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Stella Nyanzi. Credit: Kampala Dispatch.

Dr Stella Nyanzi, the Ugandan academic and gender and queer rights activist currently in jail for criticising Uganda’s long-serving president Yoweri Museveni, has published a poetry collection. Nyazi, most recently awarded the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression, wrote it in jail.

The 196-page book, titled No Roses from My Mouth, was published on February 1 in a Kindle edition by the Ugandan press Ubuntu Reading Group. The collection is introduced by the Ugandan writers Esther Mirembe, Managing Editor of Writivism, and Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire.

Here’s an official description from its publishers:

Stella Nyanzi was arrested on November 2, 2018 for posting a poem on Facebook that was said to cyber-harass the long-serving President of Uganda, Mr. Yoweri Museveni. She was convicted and sentenced to eighteen months in jail. At the date of publishing this poetry collection, Nyanzi remains incarcerated. She wrote all the poems in this collection during her detention. This arguably makes her the first Ugandan prison writer to publish a poetry collection written in jail while still incarcerated.

The first batch of the poems was released on her 45th birthday on June 16, 2019, celebrated while she was in jail under the hashtag #45Poems4Freedom. Other poems were written after the birthday. These poems must be read not only for their beauty and the power of the poet’s vision, but also for the bravery and radical intent of their writing and publishing.”

No Roses from My Mouth comes with a blurb from the Egyptian writer and feminist activist Mona Eltahawy:

Nyanzi is a hero. Her insistence on violating patriarchy’s rules by talking explicitly about taboo subjects—be they the president’s buttocks, sex, sexuality, queerness—should be studied everywhere as a masterclass in the power of refusing to obey the rules of “politeness.”

And a second blurb by Rosebell Kagumire, Editor of African Feminism:

Through her actions, Nyanzi has shown that fighting for a free, democratic and equal Uganda does not come free. […] Her story is one that reminds Ugandans that the struggle for freedom has never been achieved by playing to the standards of civility set by those in power.

Dr Stella Nyanzi continues to suffer political persecution for her activism against dictatorial rule in Uganda. We at Brittle Paper reaffirm our solidarity to her cause.

Order the book here.

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Chukwuebuka Ibeh is a Staff Writer at Brittle Paper. An alumnus of the Purple Hibiscus Trust Creative Writing Workshop, his work has been published in McSweeneys, Clarion Review, Charles River Journal and elsewhere. He was longlisted for the Awele Creative Trust Award in 2017 and was a finalist for the 2019 Gerald Kraak Award. In 2019, he was named by Electric Literature as 'One of the Most Promising New Voices of Nigerian Fiction' in a feature introduced by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. He is a regular contributor with the New England Review of Books and lives in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

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