Episode 27: Marjorie Rugunda Interviews Juliane Okot Bitek

Nov 2, 2021


In this episode of TIA House Talks, Marjorie Rugunda interviews Juliane Otoniya Okot Bitek. They talk about timely subjects such as writing during a pandemic, remembering/witnessing a trauma and Black women’s voices in art. As an Acholi poet, Okot Bitek narrates her experience while writing 100 Days. She explains why it is important to document the memory of the Rwandan genocide. The conversation also focuses on her experimenting with different footnotes techniques while writing Gauntlet. Rugunda and Okot Bitek concludes with a discussion about the power of language and the word.


Marjorie Rugunda is a second-year master’s student in the Department of English at the University of Calgary. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Media studies and English literature (Hons) from Rhodes University, South Africa (2017 & 2018).  Marjorie’s research interests are post-colonial literature, African popular imaginaries, and female subjectivities in African literature.

Juliane Otoniya Okot Bitek is the author of 100 Days (University of Alberta 2016) and two chapbooks: Sublime: Lost Words (The Elephants 2018) and Gauntlet (Nomados Press 2016). Okot Bitek is the 2020 SFU Writer-in-Residence, 2021 Shadbolt Fellow at Simon Fraser University, and an Assistant Professor at Queen’s University. She lives on the lands of the Musqueam, the Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh peoples in British Columbia.

Show notes

04:00 – Who is Julie or Juliane?
04:45 – 100 Days, Sublime: Lost Words and Gauntlet
05:25 – Okot Bitek’s writing experience in the age of COVID
08:00 – Introduction to 100 Days, with reference to the genocide in Rwanda
10:10 – The speakers talk about memory, trauma, and death
11:20 – Reference to writer Primo Levi, Holocaust survivor and writer
13:13 – Why is it important for Juliane Okot Bitek to write about Rwandan genocide?
13:40 – Reference to artist Wangechi Mutu
16:00 – Okot Bitek tells a story of her mothers’ experience with Rwandan refugees.
17:31 – A reading from 100 Days
18:19 – Okot Bitek’s collaboration with Wangechi Mutu, and dedication to Yolande Mukagasana
22:15 – The most important work Okot Bitek has written so far: the fake and the true answers
23:00 – Experimenting with space and creative poetics using footnotes in Gauntlet
25:12 – Okot Bitek talks about the power of language and words
26:48 – Reconciliation, peace, and justice: bearing witness, reference to June Jordan, or violence and justice related to the actions of Dominic Ongwen
36:22 – People who taught Juliane Okot Bitek how to think and how to write:
NourbeSe Philip, Dionne Brand, Christina Sharpe, Cecily Nicholson, and Toni Morrison.
37:43 – The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison, and works by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, The First Woman and Kintu
40:10 – Writing for community (“us”) and not about “them” – power in the work of Wangui wa Goro, and how Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness perpetuates harmful representation
43:25 – Listening to music when the writing feels stuck: Nina Simone – Sinnerman (Power)
44:57 – The relationship between teaching, writing and scholarship
46:30 – The view from Okot Bitek’s laptop camera during their Zoom call – in a writing residency at Baldwin House, Burnaby, B.C

TIA House recognizes the generous support of the Canada Research Chairs program and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. We also appreciate the support of the Faculty of Arts and the Department of English at the University of Calgary, where our offices are housed, as well as the guidance of Marc Stoeckle at the Taylor Family Digital Library.

TIA House is run by Larissa Lai, Shuyin Yu, Marc Lynch,  Ryan Stearne, Paul Meunier, and Mahmoud Ababneh.

Our Intro/Outro music is Monarch of the Streets by Loyalty Freak Music, accessed from the Free Music Archive.

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