CFP:Canada and the African Diasporic Literary Imaginary

Call for Papers
Canada and the African Diasporic Literary Imaginary
42nd Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
April 7-10, 2011
New Brunswick, NJ – Hyatt New Brunswick
Host Institution:  Rutgers University

This panel invites scholars to investigate the presence of Canada in an African Diasporic literary imaginary, focusing on writers who examine black subjects and subjectivities within Canadian landscapes (both urban and rural), but also attending to representations of African Canadians and the idea of Canada in literature from across the diaspora.

Canada occupies a unique space in the black literary imagination. The critical success of Canadian writers such as Dionne Brand, Austin Clarke and Lawrence Hill belies the complex relationships between African Canadian writers and the nation, between black bodies and Canadian landscapes. Canadian history often obscures or ignores the history of blacks in Canada; and in visual and popular cultures, black people are often conspicuously absent from Canadian settings. Similarly, ‘African Canada’ is often elided from conceptions of the African Diaspora.  And yet the history of Canada within the African Diaspora is rich and diverse. For American slaves, Canada was literally a place of freedom, as reflected in the writings of Frederick Douglass and Benjamin Drew, author of ‘The Refugee: Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada Related by Themselves (1856)’. In later texts such as Ishmael Reed’s ‘Flight to Canada’, Canada continued to be figured as a counterpoint to the virulent racism of the United States.  Much could be said about the sharp contrast between these African American utopian ideas and the reality of the black experience in Canada.

In the 1960s and 70s, Canada continued to be a place where multifarious diasporic identities, politics and experiences could be imagined and articulated. Increased immigration from the Caribbean attracted visits from prominent intellectuals including Walter Rodney and C.L.R. James who brought with them radical discourses on black nationalism, revolution, and decolonization.

Yet, these African American ideas often stood in sharp contrast to Canadian reality. A number of questions arise from the problem of Canada in the black literary imagination. How has the erasure of the history of slavery and the black presence in Canada affected African Canadian writers? What does the literal space of Canada mean for African Canadian writers? What does Canada mean for African American writers and writers in other parts of the black diaspora? These questions are linked to pressing issues of geography, citizenship and nationalism.

Please send 300-500 word abstracts and brief biographical statements to Kristin Moriah at

*Deadline:  September 30, 2010*

Please include with your abstract:

Name and Affiliation

Email address

Postal address

Telephone number

A/V requirements (if any; $10 handling fee with registration)

The 42nd Annual Convention will feature approximately 360 sessions, as well as pre-conference workshops, dynamic speakers and cultural events. Details and the complete Call for Papers for the 2011 Convention will be posted in June:

Interested participants may submit abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; however panelists can only present one paper (panel or seminar).  Convention participants may present a paper at a panel and also present at a creative session or participate in a roundtable.  Do not accept a slot if you may cancel to present on another session.

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