Literature and the Politics of the Past in Southern Africa: Petina Gappah and Elleke Boehmer in conversation

© OWEN MASEKO: Babylon Songs
© OWEN MASEKO: Babylon Songs

Event date and time: Friday 7 May 14:00-15:30 (CEST/GMT+2)

In this public online event, acclaimed authors Petina Gappah and Elleke Boehmer engage in a dialogue around the theme 'the politics of the past', with a special focus on Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. Drawing on their professional, personal and literary perspectives, they will address questions related to the role played by various versions of the past in diverse political discourses and projects. In addition to their reflections and conversations, each writer will read from their own texts. There will be time towards the end for Q&A. The event will be hosted and moderated by cultural and literary scholar, Astrid Rasch.

Registration is not mandatory but if you would like to receive a reminder email shortly before the event please follow this link to register.

You may also access the livestream directly here:

For more on the project, see at: 

Petina Gappah is a Zimbabwean lawyer and renowned writer. Her first book, a collection of short stories entitled An Elegy for Easterly (2009) won the Guardian First Book Award. Her first novel, The Book of Memory (2015)  is the fictional testament of an imprisoned albino woman on death row, who is hoping for a presidential reprieve. This and a subsequent short-story collection, Rotten Row (2016), have received various nominations and awards. Her most recent novel, Out of Darkness, Shining Light (2019) offers a fictional account of the African attendants who bore the corpse of David Livingstone from Zambia to Zanzibar, to be transported onwards for burial in England. Gappah’s fiction engages with the complex realities of life in contemporary Zimbabwe as well as its colonial past, from multiple perspectives, drawing strongly on themes of memory and the past.

Elleke Boehmer is Professor of World Literature in English in the English Faculty, University of Oxford, and Director of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW). She has initiated and led numerous large research projects. She is a founding figure in the field of postcolonial literary theory, and is internationally known for her research on literatures of empire and anti-empire in English. She is also an acclaimed and award winning fiction writer (often focused on South Africa where she grew up), including among others the novels An Immaculate Figure (1993, Nile Baby (2008) and most recently of The Shouting in the Dark (2015), and short story collections including most recently To the Volcano and other stories (2019). Her scholarly and creative work covers such themes as migration, identity, friendship, and diaspora; nation, race and gender representation; and world literature and postcolonial debates, particularly relating to sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and contemporary Britain.

Astrid Rasch is Associate Professor of cultural and social studies of the English-speaking world in the Department of Language and Literature at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Norway. Her research focuses on identity and memory at the end of empire, and especially as expressed through cultural forms such as life-writing, with particular attention to white memoirs of Zimbabwe.  Among other publications, she is the editor of Life Writing After Empire (2017). 

The event is co-convened by a collective of Nordic-based scholars: Astrid Rasch, Norwegian University of Science and Technology; Amanda Hammar, University of Copenhagen; Minna Johanna Niemi, The Arctic University of Norway; Lena Englund, University of Eastern Finland; and Nicklas Hållén, Karlstad University.