For poet Juliane Okot Bitek storytelling was always in the air. In this episode, she shares with Qanita Lilla that stories have the power to transform who we are and how we situate ourselves in the world. Juliane describes the precarity of belonging, the unexpected joys of ‘unsettlement’, intergenerational memory (contained in the beauty of Acholi mosquito ‘nests’) as new modalities through which to navigate the past. These things and more shape a world where the ghost of Joseph Conrad is finally exorcised and a glorious, wild apparition of a woman without language is conjured in his place. She lives in the gaps on Juliane’s page, slides off the run-on lines and sits between the repetitions, only to emerge with her back turned as she walks into the crowd.
Otoniya Juliane Okot Bitek is an Acholi poet. Her 100 Days (University of Alberta 2016) a book of poetry that reflects on the meaning of memory two decades after the Rwanda genocide, was nominated for several writing prizes including the 2017 BC Book Prize, the Pat Lowther Award, the 2017 Alberta Book Awards and the 2017 Canadian Authors Award for Poetry. It won the 2017 IndieFab Book of the Year Award for poetry and the 2017 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry. Otoniya’s poem “Migration: Salt Stories” was shortlisted for the 2017 National Magazine Awards for Poetry in Canada. Her poem “Gauntlet” was longlisted for the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize and is the title of her most recent work, a chapbook with the same title from Nomados Press (2019). She is an assistant professor of Black Creativity at Queen’s University in Kingston, which occupies the lands of the Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee people.
With Opened Mouths: The Podcast is hosted by Dr Qanita Lilla and produced by Agnes Etherington Art Centre in partnership with Queen’s University’s campus radio station, CFRC 101.9 FM.