Welcome to our inaugural Conversation. You should expect to hear two artists whose work we admire deeply, connect across worlds. Meandrous, is perhaps the best word with which to capture the feeling of this conversation – indeed it is our favorite kind. It goes wherever the spirits deign to take our guests. Like sitting in your mother’s living room and listening in. Our guests may read to one another or they may sing to one another. Our guests may talk about art and craft; about writing and creating and what to do with the frustration of stagnation. They may talk about family or work or love or loss or joy or hunger. Meandrous.
In this first conversation we invite two poets, Dr. Stella Nyanzi and Professor Tsitsi Jaji. In one hour and across two continents, we asked them to read and reflect and take us wherever they wished to go.
Dr. Stella Nyanzi is currently in exile in Kenya, having fled from her home country of Uganda to escape political persecution. She is a fierce critic, agitator and instigator against the regime of Ugandan despot, Yoweri Museveni and against all forms of patriarchal violence. Nyanzi is an ex-convict and ex-prisoner, twice imprisoned for her sharp and punishing tongue. In 2019 she was trialed for “cyber harassment and offensive communication” following a viral Facebook post in which she exercised what she calls a ‘politics of vulgarity,’ aimed squarely at the person of the President of Uganda and the First Lady, Janet Museveni. In court, Dr. Nyanzi fought the state’s charges with her words, her voice and her body. Nyanzi is a medical anthropologist, mother of twins, feminist, queer rights activist, former parliamentary candidate and scholar of public health and sexuality. While in prison, Nyanzi secretly released a collection of poems, No Roses from My Mouth: Poems from Prison
Professor Tsitsi Jaji is Professor of English at Duke University. Her research focuses on literary and other forms of expression by Black people across the world. She takes a comparative approach in her work, looking at the cultural productions of Black people in America, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. She has traced these cultural exchanges historically to find the long histories of Black people sharing aesthetic values and styles. Her first book, Africa in Stereo: Music, Modernism and Pan-African Solidarity was awarded the First Book Award by the African Literature Association. Prof. Jaji was born and raised in Zimbabwe to a deeply religious family. She moved to the US as a young adult after winning a scholarship to study piano and literature at Oberlin College. This is the more intimate history that comes across in her poetry. “I write scholarly essays and books for my job. I write poems because this pleases me, and my readers may do what they please with them.” Jaji is the author of Mother Tongues (2020), winner of the Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Prize, Beating the Graves (2017), and Carnaval (2014), a chapbook in the inaugural New Generation African Poets box set.