What you need to know:
- Okot Bitek set out to memorialise the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide, but the witnessing force of these brief, incantatory poems ripples outward to figuratively encompass multiple histories of violence and brutality, including the terror her own family and countless others faced under Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda.
Ugandan-Canadian poet Juliane Okot Bitek has been named the winner of the African Poetry Book Fund’s 2017 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry. Juliane (pictured) was born in 1982 in Nairobi to Ugandan parents, Caroline and Okot p’Bitek.
She was awarded the prestigious Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry for her collection of poems, 100 Days, in memory of the Rwanda genocide, published by University of Alberta Press in 2016.
Among the judges for this year’s prize was the award-winning writer and scholar John Keene, who praised Bitek’s book for its excellence in simplicity and a substantial focus on African issues. Keene said: “In 100 Days, poet Juliane Okot Bitek set out to memorialise the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide, but the witnessing force of these brief, incantatory poems ripples outward to figuratively encompass multiple histories of violence and brutality, including the terror her own family and countless others faced under Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda.
“The lyric beauty, intertextual depth, and metonymic power of Okot Bitek’s poetry underscore the capacities of art and language to cast light into the darkest corners of our human experience, and bridge the gulfs that lie between us.”
In the same appreciative tempo, Kwame Dawes, the director of African Poetry Book Fund, which administers the Glenna Luschei Prize, similarly preferred Bitek’s book because Bitek is testimony of the rich legacy of African letters, a legacy that Bitek has made through her efforts in the beautiful collection of poems in the 100 Days.
The Glenna Luschei Literary Prize, which is awarded annually, is given to an African poet and writer who has published in the previous year.
It comes with a $1,000 cash award.
Now in its fourth year, and with a very invigorating support from Glenna Luschei, it continues to recognise not only the work of African poets, but the efforts of those publishers who publish these poets.
Juliane Okot P’ Bitek is not a new name in literature, just like her father Okot p’Bitek. She is a gifted poet who focuses on African politics and culture. She was anthologised in Boda Boda Anthem published by Kampala babishai poetry in 2015. Juliane is currently a PhD candidate with the University of British Columbia’s Liu Institute for Global Issues in Vancouver. Her other works have been also published widely online and in print in various literary magazines including Arc, Whetstone, Fugue, and Room of One’s Own, and has been anthologized in Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry and Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories behind Them. Those interested to read 100 Days can purchase it online from the University of Alberta Press, an Indie Bookstore, or Amazon.
The African Poetry Book fund was established by Laura and Robert F. X. Sillerman in partnership with the literary journal Prairie Schooner. Its primary objective is to celebrate and cultivate the poetic arts of Africa both within Africa and in the diaspora.
The Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry is funded by literary philanthropist and poet Glenna Luschei. It is the only pan-African book prize focused on promoting African poetry written in English or written in African languages but translated to English.
An interesting phenomenon is that critical examination of the current history of African literature shows that even if the pioneering African writers of the last century were basically men that wrote about post-colonial and anti-colonial themes, now good African writers are substantially women who deal with the complexities in the post-modernist literary world.
It is also great to realise that great older African writers like p’Bitek are now being replaced by the likes of Juliane Bitek, Fanon by Mireille Fanon, Chinua Achebe by Chimamanda Adichie and Christopher Okigbo by Obiageli. African literature now has women writers as its pillars.
Authorial excellencies evinced in the works of Laila Lalami, Taiye Selasie, Emma Dabiri, Penina Muhando, Grace Musila, Jennifer Makumbi and Okwiri Oduor is testimony to the argument that African literature is shifting slowly from being a turf for men.
The writer lives in Lodwar, Turkana County