A Is for Acholi
Otoniya J. Okot Bitek
October 25, 2022
104 PAGES | ISBN 978-1-989496-55-8
A Is for Acholi is a sweeping collection exploring diaspora, the marginalization of the Acholi people, the dusty streets of Nairobi and the cold grey of Vancouver. Playfully upending English and scholarly notation Otoniya J. Okot Bitek rearranges the alphabet, hides poems in footnotes and slips stories into superscripts. The poet opens up ways of rethinking history as she rewrites both the 1862 contact of the Acholi people with the British and the racist texts of Joseph Conrad, while also searching for a way to live on lands that are fraught with the legacies of colonization, similar to her ancestral homeland. With writing that is lyric, layered and deeply felt, the poems in A Is for Acholi unfold maps of history, culture and identity, tracing a route to a present where the poet dreams of writing a world without empire.
"Part poem, part prayer, part mourning song; part warrior chant, part love song for a people, part revelation and so much more than the sum of its parts, A Is for Acholi risks all, as poetry must, to bring us to a place of reckoning with loss of homeland and its enormous implications. Loss that is here. And there. And everywhere. Okot Bitek offers us a brilliant work of testamentary poetics, which visually embeds and simultaneously explodes the silencing and erasure of colonialism, even as it simultaneously exploits an array of linguistic devices and practices to limn continuity of story and memory, telling tales as long as the night and short as time. By all means necessary, A Is for Acholi creates a space that is rampant, generative and necessary – it speaks to and for us all." – M. NourbeSe Philip, author of Zong! and She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks
"A Is for Acholi is an Alphabet for diaspora and an Antidote for the colonized mind. Transcending cultural, geographical and temporal space, poet-scholar Otoniya J. Okot Bitek exploits the footnote, from reference to afterthought, in all its machinations, with Ancestor attitude and Academic-precision. Rupturing everything in her path Okot Bitek moves across this collection without looking both ways, without saying sorry. A is for Artist. Each page is a canvas, each word a world, each poem a galaxy." – Chantal Gibson, author of How She Read and with/holding
"A is for Acholi’s strategic erasures, alphabetic sequences that race ahead and double back, and flattened textual hierarchies, like those between the primary text and the footnote, turn the page into a vast field. The poems pattern and traverse this space. Convention and hierarchy are subject to reversal, to play, and the relationship between poem and reader becomes fluid. Acholi expands the conversation about form, race, diaspora and language that crackles among poets in Canada. That conversation, much like the writing in this volume, hurdles borders. Acholi’s cycles of return and repetition carry memory, yet they always turn toward our moment, and speak to the future." – Kaie Kellough, author of Dominoes at the Crossroads and Magnetic Equator
Poetic form gets exploded and reshaped in two recent volumes from River Halen and Otoniya J. Okot Bitek (Steven W. Beattie, That Shakespearean Rag, 02/03/2023)
"It is a rebuke to those who would silence or erase Black experience or history and a defiant declaration that, as Okot Bitek writes in 'Postscriptum,' 'the only books that remain are those in our tongue.'"
In A is for Acholi, Otoniya J. Okot Bitek dismantles language and form | Ber Anena (Ber Anena, Brittle Paper, 19/12/2022)
"In A is for Acholi, Otoniya J. Okot Bitek is out to exert pressure on language and form, the same pressure(s) she inflicts on the issues she tackles in the book. She wants to set the terms and to truly belong in whichever corner of the world she places her feet. The reader? They are an active part of a deeply meditative journey with this collection."
A is for Acholi by Otoniya J. Okot Bitek (Buckrider Books, 2022) (Catherine Owen, Marrow Reviews, 14/12/2022)
"A is for Acholi gives readers what they need to hope for more in books of poetry: a new experience, a range of different ways of utilizing languages, an entrance into another series of worlds."
Otoniya J. Okot Bitek, A Is for Acholi (rob mclennan, rob mclennan's blog, 23/11/2022)
"Bitek writes of homeland and of home; she writes of loss and of song and of standing firm on the present ground."
"All Language is Your Playground" Poet Otoniya J. Okot Bitek on Chance Encounters and the Power of Poetry (Open Book, 21/09/2022)
"Writing poetry is serious work and can be life affirming, or harmful."
Queen's professor launches poetry collection (Sam Goodale, the Queen's Journal, 02/17/2023)
A great write-up about Otoniya's Kingston book launch.
A ‘best of’ list of 2022 Canadian poetry books (rob mclennan, DUSIE, 01/01/2023)
It's wonderful to see Otoniya make this best of 2022 list from the remarkably well-read Rob McLennan.
The 60 Notable Books of 2022 (Open Country Mag, 29/12/2022)
Otoinya's poetry makes this list of notable books of 2022.
A Year in Reading: The Best of 2022 (Hamilton Review of Books, 21/12/2022)
Otoniya's book makes this great roundup.
100 Notable African Books of 2022 (brittle paper, 28/11/2022)
A Is for Acholi makes this list of 100 Notable African Books of 2022!
"A is for Acholi" by Ontoniya J. Okot Bitek (Roll of Nickels, 17/10/2022)
Otoniya shares an except from A is for Acholi.
What We're Reading: Staff Writer Picks, Fall 2022 (Hamilton Review of Books, 23/09/2022)
Otoniya's collection makes this wonderful list!
48 Canadian poetry collections to watch for in fall 2022 (CBC Books, 15/09/2022)
Otoniya's collection makes this great roundup!
27 Canadian books we can't wait to read in September (CBC Books, 08/09/2022)
Otoniya's poetry makes this great roundup!
THE MIRAMICHI READER FALL PREVIEW PART ONE (Nathaniel G. Moore, Miramichi Reader, 11/07/2022)
Otoniya's collection is part of the Miramichi Reader's fall preview.
About the Author
Otoniya J. Okot Bitek is a poet and scholar. Her collection of poetry, 100 Days (University of Alberta, 2016), was nominated for several writing prizes including the 2017 BC Book Prize, the 2017 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. From the fall of 2020 to the spring of 2021, Otoniya had the privilege of being the Ellen and Warren Tallman Writer-in-Residence and one of the SFU Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellows. She has recently moved to Kingston, Ontario, to live on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe people. Otoniya is an Assistant Professor at Queen’s University, Kingston.