Universiteit Leiden

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LUCIS Lecture | MENA Cultures & Global Aesthetics

Natives of Borno: Islamic Knowledge and African American Literature

Tuesday 18 February 2020
Register below. The lecture is followed by free drinks.
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

When Nicholas Said published “A Native of Bornoo” in the Atlantic Monthly in 1867, it made its way into the homes of the magazine’s 50,000 monthly subscribers, immediately becoming one of the most widely circulated African American autobiographies of its era. Although Said served in the U.S. Civil War, he was born in what is today northeastern Nigeria and educated in Islamic schools that emphasized Qur’anic literacy, a background that he centered in his writing. This lecture will consider Borno’s important role within the canon of African American letters, surprising because its people were not a primary source of human chattel for the transatlantic slave trade prior to the nineteenth century. Nearly a century before Said’s arrival in North America, another prominent native of Borno, James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw published his Narrative, which, like Said, draws on Islamic knowledge in ways that are profoundly influential even as they remain widely misunderstood. By bringing together the fields of literature studies, African studies, African American studies, and Islamic studies, my research seeks to illuminate the centrality of particular African linguistic, literary, religious, and political cultures to American literary traditions.

credit: John Burrows

Ira Dworkin

Ira Dworkin is Associate Professor of English at Texas A&M University. He previously worked as a faculty member at the American University in Cairo, and as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Kinshasa. He is the author of Congo Love Song: African American Culture and the Crisis of the Colonial State (University of North Carolina Press), which was a finalist for the Pauli Murray Book Prize of the African American Intellectual History Society. He is the editor of Daughter of the Revolution: The Major Nonfiction Works of Pauline E. Hopkins (Rutgers University Press); Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) (Penguin Classic); with Ferial Ghazoul, The Other Americas, a special issue of Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics; and with Ebony Coletu, On Demand and Relevance: Transnational American Studies in the Middle East and North Africa, a special issue of Comparative American Studies. His book chapter “Nicholas Said’s America: Islam, the Civil War, and the Emergence of African American Narrative” is forthcoming in American and Muslim Worlds, 1500-1900, edited by John Ghazvinian and Mitch Fraas, Bloomsbury (Islam of the Global West series).

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