Word Baskets and Witness Bearing: A Talk Story with Julian Aquon & Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner


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When: Apr 6 2021 - 7:00pm until Apr 7 2021 - 8:00pm
Where: Zoom

April DDLS

The East-West Center welcomes you to a special conversation between authors Julian Aguon and Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, both alumni of the East-West Center, on their art forms, journey, and the messages they hope to convey through their work. This event celebrates their contributions to the literature of the Pacific Islands, and the release of Julian’s new book, The Properties of Perpetual Light, a collection of soulful ruminations about love, loss, struggle, resilience and power. Join Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, a poet of international acclaim and member of the Climate Envoy for the Republic of the Marshall Islands government, and Julian Aguon, a human rights lawyer and writer from Guam, for an intimate “talk story” about what motivates them in their work, and what they hope to pass on to younger generations. 


Watch the livestream recording of this event!


About the Speakers

Julian Aguon is an indigenous human rights lawyer and writer from Guam. He is the founder of Blue Ocean Law, a progressive firm that works at the intersection of indigenous rights and environmental justice. He is deeply engaged in the struggles of peoples across Oceania to liberate themselves from colonial rule, defend their sacred sites, and obtain justice for a range of harms inflicted upon them by outside forces—from nuclear weapons testing and non-consensual medical experimentation to extractive industries and climate change. He serves on the Global Advisory Council of Progressive International—a global collective that launched in May 2020 with the mission of mobilizing progressive forces around the world behind a shared vision of social justice. 


Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner is a poet of Marshallese ancestry, born in the Marshall Islands and raised in Hawaiʻi. She received international acclaim through her poetry performance at the opening of the United Nations Climate Summit in New York in 2014. The University of Arizona Press published her collection of poetry, Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter in 2017. She has created art installations and performances with the Smithsonian and the Queensland Art Gallery, amongst others. In 2019, she was selected as an Obama Asia Pacific Leader Fellow and MIT Director's Media Lab Fellow. She received her Master’s in Pacific Island Studies from the University of Hawaiʻi, and is currently a PhD student at Australia National University. Kathy serves as Climate Envoy for the Republic of the Marshall Islands government and as Director for the Marshall Islands-based youth environmental nonprofit Jo-Jikum.


About the Book

Coming out in March 2021, The Properties of Perpetual Light is a coming-of-age story and a call for justice—for everyone but in particular for indigenous peoples, Aguon's own and others. With bracing prose and bouts of poetry, Aguon weaves together stories from his childhood in the villages of Guam with searing political commentary about everything from nuclear weapons to climate change. Deploying the feminist insight that the personal is political, Aguon culls from the light of his own life experiences, from losing his father to cancer to working for Mother Teresa to meeting Sherman Alexie in a Spokane bookstore, to illuminate a collective path out of the darkness.


About this Event

This event is part of the Distinguished Leaders Speaker Series series hosted by the East-West Center’s Leadership Program. Each month, the series highlights a person leading at the edge of critical issues. This event is co-hosted by the Pacific Islands Development Program; the East-West Center Office of Alumni Engagement, Seminars Program, and Education Program; and the Pacific RISA program at the East-West Center.


Advance Praise for The Properties of Perpetual Light 

“A powerful, beautiful book. Its fierce love—of the land, the ocean, the elders and the ancestors—warms the heart and moves the spirit.” 

- Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 


“A breathtaking book and I mean it—this book took my breath away. The Properties of Perpetual Light is so alive with passion, wisdom and heart, you can almost feel its pulse. A call not only for justice but for a brand-new covenant with our world.” 

- Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 


“I did not know I needed this book until it had me in its embrace like the oldest and dearest of friends, from the very first page. Overflowing with warmth and wisdom and defying all categorization, The Properties of Perpetual Light is philosophy, poetry, memoir, history and self-help for humanity. With bottomless love for his people and place, Aguon guides us through a portal to the Pacific, sharing deep insights earned from life on the existential knife’s edge.” 

- Naomi Klein, Senior Correspondent at The Intercept and author of The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything 


“Inspired spiritual and practical wisdom from a Guam lawyer/poet/seer that transmits ways of knowing, feeling, and acting, which speak directly to the mind and heart of everyone on the planet. If reading this short book doesn't change your life, nothing will.” 

- Richard Falk, former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Gretchen Alther