Cover image for The queen of Katwe : one girl's triumphant path to becoming a chess champion
The queen of Katwe : one girl's triumphant path to becoming a chess champion
Scribner trade paperback edition.
Physical Description:
245 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes reading group guide.
Opening. Land of the frogs ; Katende ; Pioneers ; Resurrection ; Teach her what you know ; Mzungu -- Middlegame. Like a boy, but not a boy ; Heaven ; The other side -- Endgame. Hurdles ; Dreams.
Personal Subject:
The astonishing true story of Phiona Mutesi, a teenager from the slums of Kampala, Uganda, who, inspired by an unlikely mentor, a war refugee turned missionary, becomes an international chess champion.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 921 MUTESI 1 1
Book 921 MUTESI 1 1
Book 921 MUTESI 1 1
Book 794.1092 CRO 1 1

On Order



Now a major motion picture starring Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong ' o and David Oyelowo, directed by Mira Nair.

The "astonishing" ( The New York Times Book Review ) and "inspirational" ( Shelf Awareness ) true story of Phiona Mutesi--a teenage chess prodigy from the slums of Uganda.

One day in 2005 while searching for food, nine-year-old Ugandan Phiona Mutesi followed her brother to a dusty veranda where she met Robert Katende.

Katende, a war refugee turned missionary, had an improbable dream: to empower kids in the Katwe slum through chess--a game so foreign there is no word for it in their native language. Laying a chess­board in the dirt, Robert began to teach. At first children came for a free bowl of porridge, but many grew to love the game that--like their daily lives--requires persevering against great obstacles. Of these kids, one girl stood out as an immense talent: Phiona.

By the age of eleven Phiona was her country's junior champion, and at fifteen, the national champion. Now a Woman Candidate Master--the first female titled player in her country's history--Phiona dreams of becoming a Grandmaster, the most elite level in chess. But to reach that goal, she must grapple with everyday life in one of the world's most unstable countries. The Queen of Katwe is a "remarkable" (NPR) and "riveting" ( New York Post ) book that shows how "Phiona's story transcends the limitations of the chessboard" (Robert Hess, US Grandmaster).

Author Notes

After being a senior writer at Sports Illustrated for numerous years, Tim Crothers now teaches in the School of Journalism at the University of North Carolina. He is the author of The Man Watching.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

New York Review of Books Review

"If you are born in Katwe, you die in Katwe": That is the prevailing sentiment among those who live in the biggest slum in Kampala, Uganda, the unlikely setting for what may be one of the best chess schools in the world. In Katwe, raw sewage runs through open trenches, and floods wash over shacks occupied largely by single mothers and children like Phiona Mutesi. Phiona was about 9 when she encountered a missionary named Robert Katende teaching chess to slum children near a "dusty veranda." She was struck by the players' concentration as they bent over the vinyl chessboard. "I wanted a chance to be that happy," she told Crothers, a former Sports Illustrated senior writer who traces Phiona's astonishing rise to chess stardom. Several years later, in 2010, the teenage Phiona competed at the prestigious Chess Olympiad in Siberia. Eventually she would become the best women's chess player in Uganda For Phiona and the other children, the game's crafty rules and strategies were oddly familiar. "'The big deal with chess is planning,'" one young player says he told Phiona when she was still a beginner. "'How can you get out of the attack they have made against you?' We make decisions like that every day in the slum." A child of the slums himself, Katende was insistent about one thing when it came to chess: Don't give up. "I told them they can never resign in a game, never give up until they are checkmated. That is where the chessboard is like life."



