Finding Africa is delighted to have had the opportunity to co-host and participate in the recent colloquium of African Intellectual Mobilities at the University of York. Centred around a questioning and broadening of the travel writing genre and the movements of writers, the colloquium registered the significance and extent of travel writing by African and black diaspora authors and intellectuals. Such a revisiting of the genre reveals the potential for research that seeks to reposition travel and the many types of texts and voices that have been marginalised within this tradition of writing.
The colloquium itself was characterised by a spirit of exploration and journeying that took its participants with it through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and into the twenty-first, revisiting and reassessing the terrains of America, Britain and Continental Europe, as well as those of South Africa, Mozambique, Sudan, Congo, Ghana, Nigeria and beyond. The closing of the colloquium brought the question of travel writing directly into the present with the attendance of Noo Saro-Wiwa, who provided the delegates with a vivid reading from her recent book Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria (2012).
The full scope of the conference and and the myriad possibilities and questions that it exposes are presented in the words of two of the colloquium’s organisers, Janet Remmington and Nicklas Hållén, whose research is dedicated to travel and writing by Africans and the black diaspora:
The historical shadow of forced mobility is of course deeply and widely felt. The transatlantic slave trade accounted for the greatest and most brutal of upheavals of peoples in history, and other forms of slavery transported Africans from the eastern seaboard and elsewhere. Importantly, writings and other cultural expressions have registered and arisen from involuntary or little-choice travel of all kinds, including abduction, escape, forced removal, indentured and migrant labour, asylum seeking, and exile. Yet, the colloquium emphasised the wide compass of African and black diasporic travel – its extensive and multivariate nature, and its under-recognised volitional forms. Trade, politics, education, mission, advocacy, work, tourism, entertainment, aid, education, and media are just some of the reasons and manifestations of African travel. The colloquium referenced a diverse range of ‘travel writings’: letters, journaling, journalism, biography, literary retelling, alternative guidebooks, performative literature, and more. Questions teemed. What can be constituted as African and diasporic travel writing? How do we understand black print cultures linked to mobility? What intellectual modalities are shaped by movement? How have black travel texts been imagined, communicated, consumed?
For their full review of the colloquium follow the link to Africa in Words.