Juliane O'kot Biket

  1. What inspires your poetry?

Everything and anything inspires my poetry though I’m loathe to refer to them as my poetry, especially because they are derived inspired moments and phrases that I don’t own.  Which is to say the poems reveal themselves often in snatches and sometimes much less.  I’m more responsible for crafting them into shape rather than creating them from nothing.

  1. At what point did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer but I’ve not always known how to be one. I was an avid reader as a child. Even though I still get obsessive about the text, I think I spend far too much time in my head when I could be reading. If I’m to answer this question more directly I suppose I could say that I realized I could be a writer and teacher when it became apparent that I couldn’t do much else that I enjoyed doing as much.

  1. To what extent do you think gender plays a role in publishing opportunities between men and women?

A perfectly honest answer would require me to divulge the extent to which I think of myself as a woman writer. In truth, the statistics (by CWILA[1] in Canada for instance) show that women have been and still get the short end of the stick in the publishing industry. It’s very easy to be distracted by the publishing successes of writers like Chimamanda Adichie and J.K Rowling. When I send my writing out for publication I consider many factors including my gender but I’d rather not classify them into those that may have chosen to publish my work because I’m a woman. I want to think that my work has met a particular standard, although I am cognizant of sisters everywhere who do not have the opportunity to get their work to the historically industry standard that were historically set by white men. Race, for someone like me who lives in north America can hardly ever be divorced from gender for someone who is both black and female.

  1. To what extent would you say your father [Okot p’Bitek] influenced (directly or indirectly) the genre through which you chose to express yourself?

78% plus or minus a couple of points.  I haven’t given much thought about the extent to which my father influenced the genre in which I express myself. I’d say he and my mother presented a great environment for a child like me who liked to read.  There were a lot of books at home and my parents were always willing to buy more books for me to read but since not all my siblings are writers, it must be that other factors played a role as well.  So I think that 78% is about right.

  1. Who are three of your favourite writers?

Right now: Toni Morrison, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.

  1. What message would you give to aspiring writers?

Read a lot and then read some more.

  1. Sometimes people talk about the challenges between balancing teaching and writing. How do you balance time for teaching and time for writing?

I don’t balance time for teaching and writing. I don’t always teach and I don’t always write but when the urge to write comes, it overpowers everything else that I have to do.  I do endeavour to balance the craft of writing and teaching by allocating time and self-imposed word count but I don’t do it everyday.  When I’ve tried to ignore my creative work, I find that everything else suffers, so just as well that I write and teach.  It means that I always have output even when I’m not working on a particular deadline or project.

 

 

[1]    Canadian Women in Literary Arts released a document showing that the number of women in publishing was discouragingly low.  Men are dominant as writers, editors and publishing.

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