The next seminar in our African Feminisms series will be a paper entitled “To Have Seven Thousand Vaginas and None at All: Bessie Head’s Radical Visions of Sex and Gender” to be delivered by Elinor Rooks on 23 March 2017 at 5pm in the LHRI Seminar Room 1.
The seminar will be chaired by Prof Jane Plastow and it is both free and open to all.
Bessie Head is the author of several texts which, for their interrogation of gender relations, might be taken as epitomes of African feminist writing. Head, however, repeatedly insisted that she was not a feminist and that hers were not feminist texts. “Writing is not a male/female occupation,” she explained. “I do not have to be a feminist. The world of the intellect is impersonal, sexless.” In this paper, I will explore this apparent contradiction, showing the ways in which Head’s work exposes the problems of African feminism, while anticipating later developments towards womanism and intersectional feminism.
Not only does Head move beyond the fundamentally white articulations of gender offered by feminism of the time, creating a concretely, particularly African perspective on sex and gender, she also goes much further, towards a fundamental questioning not only of gender but of sex.
In A Question of Power, Head takes the gender binary to its extremes, presenting monstrous exaggerations not only of masculinity and femininity, but also of sex: from the towering phallus to the seven thousand molten vaginas, she presents genitals as almost disembodied grotesques. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is said not to have a vagina at all. It is in this context, I will argue, that we can glimpse the truly radical and queer implications of Head’s “sexless” writing. Exploring both the homophobia and queer desire within this text, I will demonstrate the ways in which Head’s writing not only drives towards an African feminism, but also gestures towards a queer and genderqueer African feminism.
About Elinor Rooks
Elinor Rooks is an indepedent researcher in African literature, history and culture. She completed her PhD at the University of Leeds with her dissertation, “Vernacular Critique, Deleuzo-Guattarian Theory and Cultural Historicism in West African and Southern African Literatures,” focussing on the novels of Bessie Head and Amos Tutuola. She is currently researching responses to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and is authoring a book on Tutuola. She also serves as the reviews editor for Red Pepper Magazine and works as a freelance editor.
The next Finding Africa seminar will be two papers on the Zimbabwean author and scholar, Yvonne Vera.
Ryan Topper will present on “Life Beyond the Archive: Yvonne Vera’s The Stone Virgins” and Thando Njovane will give a paper on “Architectures of Voice and Language in Yvonne Vera’s Under the Tongue” at 5.30pm at the University of Leeds’ Humanities Research Institute on 25 November 2015.
*Entrance is free and all are welcome* Continue reading
Saturday 7 February 2015, 9:00am–5:30pm & wine reception
The Treehouse, Humanities Research Centre, University of York
Featuring a reading by and interview with Noo Saro-Wiwa, acclaimed author of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, who is working on her second book;
A keynote by Dr Alasdair Pettinger, editor of pioneering anthology Always Elsewhere: Travels of the Black Atlantic, on the mid-19th-century travels and writings of African-American visitors to Britain and Ireland, Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown, and how they might be read in relation to other black travel accounts and articulations. Tim Youngs, editor of Studies in Travel Writing, will respond.
Finding Africa: Postcolonial African Studies Seminar Series facilitates interdisciplinary talks by researchers working in the fields of literature, film, history, sociology, politics, women’s studies, anthropology, psychology, and human rights. Although hosted by the University of Leeds’ School of English, the seminar series features academics from York, York St. John, Leeds, Bradford, Durham, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle universities.
Existing partners include the University of Leeds’ Centre for African Studies (LUCAS), the Northern Postcolonial Network (Universities of Salford and Manchester), the University of Manchester’s Postcolonial Reading Group, and the Stellenbosch Literary Project.
The seminar series is committed to providing a platform for researchers and interested others to share knowledge, open up questions, and explore issues relevant to postcolonial Africa. The Finding Africa blog also welcomes contributions from writers, artists, journalists, publishers and others with an abiding interest in Africa and seeks to expand the scope of conversations in the academy.
Finding Africa’s latest partnership with Stellenbosch Literary Project housed within the English Department at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa is the first of many connections which form part of our commitment to building a cross-continental dialogue in and about Africa.