Alison Donnell, Professor of Modern Literatures in English, writes:
For me working in the field of Caribbean Literature involves both the expected academic rewards of researching and writing in archives and libraries, as well as the more unexpected pleasures of engaging in the ‘real world’ experience of emergent social discourses and changing historical moments. This summer, I have three Caribbean visits that allow me to combine these academic lives.
The first was to Grenada last week where I presented my current work on a panel celebrating the remarkable work of the black, feminist queer theorist and activist Audre Lorde. I also took part in academic discussions concerning the provision of libraries and archives in the region which informs a Leverhulme Network that myself and colleagues are involved with [www.diasporicarchives.com]. This issue takes on a particular urgency in Grenada where the public library has been closed for two years and I was able to visit a wonderful initiative for literacy being organised by the novelist Oonya Kempadoo.
At the beginning of July, I travel to Trinidad to run a public event and then a closed workshop on sexualities as part of my Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellowship. The criminalisation of homosexuality remains a topic of heated debate in the Anglophone Caribbean and I shall be exploring the capacity of literature to act as a rights-bearing discourse that counters homophobia by representing a whole continuum of erotic and affective possibilities. I shall also be teaching on a short course on ‘Critical Sexuality Studies: Theory and Practice’ at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies that is open to civil servants and NGOs, as well as graduate students.
In August, I take my work on Caribbean queerness into a wider academic forum. As a plenary speaker at the 16th Triennial Conference of the Association of Commonwealth Languages and Literature Society (ACLALS) I shall present my work to scholars from all over the world who are working in a variety of media (literature, linguistics, film, the visual and musical arts and popular culture).
Quite some years ago now when I decided to specialise in Caribbean Literature, I asked my prospective PhD supervisor if he thought I’d ever find an academic job and he replied, ‘No, but you’ll enjoy your work’. He was both wrong and right. I took a job at the University of Leeds before I had even finished the PhD and I have always loved my work.