5 Questions with Julian Aguon, Author of No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies: A Lyric Essay

Sep 26, 2022

Julian Aguon is a Chamorro human rights lawyer and defender from Guam. He is the founder of Blue Ocean Law, a progressive firm that works at the intersection of Indigenous rights and environmental justice; and serves on the council of Progressive International—a global collective with the mission of mobilizing progressive forces around the world behind a shared vision of social justice. He lives in the village of Yona. Visit julianaguon.com.

We’ll be celebrating Julian’s book, No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies: A Lyric Essay, published by Astra Publishing, with a conversation between Julian and Rebecca Solnit on Tuesday, September 27, 2022 at 6:00 PM PT.

Where are you writing to us from?

I am writing to you from my home in Yona, a village on the southern end of the island of Guam. On my desk is a small bowl of seashells, which is the only thing I have ever made a habit of collecting. From my window, I can see a giant monitor lizard saunter by, which is a wonderful but not exceptional sight; my house is surrounded by jungle and I am regularly visited by all manner of relatives.

What is bringing you joy right now, personally/artistically/habitually?

The mansanita (local cherry) tree I planted at the start of the pandemic is bearing fruit. I am thrilled to an almost ridiculous degree about that. What’s more is my lemai (breadfruit) tree has begun to flower. I’d never planted anything before the pandemic so I was surprised by the small peace gardening has brought into my life.

Beyond that, the ocean is my truest home and I’m most joyful when I’m in the water.

Which writers, artists, and others influence your work in general, and this book, specifically?

I had to give a eulogy earlier this year. To write it, I had to dig deep and the artist who helped me do that — who always helps me do that — is Bob Marley. His music has been necessary to me. There are so many other music makers I’ve loved and leaned on. Joni Mitchell, for one. There’s also a local band, Microchild, that’s been saving my life lately. They’re putting out music that feels impossibly tender — and with every manner of war game afoot on this island right now, we need tenderness more than ever before.

What books are you reading right now and would you recommend any to others?

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit and Ed Yong’s An Immense World. I’m halfway through both and I’d recommend each of them enthusiastically. The first is many things, including an insistence on beauty and on the fact that beauty sustains us and allows us to do the important work of repairing the world. The second is just an absolute marvel. Every curious person on the planet should read it.

If you opened a bookstore, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

Guam. We are in desperate need of more bookstores. I’d call it Gaosåli, after a native flower that grows in the crevices of limestone rock. There’s something powerful about the way that flower grows in spite of its hostile environment, something stubborn, something that feels like hope. The bestseller would be the book that my friend Desiree Taimanglo-Ventura is writing now, which is going to be one hell of a love letter to all the little girls coming of age on this island.

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