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Forming Black Britain (2017)

“Forming Black Britain: Aesthetics, Itineraries, Diasporas” places writers, artists, and critics, in conversation to explore the term “Black British,” including the networks it might enable and the limits it might present, as people of African, Caribbean, and South Asian descent are all often labeled “Black” in the United Kingdom.

Event Information

March 9-10, 2017
11:00 am - 7:00 pm
2115 Tawes Hall

The conference explores how those networks and limits matter in the United States, where so many writers identified as Black British have made their new home and where blackness means potentially different things.

The symposium gathers specialists in the fields of art history, media arts, literary criticism, and creative writing, and the three sessions will together survey the complex histories of Black British writing, art, and thinking, from the eighteenth-century abolitionist movement through the present day. Hazel Carby (Yale University) and Caryl Phillips (Yale University) will offer keynote addresses. And we will also feature talks by Eddie Chambers(University of Texas, Austin), Yogita Goyal (University of California, Los Angeles), Peter Kalliney (University of Kentucky), Ankhi Mukherjee(Oxford), Anthony Reed (Yale), and Siona Wilson (City University of New York-Staten Island).

In addition to talks, the symposium also includes a visit to the archives of the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora, as well as a closing reception in the Driskell Center Art Gallery. We will also showcase undergraduate and graduate student creative writing and fine art related to the year-long Center for Literary & Comparative Studies theme of "Migration" with art and literary competitions and a related reading event and art display.

See two digital galleries below for a taste of the art and literature featured in the symposium. "Migration in Word and Image" showcases student winners of our competitions. "Black British Art" highlights three contemporary U.K. artists (Kimathi DonkorTam Jospeh, and Barbara Walker) who have generously offered these pieces to be part of our conversation on the formulation of Black Britishness and part of the media for the symposium.

"Forming Black Britain" is free and open to the public.

For more information contact: Edlie Wong (


Thursday, March 9. 2017

11:00 am-12:30 pm. 1310 Tawes Hall
Student Reading and Art Display

12:45-1:45 pm.  By invitation only.
Graduate & Undergraduate Lunch with Caryl Phillips

2:00 pm-4:00 pm. 2115 Tawes Hall By registration only. 
Petrou Seminar on The Lost Child and Color Me English with Caryl Phillips, Yale University

4:15 pm-5:15 pm. David C. Driskell Center, Cole Activities Building. By registration only.
Archival Presentation from the David C. Driskell Center for the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and African Diaspora

5:30 pm-6:45 pm. Ulrich Recital Hall, 1121 Tawes Hall
Opening Keynote: "Where Are You From?" Hazel Carby, Yale University
Introduction: Mary Helen Washington, University of Maryland

Friday, March 10, 2017

9:00 am-9:30 am. Second Floor Atrium, Tawes Hall
Conference Welcome. Coffee and Registration

9:30  am-11:00 am. 2115 Tawes Hall.
First Session. "What is the Black in 'Black British'?"
Moderator: Sangeeta Ray, University of Maryland
"Black Books: Social Mobility and its Discontents in Zadie Smith's Fiction," Ankhi Mukherjee, Oxford University
"BBC to Booker Prize: British Literary Culture and Black Writing,"
Peter Kalliney, University of Kentucky

11:00 am-11:15 am.  Second Floor Atrium, Tawes Hall
Coffee Break

11:15 am-12:45 pm. 2115 Tawes Hall
Second Session. “Black British and Black American”
Moderator: Mary Helen Washington, University of Maryland
"Unfinished Histories: Black Atlantic Circuits in Morrison and Phillips," Yogita Goyal, UCLA
"African Space Programs, or Dub in Babylon," Anthony Reed, Yale University

1:00 pm-2:00pm. Second Floor Atrium, Tawes Hall

2:15 pm-3:45 pm. 2115 Tawes Hall
Third Session. “Black British Beyond the Text”
Moderator: Curlee Holton, University of Maryland
"Demotic Documentary, Postcolonial Feeling: 1939/86," Siona Wilson, CUNY Staten Island
“The 1970s, and the Making of Black Britain,” Eddie Chambers, U.T. Austin

3:45 pm-4:00 pm.  Second Floor Atrium, Tawes Hall
Coffee Break

4:00 pm-5:15 pm.  Ulrich Recital Hall, 1121 Tawes Hall
Keynote and Petrou Lecture: "A Sense of Home," Caryl Phillips, Yale University
Introduction: Vincent Carretta, University of Maryland

5:30 pm-7:00 pm. David C. Driskell Center, Cole Activities Building
Petrou Reception & Gallery Visit


Co-sponsors include the Center for Literary & Comparative Studies, the Asian American Studies Program, the Department of African American Studies, the Department of Art, the Department of English, the Department of Women’s Studies, the Honors College Program in Design Cultures and Creativity, the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora, the Potomac Center for the Study of Modernity, the Center for Synergy in the College of Arts & Humanities, the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, the Office of Undergraduate Studies, and the Division of Research.

Organizers & Planning Committee

Symposium Co-Chairs: Christina Walter and Edlie Wong.

Planning Committee: Merle Collins, Karen Nelson, Sangeeta Ray, and Mary Helen Washington

Art Competition Judges: Krista Caballero, Curlee Hoton, and William Richardson

Literature Competition Judges: Merle Collins, Emily Mitchell, Joshua Weiner

Conference Visitor Information

Find information on parking, lodging and transportation to the University of Maryland.