political issues. Following each reading, the author is interviewed onstage about their work and then the floor is opened to questions.
Keeney’s novel is based on the true story of a Toronto man who was part of a major theatre company operating in Uganda under the murderous regime of dictator Idi Amin. When Amin learns that the company received financial support from the CIA and that its non-verbal plays were not just acrobatics but were questioning the legitimacy of his regime, he orders that everyone in the company be killed. The book relates the harrowing survival story of its protagonist, Charles Tumwisigye.
“The book was the result of two years of interviews with Charles,” explained Keeney who also has 10 volumes of poetry and another novel to her credit. “It started out as more of a documentary but evolved into what I would call a non-fiction novel. Charles was good with that. It came much closer to the truth than the documentary form could.”
The former president of the Union of African Performing Artists, Ethiopia’s Debebe Eshetu, called the book “a story of power … miraculously told … [a] wonderful novel about art and artists.” The president of the Nigerian Centre of the International Theatre Institute, Emmanuel Dandaura, wrote: “Well-worth reading for those who know Africa and its theatre and especially good reading for those who are meeting it for the first time.”
Keeney spoke at the Stowe Center about the genesis of the novel and how it was turned into a screenplay by award-winning writer Hank Whittemore. Whittemore, based in New York, also participated in the discussion and spoke enthusiastically about the importance of the Keeney’s book. “This really is a case of art speaking truth to power and how angry power was about it,” he said.
The screenplay of One Man Dancing is now with Whittemore’s Hollywood agent and is slowly making the rounds of producer’s and director’s offices.
Published in 2016 by Inanna Press of Toronto, One Man Dancing is available in bookstores and online through Amazon.