Photos: Zoë Wicomb and the Translocal

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Last week eminent writers, scholars and students travelled to the University of York, UK, from as far as Padua, Nashville, Adelaide and Stellenbosch to attend Zoë Wicomb and the Translocal: Scotland and South Africa. This final conference in a series of three cross-disciplinary events focusing on Wicomb's writing was the culmination of the conversation that began at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in 2008 with Zoë Wicomb: Text and Histories and was resumed at Stellenbosch University in 2010 with The Cape and the Cosmopolitan: Reading Zoë Wicomb

Readings by Wicomb herself, as well as by JM Coetzee, Elleke Boehmer, Brian Chikwava, Patrick Flanery, Michael Cawood Green and Abdulrazak Gurnah neatly framed the contributions to and interrogations of the translocal dialogue on Wicomb's work by leading scholars such as Dorothy Driver, Derek Attridge, David Attwell, Nadia Davids, Sam Durrant, Kai Easton, Shaun Irlam and Meg Samuelson.

Thursday afternoon, 13 September, Bowland Auditorium, Berrick Saul Building: David Attwell, Professor of Modern Literature at the University of York, welcomes attendees.

Convened by Attwell, Derek Attridge, Kai Easton and Meg Samuelson, the conference asked how the different sites of Wicomb's life and award-winning work illustrate and challenge notions of the “translocal” in her fiction and criticism, and in new and emerging scholarship about her writing.

Dorothy Driver, Professor of English at the University of Adelaide and Emeritus Professor at the University of Cape Town, delivers the keynote address.

The first day concludes with a reception at the university's lovely Treehouse, where convenor Kai Easton from SOAS introduces readings by authors Abdulrazak Gurnah and Zoë Wicomb. The following day Easton would present the paper “Travelling light: Images (via Wicomb) from the Gifberg(e) to Glasgow”.

Abdulrazak Gurnah, born on the island of Zanzibar, teaches at Kent, where he is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the English Department. His most acclaimed novels include Paradise (1994), By the Sea (2001) and Desertion (2005). 

The woman of the hour, Zoë Wicomb.

The Scotland-based award-winning South African is Emeritus Professor at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and Visiting Professor Extraordinaire in the Department of English at the University of Stellenbosch. She is the author of four works of fiction, You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town (1987), David's Story (2001), Playing in the Light (2006) and The One that Got Away (2008).

Friday morning, 14 September, Bowland Auditorium: Panel 1. Derek Attridge, Shaun Irlam, Michelle Kelley (Chair, University of York) and Sam Durrant take questions.

Convenor and Professor of English at the University of York, Derek Attridge, presented “'The view of a martian': Zoë Wicomb's art of dislocation”.

Shaun Irlam, Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at SUNY Buffalo, was roamin' the gloamin' with “Scottish ghosts in Griqualand”.

Sam Durrant, Senior Lecturer in Postcolonial Literature at the University of Leeds, discussed “Strategies of displacement in David's Story, or the circulation of grief as radical humour”.

Panel 2. Joanna de Groot (Chair, University of York), South African writer and director Nadia Davids and York's David Attwell.

Nadia Davids lectures at Queen Mary, University of London. Her presentation, “'This woman is not for burning': Performing the biography and memory of Cissie Gool”, traced a skeleton of Gool's biography and offered reflections on the process of making theatre pieces.

David Attwell examined Scottish-South African literary relations, putting “Zoë Wicomb in historical perspective”.

Deborah Gaitskell from SOAS chairs Panel 3, with papers by Meg Samuelson and Kai Easton.

Meg Samuelson is Associate Professor in the English Department at Stellenbosch University, and is transferring to the University of Cape Town in January 2013. Her paper engaged Wicomb's representation of the Cape as located between two oceans and her elaboration of amphibian positions as an entry into a larger project on littoral Africa.

The conference concluded with readings by writers Elleke Boehmer, Michael Cawood Green, Brian Chikwava (left), JM Coetzee (centre) and Patrick Flanery (right).

Michael Cawood Green holds the position of Professor in English and Creative Writing at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne. He is the author of two works of historical fiction: Sinking: A Verse Novella (1997) and For the Sake of Silence (2009).

From left to right: Elleke Boehmer, Michael Cawood Green, Brian Chikwava, JM Coetzee and Patrick Flanery.

Elleke Boehmer is Professor of World Literature in English at the University of Oxford. Her works of fiction include Screens against the Sky (1990), An Immaculate Figure (1993), Bloodlines (1997), Nile Baby (2008) and Sharmila (2010).

Brian Chikwava's novel Harare North was published in 2009 to critical acclaim.

Patrick Flanery holds a doctorate in Twentieth-Century English Literature from the University of Oxford and recently published his debut novel, Absolution.

From left to right: Elleke Boehmer, Michael Cawood Green, Brian Chikwava, JM Coetzee and Patrick Flanery.

Nobel laureate JM Coetzee reads from his high-spirited correspondence with Paul Auster. Here and Now is said to offer an intimate and often amusing portrait of both men as they explore the complexities of the here and now. It is set to be released in March 2013 along with Coetzee's new novel, The Childhood of Jesus.

Conclusion: Final reflections by Derek Attridge

Scholars linger in the Bowland Auditorium.

University of York PhD student Michael Springer and conference chef Wei Xiaowei

Conference assistants from the University of York: Katherine McKenna, Pojanut Fai Suthipinittharm, Naomi Shields, Nora-Lee Wales and Lucy Davies

Thanks to the financial support of Blackwell's Bookshop (here, selling books at the conference), the University of York's Department of English and Related Literature and Academic Co-ordinators Fund, Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of London's Faculty of Languages and Cultures (School of Oriental and African Studies) and Centre of African Studies, Journal of Southern African Studies, The Feminist Press and Vintage Books.

For abstracts and more information please visit the conference page.

News for Capetonians! David Attwell will be the guest speaker at the launch of the late Professor JC Kannemeyer's last biography, JM Coetzee: A Life in Writing: 6 pm, 31 October 2012, Naspers Centre, 26th floor, Heerengracht 40.

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