About the project

Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds asks how our reading of British literature shapes our sense of identity in Britain today. We are particularly interested in thinking about how Black and Asian writing in Britain works as a dynamic cultural and imaginative medium through which new ways of thinking about Britain, and Britain in the world, can be worked out.

Writers make worlds

How does this dynamic of entering new worlds play out in our reading? We believe that when we as readers move into the thought-world of a novel or poem, we discover both new and unfamiliar things in it. We bump into stories and identities that both correspond to and depart from our own. And this prompts us to reflect on where we stand in relation to our societies and communities.

In this sense writers – all writers – are making and shaping worlds with their writing. But Black and Asian British writers confront a particular challenge in doing so. First, their voices have until recently often been overlooked and misheard, including by the publishing industry. Second, if they are of migrant or second-generation backgrounds, they sometimes have to compose the new cultural and linguistic environments in their work from scratch, or by ear, using whatever materials are at hand.

Reading ourselves, others and the world

These writers draw us as readers into exciting new worlds and invite us to ask particularly interesting and often difficult questions about ourselves. Their work asks us to think about whether we identify as mainstream or marginal, national or international, local or global, north or south. And they ask us about how and when we might flip these opposites over, how we might look at the world in a more heterogeneous and expanded way.

It is along these lines that our reading of BAME writing shapes our sense of ourselves in Britain today.


How did the research unfold?

Reading groups (October 2016–April 2017)

The project’s reading groups, which ran from autumn 2016 to summer 2017, helped us to explore how real readers engage with and respond to particular books, and how the process of reading unfolds and is experienced. Groups of A-level students, university students, and adult readers drawn from all over Oxford participated in the project. Each reading group met a number of times for a series of open-ended discussions about the books and participants’ reading experiences.

This website was an additional means by which reading groups and individual participants were able to discuss their responses to the texts, and even annotate poems or extracts in conversation with other project participants, including those outside their groups.

Find out more about the reading groups.

Workshops (summer 2017)

The reading group meetings were followed in summer or Trinity term 2017 by Great Writers Inspire at Home, a series of nine workshops with writers whose works the groups had discussed, as well as a few other special guests.

Read more about the workshop series.

The project is supported by the OUP John Fell Fund and the Oxford English Faculty. Visit our page on The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) website.

Elleke Boehmer (principal investigator), Professor of World Literature in English, University of Oxford

Erica Lombard (post-doctoral fellow), TORCH and Faculty of English Language and Literature, University of Oxford

Contact us

Interested in knowing more about the project? Have suggestions for writers and literary works we should include on the site? Get in touch using the form below.

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