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Readings explore race and belonging

Guest speakers include Souvankham Thammavongsa, Chantal Gibson, Rita Wong, Dr. David Sterling Brown, and Dr. April Langley

Chantal Gibson, Photo credit: Dale Northey.

Chantal Gibson, Photo credit: Dale Northey.

On the heels of a successful Black Writing in Canada Series, The University of Winnipeg’s Department of English is continuing to inspire discussion with another great line up of readings and lectures taking place February 23 to March 29. 

The authors are national, literary, and cultural treasures

Rachel Smith

Organizers hope to inspire meaningful dialogue while creating space for diverse voices through scholarly presentations addressing race and Blackness in eighteenth-century English literature, and contemporary readings confronting systemic racism, colonialism, foreignness, and belonging.

“Many of us are teaching diasporic and Indigenous writers in our classes,” said Dr. Candida Rifkind. “We have spent many hours examining what it means to teach English today, developing a detailed Land Acknowledgment in consultation with local Elders and a statement on Black Lives Matter. These experiences have shaped our programming.”

UWinnipeg student Rachel Smith says the readings she’s attended this year gave her a chance to hear from writers she has long admired while introducing her to new ones.

“These were some of the most intimate events I have attended during my time here at the university,” she said. “The authors are national, literary, and cultural treasures.”

Dr. Chigbo Arthur Anyaduba points to Tessa McWatt’s reading in November 2020 as an example of the impact these readings have.

“When she described the nature of racism and relations systematized and set in motion through the structured forms of the slave plantations, I was suddenly thrown out of myself into a pit of ideas wherein the puzzles and paradoxes in my head began to resolve themselves,” he said.

The lofty and intellectual quality of the conversations has inspired him.

“The series provoked deeper questions for me about the interconnectedness of research, art, and other forms of cultural works,” he said. “The sheer depth of thoughts, the strength of the humanity on display, and the experiences that the speakers highlight in their presentations have been hugely satisfying and affecting to me.”

While the move to virtual readings is a response to the pandemic, the online platform has allowed the Department of English to host more readings than ever before, introducing students and community members to a high calibre of writers representing diverse regions and genres.

“The silver lining of the pandemic is that the Canada Council for the Arts made funding available for virtual readings to help support writers through both The Writers Union of Canada and the League of Canadian Poets,” said Rifkind. “This allows us to “bring in” writers from across North America we normally couldn’t afford to host in person.”

Literary and scholarly speakers

Souvankham Thammavongsa, UWinnipeg’s 2021 Carol Shield’s Writer-in-Residence, is the author of four acclaimed poetry books and the short story collection How to Pronounce Knife, winner of the 2020 Scotiabank Giller prize. She was born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, and was raised and educated in Toronto where she now lives.  Her reading is made possible by The Canada Council for the Arts through The Writers’ Union of Canada. Pre-register to join us via Zoom on Tuesday, February 23 from 11:30 am – 12:20 pm.

Chantal Gibson is an award-winning teacher-artist living on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish Peoples. Gibson published her debut book of poetry How She Read in January 2019. As a visual artist and arts educator, her work confronts systemic racism and colonialism head-on, imagining BIPOC voices in the spaces and silences left by cultural and institutional erasure. In a national response to the Black Lives Matter movement, her altered text “Who’s Who?” currently sits in the Senate of Canada Building as part of the first installation of work by Black artists. This event is co-sponsored by by Gallery 1C03. Pre-register to join us via Zoom on Monday, March 8 from 4:00 – 5:15 pm.

Rita Wong lives and works on unceded Coast Salish territories, also known as Vancouver. Dedicated to questions of water justice, decolonization, and ecology, she is co-editor of downstream: reimagining water. Her book, Beholden, co-written with Fred Wah, was short-listed for the 2019 BC Book Prize and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Her reading is made possible by The League of Canadian Poets. Pre-register to join us via Zoom on Tuesday, March 9 from 11:30 am – 12:30 pm 

Dr. David Sterling Brown, a Shakespeare and pre-modern critical race studies scholar from Binghamton University SUNY will present Policing Whiteness in Shakespearean Drama. His antiracist scholarship centres on how racial ideologies develop and circulate in and beyond the early modern period. His forthcoming book project examines whiteness and how the Du Boisian color-line operates in Shakespearean drama. Pre-register to join us via Zoom on Wednesday, March 17 from 12:30 – 1:30 pm.

Dr. April Langley joins us from the Departments of Black Studies and English at the University of Missouri-Columbia to present Wheatley’s Word Power #blackwomenswordsmatter. Langley specializes in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century African American and American Literature and Theory. Her interdisciplinary research integrates African Diaspora literature, African, American and African American Studies, and Black Feminist/Womanist theory and criticism. Pre-register to join us via Zoom on Monday, March 29 from 12:30 – 1:30 pm.

All events are public and will be held on Zoom with pre-registration required. Visit the Department of English to learn more about this great lineup of speakers.