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Black British Women’s Writing: Where is It Now?

Expert meeting report

20 March 2013
  • Organised by: Elisabeth Bekers (VUB) and Ole Laursen (independent scholar)
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel

@ Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Some of the best fiction coming out of Britain today is by black British women, and prize-winning authors such as Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy, Jackie Kay, Diana Evans and Bernardine Evaristo have received substantial popular attention and recognition in recent years. Yet the body of work produced by these women authors have largely escaped critical attention and is rarely considered a field of study in its own right. Articles and book chapters, however, have addressed the intersections of black and British and women’s writing, and Deirdre Osborne’s special issue of Women: A Cultural Review (2009) may signal a critical turn.

This international expert meeting was the first of its kind to focus exclusively on black British women’s writing. Funded by the Flemish research council (FWO Vlaanderen), it brought together scholars from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States to exchange and discuss current research on black British women’s writing, including fiction, drama and poetry. There was a shared interest in the ways in which black British women’s writing is underrepresented as a critical field as well as across university courses.

The delegates offered position papers of 15 minutes followed by discussion and thoughts of possible connections between research areas. More than merely a mutual engagement with various black British women writers, delegates used different methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks, and explored a variety of genres, styles and forms as well as the popular reception and its place in the national curriculum. The discussion also focused on such issues as the pitfalls of categorisation, marketing and canon formation, the critical attention to novels, the importance of archival research, translation into other languages, generational developments within the field, and comparisons with other ‘minority’ literatures in Europe, the Caribbean and the United States, poet Sheree Mack’s contribution offered an incisive creative reflection on some of these issues.

The aim of the meeting was not only to share and discuss mutual research interests in black British women’s writing, but also to explore ways to promote the field and establish a scholarly network for future actions. To this end the organisers, Elisabeth Bekers and Ole Birk Laursen, have set up both a Facebook group and a LinkedIn group, where scholars and practitioners interested in the field can take action towards further explorations of the state of black British women’s writing in the past, today and in the future. Future actions include a website with an annotated bibliography of criticism of black British women’s writing, aimed both at scholars and students, a conference dedicated to black British women’s writing and a special issue of a major journal.

Nicola Abram (University of Reading); Joan Anim Addo (Goldsmiths College, University of London, in absentio); Elisabeth Bekers (Vrije Universiteit Brussel); Helen Cousins (Newman University); Pilar Cuder-Dominguez (University of Huelva); Dave Gunning (University of Birmingham); Ole Laursen (independent scholar); Sarah Lawson Welsh (St John University York, in absentio); Maria-Helena Lima (State University of New York at Geneseo, via skype);Sheree Mack (Open University); Deirdre Osborne (Goldsmiths College, University of London); Irene Pérez Fernández (University of Oviedo); Eva Ulrike Pirker (University of Freiburg); Ulla Rahbek (Copenhagen University); Ranu Samantrai (Indiana University); Sheila Sandapen (Drexel University); Suzanne Scafe (London Southbank University); Sebnem Toplu (Ege University, Izmir); Vedrana Velickovic (University of Brighton); Chris Weedon (Cardiff University, in absentio); Marijke Melis (student helper, Vrije Universiteit Brussell); Alexandra Sanchez (student helper, Vrije Universiteit Brussel)