Fordham English Welcomes Writer at Risk, Kanchana Ugbabe

Kanchana Ugbabe

Kanchana Ugbabe

This fall, Fordham's English Department welcomes its first Writer at Risk in Residence, Kanchana Ugbabe of Nigeria. This one-year pilot position, in partnership with PEN America, Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), and Westbeth Artists Housing, was made possible by the efforts of the department's Creative Writing program.

With a doctorate in literature from Flinders University of South Australia and a BA and MA from India’s University of Madras, Ugbabe serves as a professor of English and African literature at the Nigeria’s University of Jos. An accomplished writer whose stories have been read over the air on the BBC World Service, Ugbabe is the author of a collection of short stories, Soulmates, published by Penguin in 2011, and participated in the Iowa International Writing Program. Additionally, Ugbabe has also edited two collections of essays on the writings of Nigerian novelist Chukwuemeka Ike, has been published in various international journals, and contributed three chapters to the Dictionary of Literary Biography on African writers. 

In the past ten years, parts of Ugbabe’s home city of Jos, Nigeria have become increasingly dangerous due to the current political crisis involving ‘indigene’ rights and political representation. Since late 2001, 3,800 individuals have been killed in the city. Today, temporary peace is enforced by imposing military and law enforcement presences. Jos has become a city of ethnic and religious fragmentation and conflict since the outbreak of this fragile political state.

Soulmates, Ugbabe's collection of short stories published by Penguin in 2011

Soulmates, Ugbabe's collection of short stories published by Penguin in 2011

These uncertain surroundings in Jos became a threat to Ugbabe’s safety as a writer and a South Asian woman. One of Ugbabe’s fellow university professors was kidnapped and never found in 2007; church members throughout the city have fallen victim to violence; Ugbabe’s neighbor’s home was set on fire; and Ugbabe’s colleague’s daughter was killed in a bomb explosion. Ugbabe’s community is constantly shaken by horrific incidents like these.

Ugbabe moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts with an invitation from Harvard University to serve as a Visiting Scholar with the Women and Gender Studies program to pursue her work in a safe and peaceful environment. At Harvard, Ugbabe was able to not only seek refuge from the violence of her home city, but also broaden her perspective on the risks faced by writers in conflict zones throughout Nigeria. Upon the end of her fellowship at Harvard, the English department offered Ugbabe the Writer at Risk pilot position at Fordham.

Here at Fordham, Ugbabe will be able to write and teach in a safe and welcoming academic community. Since her mid-October arrival, Ugbabe has been visiting English classes, as well as various classes in other departments such as “Women and Independence in Africa,” taught by Fawzia Mustafa, professor of African and African-American studies and English. This upcoming spring, Ugbabe will teach a writer’s workshop titled, "Creating Dangerously: Writing from Contact Zones.” In this workshop, students will be encouraged to think and write about injustice and oppression, and examine the dynamics of writing under constraint by looking at the work of Edwidge Danticat, Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro-Wiva, Jorge Olivera, and others.

Kanchana Ugbabe will read from her work at the English department’s annual Golden Gloves creative writing awards ceremony on December 4th. The Fordham Department of English welcomes Ugbabe with warmth and excitement for the urgent and valuable perspective she brings as a new member of the Fordham community.