Tikkun Daily

The Art of Revolution: Spoken Word, Video, and Performance Art to Change The World — Juliane Okot Bitek

by:  on January 8th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Juliane Okot Bitek knows the power of narrative. An award winning writer living in Vancouver, Canada, Okot Bitek is also an Acholi woman who calls Gulu in Northern Uganda home. Considering the civil war (1986- 2006) that plagued northern Ugandans, it’s no wonder much of Okot Bitek’s passionate writing focuses on social and political issues. In the last decade, through her poetry, essays, fiction, nonfiction and opinion pieces, Okot Bitek has fought both to make sense of, and to expose the tragedies of her homeland.

Okot Bitek comes to writing through an impressive lineage. Her late father is the famed Ugandan poet, essayist, novelist and academic, Okot p’Bitek, who was, shortly before his death in 1982, appointed as the first professor of Creative Writing at Makerere University in Kampala. Things weren’t always so rosy, however. As a result of her father’s work, Okot Bitek and her family spent the early years of her childhood in exile in Kenya. As a result of this history, Okot Bitek is no stranger to political strife and social unrest. Still, in spite of this, she describes the pleasure of growing up in a house full of books and lively debates between her parents and their literary and artistic friends. Some of Africa’s luminaries were regular houseguests: Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and David Rubadiri were men she called uncle, and on a given day they might be filling the Okot Bitek household with their intellect, their opinions and their friendship.

Growing up in such an environment would make anyone sensitive to the importance of storytelling. As Okot Bitek says, “Stories are everything. Without a story, none of us exists.” But it’s not just the significance of narrative that is so dear to Okot Bitek, she is sensitive to the invisibility and the silence that shrouds those whose stories don’t get heard. This is evident in the work she has recently completed, which is provisionally titled Stories From the Dry Season. Collaborating with Dr. Erin Baines of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia and Grace Acan, a women’s advocate and LRA survivor, Okot Bitek took on this work as a way to tell the stories of women from northern Uganda who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A) and who eventually returned to civilian life after long and terrible years of abuse and assault.

A doctoral student at UBC herself, Okot Bitek recently participated in a poetry reading at the Liu Institute for Global Issues with one of the subjects of her book and co-author, Grace Acan. In 1996 Acan was abducted, along with many other girls, from her school in Uganda when she was only 16. For eight years she was the captive of rebels, living a terrifying and unstable life in the bush as a “rebel wife”. She bore two children during this time, but tragically, one of her them was killed in an attack by the Ugandan army. Attempts at escape by other bush wives were met with brutal beatings, even murder, but eventually Grace did escape and she is now a university student who is also involved in the Women’s Advocacy Network, a local NGO that seeks justice for women affected by the war in Uganda.

More on Grace Acan can be found here.

And an interview with Grace Acan can be heard here

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A Minute with Juliane Okot Bitek

An interview by the lovely people at the Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Program

A Minute with Juliane Okot Bitek

Juliane Okot Bitek

Juliane Okot Bitek is a PhD student in Interdisciplinary Students Graduate Program.  She holds a Master’s Degree in English and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art (Creative Writing).  Her doctoral research focuses on post-conflict narratives of formerly abducted women in northern Uganda.  Juliane is an essayist and poet whose work has been anthologized and published widely in literary magazines, on-line and in print.  She recently completed a book, Stories from the Dry Season, which she co-authored with Grace Acan, a women’s advocate in northern Uganda.  Juliane has been an invited poet at the International Poetry Festivals of Medellin, Colombia (2008) and Granada, Nicaragua (2009).  She continues to write and speak about issues of home, homeland and diaspora.

We interviewed Juliane Okot Bitek in July 2013.

Essential biography:

“A Chronology of Compassion or Towards an Imperfect Future” International Journal of Transitional Justice Special Edition. Vol. 6, Iss. 3. 394-403.(Fall 2012)

“Dreams of Home Place and Belonging: A Fractured Essay for a Sense of Home.” Cutting Edge; A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies at UBC. Vol.1

Drums of My Flesh by Cyril Dabydeen (Tsar Publications, 2007) Canadian Literature: A Quarterly of Criticism and Review 198 (Autumn 2008) Canada and its Discontents 106- 107

What is the best moment of the day?

For certain, it’s got to be after dinner. With the exception of days when brilliance shows itself whenever it does, the moment supper is done I feel as though all my responsibilities for the day have been met and the world is mine.

What kind of music do you listen to at the moment?

I don’t have a music collection on my phone. I don’t feel the need to be plugged in and I’m also afraid of missing out in real life sounds.

Do you listen to the radio?

CBC Radio while I make dinner so mostly I catch the news. As it Happens and sometimes The Current Revue. On the odd Sunday I’m thrilled to catch The Vinyl Cafe with Staurt Maclean.

What was your first job?

Selling snacks at the cinema before and during the intermission at my mom’s kiosk. I didn’t get paid in cash but we got all the benefits of watching movies, playing pinball games and watching concerts for free.
What Academic books/articles are you reading now? In preparing for comps, I have a bunch of reading to get through. At this very moment: Dionne Brand’s Ossuaries, James Scotts’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance, Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and Richard Delgado’s Critical Race Theory.

What Non-Academic books do you have on your bedside table?

They Call Me Lolita, 419.

When you were a child, did you want to study a PhD?

Where do you work?

At the Liu Institute for Global Issues.

Do you discuss your work with other researchers or academics, aside from your peers?

Yes, anyone who will listen.

Describe what is to be “interdisciplinary”, like you would describe it to a good friend.

Like a good outfit made to fit your figure through different sizing for the top and the bottom but it looks good together.

What interdisciplinary research or work has given you the best satisfaction?

The intersection between the politics, creative and critical writing, reading and thinking is so exciting when it comes together in a piece through the works of Toni Morrison, Dionne Brand, Wangechi Mutu, Wambui Mwangi, Anne Carson, Audre Lorde for example.

Is there any researcher or academic you admire or appreciate a lot?

Oh yes. My supervisory committee are my intellectual stars.

What advice would you give up to aspiring Grad-School, or Grad Students.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and so it’s important to work your core muscles, eat and sleep well.

What are you afraid of regarding the future?

That my core muscles won’t hold.