IABA Africa founding colloquium – brief report

Organised by colleagues in the English Department, the inaugural  IABA Africa colloquium attracted auto/biography scholars from South African and African universities, as well as from universities in Australia, and England.

David Attwell, Lizelle Smit and Nick Tembo at the IABA dinner

The plenary address was given by Dr Ricia Chansky of the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, and editor of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies. While the devastating hurricanes that had so recently ravaged Puerto Rico put paid to her travel plans, Dr Chansky fortunately managed, amid the crisis of evacuation and disrupted services, to video-record her paper, and her virtual presence at the colloquium made for an extremely moving plenary address on “Instability and Autobiography: Rereading Lives in Times of Crisis.”

Ricia Chansky, virtually with us

The topic couldn’t have been more apt. For many in the audience, the talk brought home the oppressive, debilitating relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico, and the examples of women’s life writing which Chansky discussed carried the message of environmental disaster in relation to the ongoing political disaster that shapes the lives of Puerto Ricans.

Here’s a tantalising glimpse of the wonderful range of papers: presentations on “Queer Self-writing and Archive Creation in Francophone North Africa”; “Ken Gampu: Between Biopic Stardom and Colonial Beingness”; “Uncanny Times: the Case of Eugene de Kock”; “The Tension Between ‘ ‘Disability Autobiography’ and ‘Autre-biography”; “‘Reconstructive Imagination’ at Work in a Child Soldier Narrative”; “Lives in Crisis: Constructing the Self in Ebola Narratives”, and “Love and Struggle: the Auto/biographies of Ayesha Dawood and Fatima Meer”. The event was very deliberately welcoming of papers from many disciplines – hence the lively melee of literary scholars, historians, psychologists, social anthropologists, writers, and cultural studies practitioners. The structure of the colloquium also took inspiration from the innovations experienced at previous IABA international conferences: longer academic papers were interspersed with brief ‘a/b re-mXd’ sessions, allowing presenters to sketch out work-in-progress, or to read from their creative life writing projects. It was a heady intellectual mix which also made space for the affective and the embodied. And let’s not forget the super supper at Tastebud, where food and vino contributed to the veritas of relaxed collegiality.

IABA Africa now begins to look forward, building on the inaugural energies which supported graduate student attendance, and fostered a collaborative environment for those interested in the wide range of a/b studies in African contexts. We hope to create conversations among established a/b forms such as letters, archival research, biopics, and fiction, and new social media, digital platforms, orality, and creative work. The Africa chapter is presently compiling a membership list, and planning a special journal issue. If you have ideas, or are interested in joining IABA Africa, please email both Sally Ann Murray <samurray@sun.ac.za> and Tilla Slabbert <mslabbert@sun.ac.za>. We welcome contributions!

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