Refugee Narratives: Authentic, Literary, Comparative

Bryan CheyetteMCRl

The aim of this proposed panel is to explore refugee narratives in three different contexts. These are the refugee camps in Jordan; in British literary fiction; and in relation to slave and camp narratives. Questions raised will include: In what way can refugee stories be deemed to be authentic? Do they have to have “literary” qualities to attract a wide readership or audience? Are they unique (part of a particular history) or can they be compared to other forms of testimony in extremis?

Two of the panellists, Yasmine Shamma and Katherine Cooper, are ECRs but their papers are based on well-established projects. Bryan Cheyette will present on a new project. The proposed Chair, Lyndsey Stonebridge, is contingent on the timing of the panel; Hari Reed, a doctoral student, is a reserve panellist as she is currently completing her PhD to a November deadline.

Yasmine Shamma, “We lived in many houses”: The perpetuity of displacement

Yasmine Shamma is Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literatures at the University of Reading. She is principal investigator on the British Academy “Tackling the UK's International Challenges” grant, through which she is creating an interdisciplinary digital archive featuring Syrian testimonies of displacement. She is the author of Spatial Poetics: Second Generation New York School Poetry (OUP 2018) and has recently edited two books on the New York School.

This paper addresses the perpetual seeking of refugees--specifically in relation to the Palestinian diaspora. Coming out of work on the recent Syrian crisis, this paper examines the way refugees of both diasporas living within Jordan and moving through Jordan have come to find themselves engaged in what Helen Taylor calls “the life-time project” of pursuing, seeking, and ultimately creating, homes.

Katherine Cooper, The Politics of Welcome: Refugees, Narrative and Textual Hospitality in Mid-century fiction

Katherine Cooper is Senior Research Associate at the University of East Anglia. A BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker, her first book, on Margaret Storm Jameson, is forthcoming with Bloomsbury (April 2020). She is currently working on a monograph which explores how British writers interacted with refugee writers during World War Two.

Exploring fiction by Winifred Holtby, Rebecca West, and Stella Gibbons, this paper will think through the ways in which British writers mediated narratives of exile during the mid-twentieth century, inflecting them with their own concerns and preoccupations whilst trying to create a meaningful portrayal of the refugee. Bringing these into dialogue with more recent critical work around refugees and the politics of hospitality, it questions what these narratives might show us about British attitudes to refugees at this time and how these representations might open up continuing debates and difficulties around writing the refugee.

Bryan Cheyette, Testimonies: Slave, Camp, Refugee

Bryan Cheyette is Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Reading. He has published ten books and co-edits (with Martin Eve) the series New Horizons for Contemporary Writing (Bloomsbury Academic). His most recent book is a short history of The Ghetto for OUP.

This paper will look at testimonial narratives across different histories and experiences of forced confinement (nineteenth-century slavery, twentieth-century concentration camps, twenty-first century refugees). The aim is to see if there are any commonalities between the way that memory is turned into narrative (or not) in these disparate traumatic circumstances. Questions addressed will include the construction of the reader; the use of received narrative motifs; and questions of authenticity. One critical model for this kind of work is Laura T Murphy’s The New Slave Narrative (2019) on this century.

Sat 12:45 pm - 2:00 pm