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BY THE BOOK: Ugandan poet Peter Kagayi

Friday September 29 2017

Peter Kagayi Mutunga is a Ugandan poet. The

Peter Kagayi Mutunga is a Ugandan poet. The Headline That Morning is his first book. He is currently in Nairobi for the Storymoja Festival. PHOTO| COURTESY 

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Peter Kagayi Mutunga is a Ugandan poet. His first book of poetry The Headline That Morning was also the first ever book to be published by Soo Many Stories. It contains 51 poems and is divided into two sections; the political expression and the personal poems. The book was well received across East Africa and contains some of his most loved poems one of which is titled “My Country is a Badly Taken Selfie”.

Peter, who calls his poems active, is a passionate performer who doesn’t shy away from tackling political and societal issues in his work perhaps because he holds a law degree from Makerere University.

While at Makerere, he was part of the Lantern Meet of Poets, a poetry club that met and critiqued poems by students. His passion for performing poetry made him start The Poetry Shrine, a poetry night at the Uganda Museum which encourages poets to not only publish their collections but also learn to perform them.

Peter, who is in Nairobi for Storymoja Festival, spoke to about his literary favourites and fantasies.  

Which one book do you hold so dear that it can’t possibly be lent out?

I just lent it out, though: Witchcraft, Divination and Healing Among the Basoga by Catholic Church, Diocese of Jinja (Uganda). The book is an attempt by the Catholic Church to decolonise religion and spirituality among the people of Basoga. The book possesses valuable information on functional poetry among my people. I lent it to a friend who wanted to learn how to make love charms.


What is your favourite book from childhood?

African Child by Camara Laye because it was the first novel I read that was so familiar to my own experience as an eight-year-old child growing up. The characters, the terrain, the compound work at the beginning of term and even the field work resonated so much with my own life at the time.

Who is your literary crush? (Not a book character but a real person you admire in the lit world).

Okot P’Bitek because of how he managed to make his Acoli orature a subject of universal study. He also published his mothers’ song-poems (how cool is that!) and he has a song genre named after him.

What’s your greatest fear?

Thankfully, I surpassed it when my first poetry collection was published!

Most embarrassing stage/writing mistake ever?

My poetic wings were nurtured a nest called the Lantern Meet of Poets. The culture of writing, critiquing and performing poetry ensured one was always prepared even for the worst. On stage, I recall no mistake made that could be termed embarrassing. On writing, same story.

The Headline That Morning is Peter Kagayi's

The Headline That Morning is Peter Kagayi's first book. PHOTO| COURTESY

If you were to dine with three writers dead or alive, who would they be and why?

It would be Okot P’Bitek, Susan Kiguli and Ngugi wa Thiong’o because I have questions and ideas about language and memory today I would want them to help me figure out.

Most unforgettable character from a book?

Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. His empathy, passion and pursuit for justice went a long way in inspiring me to want to be a lawyer like him.

Which book do you wish you had written and why?

I do not covet over books like that, I just write my own.

Greatest craft sin you have committed?

Sometimes I speak in defence of book piracy in Uganda.

If you were sent off to Robben Island for a year, which three books would you take with you?

Bob Dylan The Lyrics from 1961-2012, One Little Guitar: The Words of Paul Job Kafeero and Witchcraft, Divination and Healing Among the Basoga.

If you weren’t an artist/writer, what would you be?

Probably a lawyer who writes poems part-time.

Any other fun/interesting thing you’ve always wanted to tell readers?

Dear reader, buying our books is for us writers. But reading them is more important. The former gives us money, the latter institutional memory.

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