Update: This is now a film. Yes!!!!!
The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers was a reading find on a recent expedition to my public library. It’s one of those books that I’ve opened for some down time reading pleasure then spent the rest of the day reading until reaching the back cover. Tim Crothers traces the roots of several dots that come together to create Phiona Mutesi’s Ugandan world in Katwe. One very important “dot” is the life story of Robert Katende who brought chess to Katwe as part of a sports outreach program. Katende noticed that not every child wants to play soccer and decided to offer an alternative game, chess, for them. It is through Katende’s outreach efforts that Phiona discovers the inner mental and outter physical world of chess. Tim Crothers presents Katende’s personal history of survival, endurance and talent in a manner that show the incredible impact of one person on the lives of others. One young man’s life decisions reverberate throughout his world in remarkable and unexpected ways. Without Robert Katende there would be no chess for Phiona Mutesi and the other children of Katwe. In turn Phiona herself is having a positive impact on her personal world and the world of women in Uganda. Her story breaks out of the cycle of poverty and desperate struggle to survive for women and their children in places where living is far from easy. What’s at stake is creating a life based on choices rather than the need to eat and literally keep from drowning when it rains. When a slum is built on/in a swamp things get dicey for everyone when water falls from the sky.
Crothers’ writing style is quick and engaging as he works with words to bring to life the physical landscape of the Katwe slum and Uganda. He creates a context that the people who can afford to buy his book–and read it with ease–may have some trouble relating to. This is a world of harsh poverty where women do what they must to stay alive and education is a luxury requiring payment. Via Robert Katende’s story it’s clear that it’s not an easy world for boys and men either. At first one wonders where Crothers is going –how far back in time–and how will we ever get to the story of the girl who dreams of being a Chess Grandmaster. Well, I assure you that by the time you are learning more about Phiona it will be very clear why Crothers pulls the narrative strings he does. In order to fully appreciate Phiona’s ongoing life story the daily context of her world is required.
Another dot Crothers connects is that of the importance of education–like the Sport’s Outreach program–Tim Crothers’ takes a holistic approach to presenting Phiona’s and Robert Katende’s stories. Education plays a vital role in dealing with people in poverty. Hence, Crothers pulls in the story line dot of Andrew Popp all the way from Santa Barbara, California. How does the suicide of a talented young man have anything to with the life of girl living in the slums of Uganda? The scholarship memorial fund created by Andrew’s parents is what enables Phiona to attend school. Personally I think that’s a wonderful thing and an incredible part of Phiona’s story because education is essential to breaking the poverty cycle and the people in the slums know this fact.
Andrew Popp Scholarship Fund http://sportsoutreach.net/projects/teaching/andrew-popp-scholarship-fund/
So if you’re looking for a great human interest story, one which is far from finished, then get a hold of The Queen of Katwe. Consider the power of one piece on a chess board and the powerful impact one person can have on the life of another. Get some inspirartion. some ideas about teaching from Robert Katende, and perhaps some motivation. Perhaps most importantly get some HOPE.
Author Tim Crothers’ site >> http://www.timcrothers.net/
Phiona Mutesi–so far– >> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phiona_Mutesi
Uploaded on Nov 9, 2011
This is a brief documentary on Fiona, a 15 year old Chess Prodigy from the slums of Kampala, Uganda who discovered Chess as a homeless child in search of food. I traveled to Uganda to cover this story through a non-profit organization called Silent Images. We were serving another non-profit called Sports Outreach, in which the chess coach discovered a special gift in Phiona for the game of Chess. I was accompanied by Tim Crothers of ESPN and David Johnson of Silent Images on the trip. Tim has now written a book on Phiona called “The Queen of Katwe” and Phiona has had recent top news stories on ESPN as well as CNN. Disney is currently planning to produce a movie on Phiona as well and I can’t wait to see Phiona’s dreams come true. She is a true underdog in every sense of the word and no person is more worthy of success in life than this special young woman.