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The Queen of Katwe

How a new star of the chess world rose from the slums of Kampala.

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The Queen of Katwe
By Tim Crothers
Simon & Schuster
240 pages

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”Phiona Mutesi is a young chess prodigy from Uganda whose fierce mind has sparked notice not only because it’s relatively rare to see an African woman playing elite chess, but also because she’s from Katwe – an impoverished corner of Uganda’s teeming capital city of Kampala. Phiona is Uganda’s national chess champion, a title she earned as a teenager. She competed at the World Chess Olympiad – the world’s most prestigious team chess event – in Siberia in 2010 and just weeks ago in Istanbul, Turkey, where she won a title that points her toward becoming a grandmaster.

Phiona’s story is worth attention, and sportswriter Tim Crothers caught on. His article about Phiona for ESPN: The Magazine was a finalist for a National Magazine Award and has been optioned by Disney films. He’s now expanded his feature into a book: The Queen of Katwe.

One of four children, Phiona lost her father to AIDs when she was still a little girl. Living in a shack with her mother and siblings and unable to attend school because of the family’s poverty, Phiona was about 9 years old – and hungry and illiterate – when she first met Robert Katende, a war refugee and soccer player-turned-missionary who hatched the seemingly unlikely plan of teaching chess to impoverished children in Katwe. Katende succeeded in getting a group of kids so enthused about chess that they began playing on their own with bottle caps. And along the way he discovered a giant talent in Phiona.

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