Writing Black Women’s Lives: Present and Past

Please join us for a one-day symposium featuring stellar scholars who bring innovative approaches to writing about black women’s lives.  This intergenerational and international group will challenge us to re-consider links between biography and history in American, African American, African, and African diasporic studies.  We will highlight lessons learned from prize-winning biographical work while showcasing new scholarship in the growing field of black women’s biographical studies.

Studying black women’s lives requires us to revise and expand scholarly tropes, whether on slavery, migration, politics, religion, transnationalism, or knowledge and artistic production.  The capaciousness, complexity, and contradictions within those lives also often require inventions of new forms of writing and new categories of analysis.

The day’s format will encourage informal discussions among participants and the audience.

The programme is now available here.

Registration is via Eventbrite. This is a free event. Please note that Eventbrite processes data (including any personal data you may submit by registering for this event) outside of the European Economic Area. Please only submit any personal data which you are happy to have processed in this way, and in accordance with Eventbrite’s privacy policy applicable to attendees (available here). If you prefer not to use Eventbrite to register for this event, you may respond directly to enquiries@rai.ox.ac.uk.


Mia Bay (Pennsylvania)
To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells (2009).

Judith Casselberry (Bowdoin)
The Labor of Faith: Gender and Power in Black Apostolic Pentacostalism (2017) and new work on the life and religious roots of the performer Grace Jones.

Erica Armstrong Dunbar (Rutgers)
Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave (2017).

Merve Fejzula (Cambridge)
New work on women and Anglophone dissemination of negritude in Nigeria and the United States.

Farah Jasmine Griffin (Columbia)
If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday (2001) and Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II (2013).

Sinead McEneaney (Open University)
Writing rights: autobiography, protest and civil rights women.

Imaobong Umoren (London School of Economics)
Race Women Internationalists: Activist-Intellectuals and Global Freedom Struggles (2018) and new work on Eugenia Charles, Prime Minister of Dominica.


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Organized by Barbara D. Savage
Geraldine R. Segal Professor American Social Thought, Pennsylvania
Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History, Oxford


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