Reflections on a conference

PhD student Nicola Abram reflects on her recent conference participation:

With the generous financial support of a Graham Robertson award from the University of Reading and the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Research Training Support Grant, I was recently able to participate in the Conference of the European Society for the Study of English (ESSE) at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, 4-8th September 2012.

One of my key objectives in presenting a paper was to consolidate my doctoral research, as I’m entering the final stages of writing my thesis. It was satisfying to bring my findings together as I prepared my presentation. I was delighted that my ideas were attentively and enthusiastically received:



My written paper, submitted in advance, argued that debbie tucker green’s 2008 play, random, interrogates the idea of the body as a guarantee of identity. By analysing the play’s unusual casting – ‘one black actress plays all the parts’ – I showed how random posits identity as constituted by multiple relationships with others, instead.

My oral presentation looked back from random over three decades of black British women’s theatre, to trace an aesthetic continuity supporting this relational ontology. My presentation drew on multiple medias, profiling archival materials (typescripts, photographs, stage design documents) and original oral history interviews. This layered delivery was well received, and so confirms my intention to illustrate my thesis similarly.

The seminar I spoke in was entitled: ‘Redefining Britishness in Contemporary Black British Writing: British Identities and the Identity of Britain’. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to present my research in a forum familiar with its literary and historical context, as it enabled me to focus on analysis rather than description. I thoroughly enjoyed the nine other papers within the grouping, and have gained an appreciation of the global scholarly interest in black British writing, allowing me to consider pursuing an academic career outside the UK.

The ESSE conference is a gateway to an international community of scholars, whose knowledge and experience proved to be a rich resource. Comments and questions were offered by Professor Ian Brown (Kingston University), Dr Hildegard Klein (University of Málaga, Spain), and Dr Mireia Aragay and Verónica Rodríguez (University of Barcelona, Spain). Promising recommendations for how I might further my research include an investigation into the role of Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance in training black women practitioners; The Bogus Woman (2000), an innovative play by Kay Adshead; and Relational Aesthetics (1998), a theoretical essay by Nicolas Bourriard. The opportunity to respond to these comments gives me confidence as I approach my viva examination.

It’s encouraging to have connected with a wide network of individuals and relevant groups through my participation. I reciprocated this interest by preparing and asking questions of fellow participants. I intend to cultivate these links, making use of relevant online networks such as



Such networks offer an informal opportunity to continue the conversations begun at last week’s ESSE conference, and to keep up to date with the innovative research activities of my fellow participants.  There are discussions ongoing about a publication planned to arise from the seminar, and I’m looking forward to the possibilities of further collaborations in future.



About Cindy

Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
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