From the 'Burn' to the 'Chaos' and Back: Post-Apocalyptic Re-Visions of Toronto
While Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) has frequently been discussed in the context of Canadian multiculturalist discourse, her young adult novel The Chaos (2012) tends to be framed within more recent takes on ‘Afrofuturism.’ This paper re-reads the intersecting critical frameworks of both novels against the backdrop of Sharon Lewis’s 2017 film Brown Girl Begins. Linked through different yet overlapping functions of myth and spirituality, these texts constitute a re-vision of Canadian identity discourse which tellingly invokes the necessity of apocalyptic events to disrupt complacent narratives of diversity. Staging a three-way discussion between the two novels and the film, I argue that each of them provides a new angle for the other two, thus sharpening our vision through their respective speculative framework.
Annika McPherson is Professor of New English Literatures and Cultural Studies at the University of Augsburg, Germany, and an Associate of the Wilson Institute for Canadian History, McMaster University. Her research and teaching areas include postcolonial and diaspora studies; literary representations of cultural diversity; Caribbean, West African, South African, Indian, and Canadian literatures and televisual media in English; as well as speculative fiction.
Sheheryar (Shero) B. Sheikh
'Othering' Ad Infinitum: A Critical-Creative Examination of Power-Play between the Secular and Spiritual in Nalo Hopkinson's Brown Girl in the Ring
Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) is a magical realist narrative that imagines an alternate reality in Toronto. The Afro-Caribbean mythology Hopkinson imagines playing out in that other-dimension Toronto is commentary and critique on representation, and lack thereof, of diversity in the cultural mosaic of the Canadian multi-ethnic city. The analytical component of my presentation will focus on the representation of power structures within a universe consisting entirely of a subaltern’s vision. The creative component of my presentation expands on the universe of Hopkinson’s novel by including an Islamic-Sufi mythic parallel structure focused on a protagonist who observes and partakes in the events of Hopkinson’s novel. Through the creation of my hybrid creative-critical presentation, I wish to interrogate the idea of singular primarily analytical ways of creating scholarship, even encourage the bridging of gaps between analytical scholarship and creative exploration.
Sheheryar B. Sheikh is an author and an English PhD Candidate at the University of Saskatchewan. He is working with Dr. Lindsey Banco on apocalyptic and religious ideas in post-9/11 American novels. His most recent novel, Call Me Al (2019), is part critique and part celebration of The Hero’s Journey, as well as a dark satire on exile and messianism.
Sites of Transit and Consumerism in Nalo Hopkinson's Skin Folk
Nalo Hopkinson’s 2001 short story collection Skin Folk features speculative situations grounded in real-world urban geographies: transit systems, corner stores, food courts, malls, and other sites of travel and consumerism. Focusing on “A Habit of Waste” and “Something to Hitch Meat To,” I will discuss how Skin Folk explores the ways that individuals are rendered passive or active participants in these contemporary geographies. By close-reading the sites of transit and consumerism in both stories, I will position Hopkinson’s Skin Folk in relation to theories of contemporary “placelessness” developed by scholars such as Marc Augé, who posits that these sites are “non-places” where individuals drop their identities to assume pre-determined roles as travellers or consumers. Instead of figuring individuals as passive geographical subjects puppeteered by the force of an inevitably flattening world, Hopkinson’s work powerfully argues that individuals can become active collaborators in the making of contemporary space.
Jessica McDonald is a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University. In her postdoctoral research, she studies so-called non-places (in particular, airports, chain stores, and roads) in the literatures of contemporary Canada.
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