The largest of eight slums in Kampala, Katwe (kot-WAY) is one of the worst places on earth. The slum is often so severely flooded that many residents sleep in hammocks suspended just beneath their roofs to avoid drowning. Raw sewage runs through trenches beside the alleyways of the slum and floods carry it inside people's shacks. The human waste from neighboring downtown Kampala is also dumped directly into Katwe. There is no sanitation service. Flies are everywhere. The stench is appalling. When it isn't flooded, Katwe's land is packed dirt, fouled by the sewage. Nothing grows there. Stray dogs and rats and long-horned cattle all compete with humans to survive in a confined space that becomes more overcrowded every day. Homes exist wherever someone can find space to construct a makeshift shack, at least until a developer decides that land might have some value and the area is set afire. People are evicted from their dwellings by way of a controlled burn. In Katwe they say that "running water" is the water you have to run through the slum to get, either from a dirty community well or a fetid puddle. Electricity is far too expensive for most Katwe residents where it is accessible at all. Landlords show up periodically with a sack full of padlocks and anyone who can't pay the rent is locked out of their home. Katwe has no street signs. No addresses. It is a maze of rutted alleys and dilapidated shacks. It is a place where time is measured by where your shadow hits the ground. There are no clocks. No calendars. Because it lies just a few degrees from the equator, Katwe has no seasons, which adds to the repetitive, almost listless, nature of daily life. Every day is just like the next. Survival in Katwe depends on courage and determination as well as guile and luck. During Amin's regime when Uganda suffered through a foreign trade embargo, Katwe became known as a mecca for spare parts. Anything that could be sold on the black market could be found in Katwe, where the people developed a vital resourcefulness amid the squalor. If you live in Katwe, the rest of the Ugandan population would prefer that you stay there. In the more stable neighborhoods that surround Katwe, homes and petrol stations and supermarkets are patrolled by uniformed security guards with AK-47s. The skyscrapers of downtown Kampala are in view from any dwelling in Katwe, just steps away. Children of the slum venture to the city center daily to beg or pickpocket and then commute back to Katwe to sleep at night. In Katwe, life is so transient that it is often hard to identify which children belong to which adults. It is a population of single mothers and their kids tossed randomly from one shack to another. Everybody is on the move, but nobody ever leaves. It is said that if you are born in Katwe, you die in Katwe. Death from disease or violence or famine or neglect touches everyone in the slum, yet individual tragedies are not dwelled upon because they occur so frequently. Most of the children of Katwe are fatherless and the men in their lives often beat or abuse them. The women of Katwe are valued by men for little more than sex and childcare. Many women in the slum are sex workers who eventually become pregnant, but can't afford to stop working in the trade. They must leave their children locked in the shack at night and it is not uncommon for them to return home in the early morning to find their kids have drowned in a flood or died in a fire after knocking over the kerosene lamp they were using as a night-light. Bishop Mugerwa estimates that nearly half of all teenage women in Katwe are mothers. Due largely to the lack of access to birth control in Katwe and its neighboring slums, Uganda is now the youngest country in the world with an average age of 14 years. The prodigious birthrate produces legions of young children without an infrastructure strong enough to raise them or educate them. Many become homeless and hopeless, with no sense that if they disappeared they would even be missed. Katwe's youth endure an overwhelming stigma, a sense of defeat, and a resignation that they'll never do any better than anybody else in the slum. Achievement is secondary to survival. "What we have is children raising children," Mugerwa says. "It is known as a poverty chain. The single mother cannot sustain the home. Her children go to the street and have more kids and they don't have the capacity to care for those kids. It is a cycle of misery that is almost impossible to break." By the time Harriet Nakku came to Katwe in 1980, the muddle of decrepit shacks overstuffed with people stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. All of the frogs were gone. Excerpted from The Queen of Katwe: One Girl's Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion by Tim Crothers All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. 1
Openingp. 7
Chapter 1 Land of the Frogsp. 9
Chapter 2 Katendep. 25
Chapter 3 Pioneersp. 55
Chapter 4 Resurrectionp. 69
Chapter 5 Teach Her What You Knowp. 83
Chapter 6 Mzungup. 97
Middlegamep. 117
Chapter 7 Like a Boy, But Not a Boyp. 119
Chapter 8 Heavenp. 141
Chapter 9 The Other Sidep. 155
Endgamep. 177
Chapter 10 Hurdlesp. 179
Chapter 11 Dreamsp. 213
Acknowledgmentsp. 230
New Postscript for the Paperback Editionp. 233
Tips from Phiona for Chess (and Life)p. 239
Guide for Book Clubs, Classrooms, and Chess Groupsp. 243