A young chess champion from the Uganda slums — whose against-the-odds story was featured in the book and movie “Queen of Katwe” — came to Kirkland to study at Northwest University. A friend arrived with her, giving the small school dreams of becoming a chess powerhouse.
In a fireside room on Northwest University’s Kirkland campus, Phiona Mutesi stood up and accepted a title she was a little ambivalent about: president of the school’s just-formed chess club.
She had another title too, a grander one, given to her by a book and movie about her life. The Queen of Katwe, she was called, due to her transformation from a homeless kid in Katwe, a Ugandan slum, to an international chess champion.
But the 21-year-old freshman is not the type of person to call attention to a thing like that, and her fellow students are largely unaware of her fame.
“I wouldn’t have been here without chess,” she said. “It’s such a long story. I can’t tell you right now.”
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She’s starting a new story now, of an American college student, and it suits her. “It’s a small school where I feel comfortable,” she said of Northwest, a Christian university of about 2,200 students.
A week earlier, she was sitting outside in the late-afternoon sun near her dorm. Inside, students played foosball in a common room. Outside, they mingled on broad lawns.
“The students are so free,” she said, noting their willingness to talk to anyone.
She still aspired to the title of chess Grandmaster, several notches above her current ranking of Woman Candidate Master. But that could wait. Education, she said, could not. She planned to major in sociology and use her degree to work with kids in Uganda.
On that day, she wasn’t even sure she would go to the chess club’s first meeting a week later. But Benjamin Mukumbya was. Sitting by her side, her friend and compatriot, who enrolled at…