Fordham University Welcomes Writer at Risk in Residence Kanchana Ugbabe with PEN America and Artists at Risk Connection
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK—The Fordham Department of English has welcomed a new colleague, Kanchana Ugbabe of Nigeria, to serve in the newly created position of Writer at Risk in Residence for one year beginning this fall.
The pilot position was made possible through the efforts of the Creative Writing program in partnership with PEN America, Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), Westbeth Artists Housing, ArtistsSafety.net, and Residency Unlimited. The residency is the second effort of the New York City Safe Haven Prototype, a multi-organizational artist residency program designed to house, integrate, and nurture artists at risk.
Ugbabe is a professor of English and African Literature at the University of Jos, Nigeria, and the author of a collection of short stories, Soulmates, published by Penguin in 2011. She has edited two collections of essays on the writings of the Nigerian novelist Chukwuemeka Ike and contributed three chapters to the Dictionary of Literary Biography focusing on African writers. Ugbabe holds a doctorate from Flinders University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia. She holds a master’s in English literature from the University of Madras, India.
Since arriving at Fordham in mid-October, Ugbabe has been visiting English classes as well as courses in other departments, such as “Women and Independence in Africa,” taught by Fawzia Mustafa, Ph.D., professor of African and African-American studies and English. This spring, Ugbabe will teach her own class, “Creating Dangerously: Writing from Contact Zones.”
Over the last decade, the political crisis over ‘indigene’ rights and political representation in Ugbabe’s home city of Jos has developed into a protracted communal conﬂict affecting most parts of the area.
As a writer and South Asian woman settled in an increasingly unstable part of Nigeria, the risks and uncertainty became personal, Ugbabe says. These risks weighing upon her became intrinsically associated with a place she considered home—the town of Jos, which in the early days was a quaint, attractive outpost but has now devolved into a deeply fractured, overpopulated town rife with ethno-religious conflict. Ugbabe and her family, along with Nigerian friends, colleagues, and neighbors, found themselves at the center of the vortex of events. Disruption of work and a climate of insecurity escalated over the years as Jos deteriorated and the town became divided along ethnic and religious lines.
According to Human Rights Watch, since 2001 there have been 3,800 deaths related to inter-communal, political, and sectarian violence in the state in which Jos is located, and some of these hit very close to home for Ugbabe. In 2007, a university professor was kidnapped and never found. Around that same time, church members were attacked, a neighbor’s home was set on fire, and a colleague’s daughter was killed in a bomb blast, to name just a few incidents.
An invitation from Harvard University, to serve as Visiting Scholar with the Women and Gender Studies program, enabled Ugbabe to leave Jos and continue her writing and academic work in the peaceful environment of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The period also enabled her to distance herself temporarily from the tumult in Jos and to gain new perspective on the risks faced by fellow writers and academics in her beloved home country, Nigeria. As that fellowship neared its end, the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) reached out to Ugbabe with the new opportunity at Fordham. This yearlong pilot position will allow Ugbabe to continue writing and make headway with her research while being part of an enriching, safe, and encouraging community.
The Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) brings together organizations around the world that are committed to defending and promoting artistic freedom of expression, and to ensuring that artists everywhere can live and work without fear.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
Gina Vergel, Director of Communications, Fordham University, [email protected], 212-636-6534
Sarah Edkins Lien, Director of Communications, PEN America, [email protected], 646-779-830