A Poetics of Inquiry: A Reading and Conversation with Tjawangwa Dema

Internationally acclaimed poet, Tjawangwa Dema (The Careless Seamstress and Mandible) will be reading from her work as part of the University of Southern California’s Visions and Voices platform. Dema is a poet, arts administrator, teaching artist, and an Honorary Senior Research Associate in the Department of English at the University of Bristol. Her writing includes work around eco-poetry, and identity and the pastoral form in poetry.

After the reading, Dema will be joined in conversation by Dr Kirk Sides of the Centre for Environmental Humanities and the Department of English at the University of Bristol.

The event takes place on Thursday 25 February at 8pm GMT, and is free. Registration is through Eventbrite.

Tjawangwa Dema’s poems are as bold, roving, and insistent as they are delicate and incisive.

Tracy K. Smith, U.S. poet laureate

Don’t miss internationally acclaimed Motswana poet Tjawangwa Dema, as she reads from her prize-winning collections The Careless Seamstress and Mandible, and performs spoken word pieces from throughout her career, reflecting on life in Botswana, the United States, and England.

By foregrounding inquiry as a poetic practice, Dema invests the mundane with philosophy and ordinary beings with beauty while exploring ecopoetry, gender, race, disobedience, labor, mythology, and empathy.

Eventbrite listing

Rachel Carson Center Fellowship Success for Kirk Sides

Kirk Sides has been awarded a “Futures” Fellowship by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society.

From February to May, Kirk will be in residence at the Carson Center in Munich and working on a chapter titled “Eco-Futurism: Mythopoiesis, Science Fiction, and the African Anthropocene.”  This work forms part of a current book manuscript, African Anthropocene: The Ecological Imaginary in African Literatures, which explores the relationship between ecological forms of writing and decolonial thought in African literary and cultural production across the twentieth century. The book charts a long history of ecological thinking in cultural production from across the African continent, tracing how anti-colonial writing of the early twentieth century prefigured contemporary turns towards speculative and science fiction for thinking about global climate change and planetary futures. 

While in residence Kirk will also be contributing to both the Centre Fellows’ Colloquia as well as to the Center’s blog.

African Anthropocene: The Ecological Imaginary in African Literatures explores the relationship between environmental thinking and anti-colonial politics in African literary and cultural production across the twentieth century, andargues for expanded historical timelines for thinking about the environment in African literature, film and artistic production. While much of the ecocritical historicism looking to the African continent begins with the mid-twentieth century moment of political independence and decolonization, my project makes the case for much earlier forms of ecological thinking that informed writing from the continent from at least the start of the twentieth century. In turn, these earlier articulations of ecological awareness often functioned as the basis for formulations of anti-colonial politics. The project begins by charting a long history of ecological thinking beginning with the cultural production from anti-colonial writing of the early twentieth century, and then focuses on contemporary turns towards speculative and science fiction for thinking climate change and planetary futures. Focusing on literary texts, political discourses, as well as filmic and artistic production, African Anthropocene argues that various cultural archives from the African continent display a history of ecological awareness that long predates the moment of political independence and subsequent decolonization of the mid-twentieth century. The turn to ecocriticism in the fields of African humanities broadly and African literatures more specifically has been relatively recent, and these studies are also characteristically marked by their chronologies, which re-inscribe a postcolonial historiography to the emergence of an environmental awareness in African literary and cultural production. My project, on the other hand, begins at the start of the twentieth century and demonstrates how authors and intellectuals on the African continent at this time were already deeply invested in ecological understandings of local places. In turn, these ecological writings are the basis for early and often nascent forms of anti-colonial politics which predate the more popularized expressions of the mid-twentieth century and the moment political independence.

African Anthropocene also argues that by looking at the ways in which environmental relationships are encoded through practices of storytelling we are able to see how returns to mythology and creation stories often function as forms for imagining possible ecological futures. My research traces a genealogy of African environmental thought, which I argue is an ecological imaginary that is both deeply historical, especially in its accessing of mythological registers, but is also oriented towards planetary futures through its increasing turns towards science/speculative fiction. African science fiction is indeed a productive imaginary to think through the ecological potentialities of the Anthropocene for the African continent in the contemporary moment. But what I call ‘eco-futurism’ in the project is a mode that has also been employed by earlier generations of African writers. I argue that the ecological imagination in African literature, and its framing through science or speculative fiction, or even “speculative fabulation” as Donna Haraway calls it, has a much longer history within writing from the continent. I read the African Anthropocene as a mode where environmental precarity and the possibilities of life on a damaged earth become the tropes for writing both colonial pasts, but also the futures of the African continent. Reading for eco-futurism in African literatures, I will also link the post-apocalyptical and environmental futurism of recent writers such as Nnedi Okorafor to earlier generations of African writers such as Thomas Mofolo, Bessie Head, and Amos Tutuola, who were equally invested in an ecological imaginary which was itself routed through ontologies of the futuristic, the mythical and the fabulist. Eco-futurism is a way to re-read the history of African literature as deeply invested in mapping ecologies of the continent in which the future might be imagined differently. By looking at earlier expressions of political ecological histories in African writing, I am able to argue for a rethinking and expansion of received genealogies of decolonization on the continent.

Dr Kirk Sides is a Lecturer in World Literatures in English in the Department of English at the University of Bristol.

Header image: Rachel Carson Center