23 Mar 2022 – 25 Mar 2022

Sketches of Black Europe. Imagining Europe/ans in African and African Diasporic Narratives

Venue: Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Aufgang B, 3. Etage
Organized by Sandra Folie (Universität Wien), Gianna Zocco (ZfL)
Contact: Gianna Zocco

Funding by the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

The literary images, creative ‘appropriations,’ and narrative uses of Europe/ans in literary writings by people of African and African diasporic descent vary to a great extent.This diversity relates not only to the differences between authors and/or protagonists in terms of gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, or type of relation to Europe, but also to the variability of ‘roots’ (African, African-American, African-Caribbean, African-European, …), ‘routes’ (via airplane or as boat migrant across the Mediterranean), and European destinations (Paris or Lampedusa or the Swedish Rinkeby).

A first reaction to this heterogeneity might be the dismissal of the categories ‘African,’ ‘African diasporic,’ and ‘European’ as too unspecific. The colloquium however aims at testing the advantages and limits of a transnational, comparative, and ‘inclusive’ framework for studying Black literary imaginations of Europe: Firstly, Black narratives about Europe written in different languages and by writers of various backgrounds share being embedded in a complex regime of gazes. This means that they are voluntarily structured and/or involuntarily read as reversals of the (former) colonizer’s gaze at the (formerly) colonized subject.
Secondly, the transnational approach we intend to pursue has a long, but in parts not very well-known tradition within the broader field of ‘Africana’ studies. Here, the usefulness of ‘inclusive’ terms such as “Black Atlantic” (Gilroy), “Afropea” (Byrne/Daulne), or “world black literature” (Dixon) has been explained by their ability of expressing shared experiences of racism, by their contribution to enforcing the political consciousness of marginalized diasporic communities, and creating an intergenerational memory space, and by their applicability to the transcultural and intertextual character of African (diasporic) cultural productions.
Thirdly, focusing on transnational, Europe-related aspects might serve as a frutiful starting point for initiating a much needed but so far neglected interdisciplinary dialogue between African European and comparative literary studies—two fields of research which might complement each other when it comes to understanding Black narratives about Europe from a perspective that is aware of their imaginative and aesthetic as well as their political and historic particularities and intentions.


Fig. above:
Figure of a district officer, Brooklyn Museum (1992). Source: WikiCommons [1st from the left]
Miniature representation of wooden rowing boat with one European and four rowers, Tropenmuseum. Source: WikiCommons [2nd from the left]
Figure of a missionary and female figure, Weltmuseum. Source: Weltmuseum [3rd from the left]
Wooden sculpture of a white man with pipe, Tropenmuseum. Source: WikiCommons [4th from the left]


Wednesday, 23 Mar 2022

Opening, Introduction

Transnational Literary Entanglements and the Legacies of Colonialism
Moderation: Matthias Schwartz (ZfL)

  • Gesine Drews-Sylla (Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg): The Russian Empire Through African Eyes and the Palimpsest of Colonialisms: Silimu bin Abakari’s Travelogue to Germany, Russia, and Siberia (1896/1901)
  • Margriet van der Waal (University of Groningen): “A letter to Jan van Riebeeck”: Contemporary (Afrikaans) Poets in Conversation about Europe and the Legacies of Colonialism

Growing Up Black and Swedish/Czech: Narrating the Racial Regimes of Supposedly Raceless European Countries
Moderation: Anne Potjans (HU Berlin)

  • Dobrota Pucherova (Slovak Academy of Sciences, Institute of World Literature): Growing up Afro-Czech during the Cold War: Tomáš Zmeškal and Obonete S. Ubam
  • Monica L. Miller (Barnard College): “On paper, we are parentheses into which someone else has placed us”: Black Swedish Memoir and the Rhizomatics of Race

“Laughing, Singing, Shouting” – Performing Black Agency in Diasporic Spaces
Moderation: Martin Lüthe (FU Berlin)

  • Uhuru Portia Phalafala (Stellenbosch University): Listening to Apartheid-Era Fugitive South African Black Arts in Sweden
  • Nick Jones (University of California, Davis): Staging Habla de Negros: Radical Performances of the African Diaspora in Early Modern Spain


Thursday, 24 Mar 2022


  • City Walk “The African Quarter in Berlin” and lunch at the restaurant “Salone Market” (Tour guide: Henning Marcard, starting point: U6 Seestraße)

Reversing ‘The Gaze,’ Reconstituting Knowledges and Space
Moderation: Andreas Lipowsky (ZfL)

  • Peter Simatei (Moi University): “The Prison from which Europeans Speak”: Sketches of Europe in Caryl Phillips’ Essays
  • Gianna Zocco (ZfL): Of European Tribes and Strangers in the Village. Ethnographic Gazes and Intertextual Relations in African Diasporic Texts
  • Jeannette Oholi (Justus Liebig University Gießen): Imagining Afropean Futures: A Comparative Literary Perspective

Transatlantic Connections: Historical Continuities and Personal Disruptions
Moderation: Stefani Engelstein (ZfL/Duke University)

  • Deborah Nyangulu (University of Münster): From a Colonial Memoir to Avengers: Infinity War: Historical Continuities of Racial Anxieties and Ecological Apocalypse
  • Laila Amine (University of Wisconsin-Madison): Between Cosmopolitan and Native Son: Richard Wright’s Return to Chicago


Friday, 25 Mar 2022

Migratory Routes to Western European Peripheries
Moderation: Elisabeth Bekers (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

  • Alessandra di Maio (University of Palermo): Migrations/Migrazioni: Lyrics and Images across the Black Mediterranean
  • Sandra Folie (University of Vienna): The White Continent of Night. Re-Imagining Europe in the Fictional New Slave Narratives On Black Sisters’ Street and Joy

Round table discussion: “Imagining Europe/ans? African and African Diasporic Perspectives”
Moderation: Sandra Folie (Universität Wien), Gianna Zocco (ZfL)

  • Deborah Nyangulu (Universität Münster): Europe: Under the African Gaze
  • Elisabeth Bekers (Vrije Universiteit Brussel): Digging Out the Forgotten: Europe’s Black History in Contemporary Black British Women’s Literature
  • Susan Arndt (Universität Bayreuth): The Longevity of Whiteness and Its Racism
  • Peter Simatei (Moi University, Eldoret): Unsettling and Reconstituting ‘European Knowledge’


  • Closing and Walk to the W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial at the Humboldt University of Berlin


Sandra Folie, Gianna Zocco (ed./eds.)

Sketches of Black Europe in African and African Diasporic Narratives
CompLit. Journal of European Literature, Arts and Society

n° 6
Classiques Garnier, Paris 2024, 257 pages
ISSN 2782-0874; ISBN 978-2-406-16075-5