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KEYNOTE SPEAKERS

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Suzanne Scafe 

 

University of Brighton (UK)

Suzanne Scafe is a Visiting Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Brighton.  She is the co-author of The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain, republished in 2018, and co-editor of several collections of essays on Caribbean and Black British literature and culture, the most recent of which is the interdisciplinary anthology of essays, published this year, entitled African-Caribbean Women Interrogating Diaspora/(Post) Diaspora.  She has written extensively on Black British women’s literary fiction, life writing, and poetry, and on writers including Bernardine Evaristo, Dorothea Smartt, Diana Evans and Irenosen Okojie. Her book Reading to Resist: Contemporary Black British Women’s Fiction will be published by Routledge later this year. 

​The Pastness of the Past: Voice and Ventriloquy in Historical Fiction by Black British Writers   

The last two decades have seen a marked increase in the publication of historical fiction by Black British writers, reflecting and reflective of the urgent political requirement to, in Toni Morrison’s words, ‘rip [the] veil’ from a past shrouded in misinformation and misdirection. I focus on a selection of recently published novels including Laura Fish’s Strange Music, Zadie Smith’s short story, ‘Kelso Deconstructed’, and Nadifa Mohamed’s The Fortune Men. This work uses the meagre citations in newspapers, wills and legacies, court and parliamentary documents, diaries of travellers and missionaries as well as other fictional texts, as sources from which to begin an imagined reconstruction of the daily intimacies of the lives of their protagonists. In their citing of the texts from and about which this fiction speaks, each presents an aesthetics of ‘ventriloquial textuality’ (Yan et al, 2023) that serves both to display and honour the textual origins of the voices in the narrative and to refuse claims to narrative authority. Rather than simply recover or reinvent lives occluded from authorised versions of the past, this work demonstrates the impossibility of constructing fully realised subjects based on and reflecting contemporary concepts of the self. The interiorities of their subjects are irretrievable: the texts in which traces of their lives are found are no more than thrown voices (Reinhart, 2002). By privileging the social and political constraints on the achievement of fully imagined subjectivities, this fiction keeps in view both the historical and cultural distance between the work’s subjects and its readers: in its refusal to fill in the silences of its spoken for subjects, their work points to both the urgency and limits of a project of imaginative recovery.

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Layla Zami & Oxana Chi

 

Freie Universität Berlin; Dance & Art

Oxana Chi is a Nigerian-German dancer, choreographer, curator, writer, filmmaker, and trendsetter. Her work explores how our present is built upon in/visible remnants from the past, and its porous relation to our futures.  Her rich repertoire of 20+ productions comprises commissioned works for Humboldt-University, The Kitchen NYC, and Leo-Baeck-Institute (Transitions Festival). Her international tour history includes Abrons Arts Center, Jack Crystal Theater at NYU, Delhi International Queer Theatre & Film Festival, Volksbühne Berlin, HAU, Societätstheater Dresden, SIPA Festival Surakarta, and many universities including Tampere University, Goldsmith University, University of Ghana. Honors, residencies, and awards include: Performance Studies international Award (2023), Abrons Arts Center AIRspace Grant (2017-2018), Ambassador of Peace DOSHIMA Jakarta (2016),  and being listed in The Dance Enthusiast’s A to Z of People Who Power the Dance World (NYC 2018). As a filmmaker, Chi produced the film Dancing Through Gardens with support from the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah (Paris). She published writing with Orlanda Frauenverlag, transcript Publishing, and in the peer-reviewed Dance Research Journal.  She curated programs such as the Moving Memory Symposium Festival (TU Berlin) and the TANZnews series (Werkstatt der Kulturen), and was a Curator of Dance for the International Human Rights Art Festival in NYC. Chi has 30+ experience as an educator and was a 2022 guest faculty in the Dance Department at New York University.   

Dr. Layla Zami is an interdisciplinary academic and artist working with music, sounds, poetry, and theater. She is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Performance Studies at Freie Universität Berlin (Collaborative Research Center Intervening Arts). Zami spent several years in NY, where she was Adj. Associate Professor of Humanities and Media Studies and Co-Chair of Black Lives Matter at Pratt Institute. The author of Contemporary PerforMemory: Dancing Through Spacetime, Historical Trauma, and Diaspora in the 21st Century (Oscar G. Brockett Prize for Dance Research Honorable Mention 2023), her work orbits around the nexus of cultural memory, performance, diaspora, language, and spacetime. She obtained her PhD in Transdisciplinary Gender Studies at Humboldt-University, where she also earned a Teaching Award, and was a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University. Zami graduated from Sciences Po Paris and holds a Diploma in Classical Saxophone. Born in Paris in 1985, she is proudly rooted in an Afro-Caribbean-Indian-Jewish heritage, and blossoms on tour with her wife Oxana Chi.  The duo has gratefully and gracefully performed in many universities, theaters, and festivals in Europe, Africa, Asia and North America.  

