26 April 2013

The Spring Event - Twilight Reasoning with Carole Boyce Davies

I had the opportunity to organize a major lecture at Susquehanna University where I teach in the Department of English and Creative Writing. And I was really pleased to invite Carole Boyce Davies to the campus. Since I teach courses on Black women writers and Caribbean and African Diaspora Literatures and Cultures, among others, I wanted to have a scholar who was prominent in these fields and who would also be accessible to the students. I teach Boyce Davies' work in most of my literature courses, and so I thought she would be perfect - and she was! The event was held earlier this month on April 4th - and I had the pleasure to introduce her to the audience, which included over 100 students and faculty! I shared not only her impressive list of accomplishments and major contributions to several fields of study, but I also shared how I first met Carole. Here is part of my introduction: 

Dr. Carole Boyce Davies is professor of Africana Studies and English at Cornell University.  Her major works include the prize-winning Left of Karl Marx. The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones and Black Women, Writing and Identity: Migrations of the Subject. Her most recent book is an edition of the writings of Claudia Jones titled Beyond Containment: Autobiography, Essays, Poetry. Her current project is a series of personal reflections, and academic essays titled Caribbean Spaces. Escapes from Twilight Zones dealing with the issue of transnational Caribbean/American black identity. 

Her work examining the political life, writing, activism, and legacy of Claudia Jones (1915-1964), who was a pioneering Afro-Caribbean radical intellectual, dedicated communist, and feminist, uncovers one of the most important thinkers, activists, and organizers in African diaspora history. Boyce Davies has unearthed the work and struggles of this major figure, who might have remained in the shadows of history – buried to the left of Karl Marx in London’s Highgate Cemetery. But as Carole Boyce Davies argues – this location is fitting considering the ways that Claudia Jones expanded Marxism-Leninism to include gender and race in her political critique and activism. 

I had the great privilege to meet Dr. Boyce Davies as a graduate student in 2006 at the ACWWS (Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars) conference in South Florida. I had already read her brilliant work Black Women Writing and Identity, which became not only a primary source of theoretical engagement for my dissertation and now book project, but also an affirmation of my own experience as a migrant Black mixed-race woman writer and feminist scholar. Her theoretical engagement with Black women writers I had read and studied and continue to read and study (and teach) made me a more careful and astute scholar and writer. And so I was (and still am) by all accounts a huge fan. She was the main organizer of this conference and as a result very busy – and so I never expected to meet her or even have a conversation. Much to surprise, not only did I get to meet her, she attended my panel and later asked me to submit my paper for review in an anthology (which was accepted and published in the collection Caribbean Woman Writer as Scholar). This was a major honor to be asked by a leading person in the field of Caribbean Studies to submit a piece of work. And what was even more exciting and inspiring for me as a graduate student was watching and learning from such a prominent scholar and writer who is so incredibly supportive of emerging scholars/writers. Since then, we have  stayed in touch, met up at conferences, exchanged ideas, and reasoned about Caribbean politics and culture, literature, music, and art. She continues to be a mentor and an inspiration for me and many others. 

Carole's lecture, titled "Caribbean Diasporic Circulations: Poetics and Politics," addressed the various ways that Caribbean cultures have produced and been the product of a variety of migrations, political contributions and engagements. She shared insights into the ways that Caribbean cultures have influenced diaspora and movements across the world. She discussed literature, music, art and politics and offered intriguing insights into the poetics and politics of this dynamic engagement with the Caribbean at the center. The audience was captivated with her examples of how Caribbean cultural productions - art, music, pop culture, and literature - influence and reverberate around the globe. From the Japanese woman who won the Jamaica dancehall queen 2006 title, the pop culture sensations Rihanna and Nicky Minaj, the iconic place of Bob Marley, political figures Malcolm X and Claudia Jones, the powerful poetry of Dionne Brand and Kamau Brathwaite, to the recent superbowl VW add, Carole's analysis of Caribbean diasporic circulations were poignant and resonated with contemporary points of reference for a wide audience. She moved through important arguments about the place of Caribbean history and culture as a critical center for conversations and theorizing about diaspora.     

Carole Boyce Davies - Lecture at SU

After the lecture, students and faculty asked engaging questions and then we had a lovely reception in the Department's lounge. Many of my students attended and were thrilled and honored to meet such a distinguished scholar. They told me after how excited they were.

The entire visit was a blessing for me - more reminders of how essential it is to have strong mentorships and friendships with fellow women of color in the academy in similar fields of study. She has offered me guidance over the years that continues to be invaluable for my career and well being. I appreciate her and am grateful to include her in my circle of comrades. It was a delight to share with each other about current projects. And we talked about the academy and small town USA places where some Caribbean people end up migrating and moving to - places she so powerfully calls "twilight zones" in her latest collection of essays. As she described her use of this metaphor to me, it all made sense - as we reasoned about how to stay healthy, well, and productive in these spaces that may be challenging and counter intuitive to health and well being. I am holding our reasonings close to my spirit as I wrap up another semester in a twilight zone - and meditate upon wellness and focus on productivity. With my scholarly book deadline around the corner, end of semester grading, and my summer travels on the horizon, I know that I must get it all done and get it done well. Thank you Carole for your inspiring wisdom!

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