Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Negotiating Margins: African American and Dalit Writings

Osmania University Centre for International Programmes, Hyderabad & ICSSR, New Delhi, Sponsored 
International Seminar on
Negotiating Margins: African American and Dalit Writings

17-19 December 2012

Highlights and Excerpts
Charles Johnson: Embracing the World edited by Nibir K. Ghosh and E. Ethelbert Miller was formally launched in the inaugural ceremony of the International Conference on Negotiating Margins: African American and Dalit Writings organized by Osmania University Centre for International Programmes (OUCIP), Hyderabad in collaboration with ICSSR, New Delhi from 17-19 December 2012.
Prof. S. Satyanarayana as Chief Guest said: The Editorial collaboration between two writers – Nibir K. Ghosh and Ethelbert Miller – separated in terms of geographical distance by half the world augurs well in bringing two principal democracies together. The theme of the seminar is of utmost relevance in the context of the dichotomy and ambivalence that surrounds the society and polity of the two major democracies in the globe we inhabit. Writings grounded in pain and suffering that emanate from prejudice and discrimination on lines of colour and caste have come to occupy centre-stage in modern socio-political discourse. I am optimistic that this event will generate sweetness and light in ample measure and bring closer writers, academics and scholars from different parts of the world in a spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
Prof. Jane E. Schukoske, the Keynote speaker at the conference, said that the book’s effort in putting together contributions on the life and works of Charles Johnson is a grand tribute to the African American legend.
Dr. Nibir K. Ghosh delivered the Inaugural Address as Guest of Honour. Highlighting the power of words in negotiating margins, he cited the instances of numerous writers and activists from the African American and Dalit pantheon and stated: “In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the Statue of Liberty is shown to be lost in the fog. With Obama’s resounding second victory the Statue of Liberty has become increasingly more visible and writers may not find it imperative anymore to append to their works titles like “Invisible Man,” “No Name in the Street” or “Nobody Knows My Name.” The presence in our midst of celebrity African American and Dalit writers and scholars, ought to convince us how the margins are being redrawn in remaking the world where the line of distinction between “our” sorrows and “theirs” as pointed out in the poem by Waharu Sonavane:

We did not go on to the stage,
Neither were we called.
We were shown our places,
told to sit.
But they, sitting on the stage,
went on telling us of our sorrows,
our sorrows remained ours,
they never became theirs.

He concluded by expressing the hope that the conference would prove to be of tremendous significance not only for people of every colour in the U.S. but for people of all castes in India.

Excerpts from messages sent by Charles Johnson and Ethelbert Miller:

“I'm delighted the festshrift book you and Ethelbert did will be formally launched at the "Negotiating Margins" conference. Negotiating Margins: African American and Dalit Writings is a long-overdue conference of tremendous historical and international importance. In 1959, Martin Luther King Jr. visited India as a guest of the Gandhi Peace Foundation and met with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. "To other countries I may go as a tourist," said King, "but to India I come as a pilgrim." He was inspired by his trip to India, personally renewed in his spiritual practice, and saw his connection to the Dalit people when at one event he was introduced, somewhat to his surprise, as an Untouchable from America. Immediately, he understood that the various meanings for the Hindi word dalita---"driven or torn asunder," "broken," "crushed," "destroyed," "oppressed"---applied equally to black Americans after the experience of slavery and during the era of racial segregation and disenfranchisement in the United States. This conference, then, opens the door for a crucial conversation (one both political and spiritual) and seminal scholarship devoted to two groups separated by great physical distance but united in their similar experiences of being social pariahs in the West and East. And as with so many other things during its long history, it is not at all surprising that India is at the forefront for opening the door onto this specific awakening.”  - Charles Johnson.

“A successful conference consists not only of scholars exchanging ideas but also of laying the foundation for the creation of maps and blueprints. If we are indeed living inside a World House as Martin Luther King, Jr. mentioned in his last book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?  then we have a responsibility to prevent groups and individuals from being marginalized. The study of comparative literature should be seen as essential in the 21st century as taking steps to protect ourselves from global warming, religious strife and nuclear war. When people place emphasis on similarities instead of differences remarkable things can occur. This December gathering “constructs” a cultural bridge between people separated by distance as well as language.  In the world of ideas the rivers always flow, the mountains rejoice and the valleys retain their memories. The International Conference on Negotiating Margins: African American and Dalit Writings should be a reason for celebration. History today turns to touch those once defined as untouchables and the world turns. This marks the dawn of change. When dusk comes it will be dark like us. Oh, the night will be beautiful for the stars will shine and the “new spirituals” will be sung by people who have been given back their voice. I congratulate Professor Sumita Roy and Professor A. Karunaker of OUCIP and Nibir K. Ghosh for making it possible for scholars from different parts of the globe to share their views on a subject of universal relevance. I am also delighted to know that that the conference has on its agenda the launch of Charles Johnson: Embracing the World, the book that I had the pleasure of editing with Nibir K. Ghosh. Throughout the movie The Book of Eli the actor Denzel Washington portrays a man protecting a book; by the end of the movie we understand the importance of his actions as well as the significance of the text. Charles Johnson: Embracing the World is a book we should all cherish. It highlights the work of a writer whose contributions are essential for living and understanding reality. One is forever grateful that this man’s vision embraces our world. There are no borders or boundaries to beauty. Charles Johnson in this book reveals the lotus in his heart. We are all capable of becoming better human beings because of it. -- E. Ethelbert Miller.

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