​CORPUSCULAR CORES
The Politics, Poetics and Kinetics of Im/Possibility

Julius Eastman (1940-1990) was an influential composer and musician who navigated the im/possibility of being at the center of the minimalist music scene in the United States while holding onto his positionality as an unapologetically gay Black man. In Corpuscular Cores, Oxana Chi and Layla Zami perform dance and music in response to a graphic score designed by Romi Morrison, and enter in resonance with Eastman’s life and legacy. In a contextualizing talk, Dr. Layla Zami gives insights into Eastman’s biography and into the contemporary collaboration commissioned as part of the Kitchen L.A.B. Research Residency in New York. She presents multiple dimensions of self-reflexivity in the project: in the role of race and gender in music historical legacies, in the transposition of archival research into artistic creation, and in the translation of a visual and written score into live-music and movement. The lecture-performance by Oxana Chi and Layla Zami invites the audience to theoretically reflect on and practically experience the politics, poetics, and kinetics of im/possibility in the Black diaspora. 

Oxana Chi: 

Layla Zami:

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Josh Toth

 

MacEwan University (CA)

Josh Toth is the author of The Passing of Postmodernism: A Spectroanalysis of the Contemporary (SUNY, 2010), Stranger America: A Narrative Ethics of Exclusion (U Virginia, 2018), and Truth and Metafiction: Plasticity and Renewal in American Narrative (Bloomsbury, 2021). He is also co-editor of The Mourning After: Attending the Wake of Postmodernism (Rodopi, 2007), Polyvocal Bob Dylan: Music, Performance, Literature (Palgrave, 2019), and Nature & Its Unnatural Relations (Lexington, 2024). His research focuses on the ostensible end of postmodernism and the possibility of narrative forms that “grasp” otherness (of an event, a person, or object) while maintaining its traumatic unknowability. This research encompasses the representation of characters in American literature and film who frustrate socially mandated categories of race, gender, sexuality, and ability. He is currently co-editing The Routledge Companion to Metafiction and writing a fourth monograph, tentatively titled Screens of the Self; or, the Cinematic Fiction of Autobiography

“As Concerns Selving,” or Explosions of Selftaste in Cinematic Memoir

While outlining and building upon an ongoing project, Josh Toth will discuss semi-autobiographical films that actively undermine their status as autobiographies. Focusing specially on two seemingly unrelated films—Cheryl Dunye’s faux documentary of the first Black Lesbian Hollywood actress, The Watermelon Woman (1997), and Francis Ford Coppola’s bizarrely autobiographical vampire film, Twixt (2011)—Toth will consider how self-reflexive accounts of an artist’s most intimate truths or experiences can function to express the inherent plasticity of a “screened subject” while effecting (simultaneously) a type of self-explosion, a violently authentic escape from the fictive coherence (or normalcy) of form. As ostensible memoirs, these films challenge the irresponsibility of a postmodern—or, better, post-truth—evisceration of a core or verifiable self. They traverse while sustaining a kind of ontological gap, a wound of vulnerability. A traumatic and familial wound is proffered as a door that remains both closed and open, subject (yet always anterior) to its narrative construction. Through this door, or always tender and dehiscing wound, we are entreated to enter a narrative domicile of selfhood. But the (en)closure we expect is subverted by the very opening that makes access possible. And so, in the face of radical vulnerability, we experience the Other absconding the enclosure of generic meaning, a fleeting moment of uncanny recognition, the briefest (queer) taste of (what Jacques Derrida calls) “selftaste.” Or rather, in this radical moment of self-reflexive sharing, or cinematic “selving,” the ethical escape of some true face overcomes the mendacious prosopopoeia of normative autobiography. 

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Nicola Abram

 

Reading University (UK)

Dr. Nicola Abram is Associate Professor in Literatures in English at the University of Reading, UK. Her research focuses on the ways in which literature works to dismantle racism and sexism. Her publications include the monograph Black British Women's Theatre: Intersectionality, Archives, Aesthetics (2020). 

"We are Here": Reflexive Connections Across Texts and Time in Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other

When Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize in 2019 – making her the first Black woman to receive the award in its 50-year history – critics sought to locate the genre-defying novel in a literary genealogy. Reviewers made connections to existing traditions of Black writing, referring to the work of Ntozake Shange, Samuel Selvon and Grace Nichols, among others. But there has so far been little critical acknowledgement of the novel’s direct lineage – that is, its relationship to Evaristo’s previous work – nor of its extraliterary heritage.

This keynote situates Girl, Woman, Other in relation to some of Evaristo’s lesser-known writings, recognising the internationally acclaimed and popular novel as part of a substantial oeuvre spanning four decades. I trace intertextual connections with Evaristo’s earlier writing, including out-of-print verse fiction and unpublished stageplays, and read Girl, Woman, Other as a direct adaptation of a piece written for radio a few years prior.

Further – and in line with Evaristo’s own acknowledgement of her influences and inheritances in her memoir, Manifesto (2021) – I identify in Girl, Woman, Other reflexive reference to the socio-political history and written lineage of the Black women’s movement in Britain. Drawing on archival materials and ephemera, and focusing on literary form, I read the novel’s structure, lineation, use of free indirect style, and polyphonic construction of voice as continuing the deeply political praxis of collaboration and collective writing that characterised late 1970s and early 1980s Black feminism in Britain.

In this reflexive novel, Evaristo refers not just to ‘self’ but to the collective. Girl, Woman, Other reanimates the rallying call ‘we are here', affirming the presence and diversity of Black lives in Britain, while its distinctive ‘fusion fiction’ form actively engages readers, realising the Black feminist political principle of ‘speaking out’.

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