Reader in postcolonial literature
Colleague spotlight | Dr Emily Zobel Marshall
Emily is a Reader in Postcolonial Literature, teaching courses on African-American, Caribbean, African and Black British literature at The School of Cultural Studies and Humanities at Leeds Beckett University.
An expert on the trickster figure in the folklore, oral cultures and literature of the African Diaspora, Emily has published journal articles and book chapters in these fields, and her research specialisms are Caribbean literature and Caribbean carnival cultures.
Tell us a bit about you and what led you to working with the school you are in?
I am actually a graduate from The School of Cultural Studies and Humanities. I studied an MA English in Contemporary Literatures in 2000 at the school and also completed my PhD in Jamaican Folklore there. Reading has always been a passion of mine – I loved studying English Literature at secondary school and at degree level, so doing a postgraduate course in Literature and then a PhD in Folklore seemed like a natural progression. I enjoyed the detailed analysis of texts and the dynamic and lively debates we had on the Masters course – this is something I’ve carried over into my own teaching and I hope to ignite the same passion in my students that I have for the subject.
What makes you passionate about your work around decolonizing the curriculum and postcolonialism and why is it important?
I see the ways in which colonialism has shaped peoples thinking about the world. At GCSE and A level, the literature curriculum is not very diverse – the majority of texts are still by white, European or American authors. When our students come and study Postcolonial Literatures at our school they are introduced to a broad range of texts from around the world. I enjoy hearing students say ‘I have never read anything like this!’ and seeing that moment when they start to open up to new ideas and ways of thinking about the world. I believe structural changes can come through education and I hope our students will carry their decolonial thinking – which challenges the Eurocentric bias at the heart of knowledge production - into their future lives and influence others to open their minds to the legacies of the past and the importance of fighting for a more equal society.
How is collaboration integral to your work, and what are one or two collaborations that have been most meaningful to you?
I am Vice Chair of the David Oluwale Memorial Association (DOMA), a charity committed to fighting racism and homelessness, and a Creative Associate of the art-based youth charity The Geraldine Connor Foundation. This collaborative charity work is important to me as it’s how I put my research into action. DOMA have big plans to open a sculpture garden in Leeds in 2023 in the memory of David Oluwale, a Nigerian migrant who drowned following racist attacks by two policemen in Leeds in 1969. The sculpture garden will have an event space and feature a large sculpture by the British-Nigerian artists Yinka Shonibare. It will be a space for the residents of Leeds to enjoy coming together and be used as a platform from which to promote anti-racism and awareness of homelessness and mental health issues. The garden is part of a narrative of much needed change in the city and I am excited about being a part of that change.
What achievements have you been most proud of while working in The School of Cultural Studies and Humanities?
I am very proud of the publication of my two books on trickster folklore of the African Diaspora, Anansi’s Journey: A Story of Jamaican Cultural Resistance (2012) (which was originally my PhD thesis) and American Trickster: Trauma, Tradition and Brer Rabbit (2019) while I’ve been as the school.
I was also supported by the school to host, alongside Professor Emeritus Max Farrar, an international conference on Caribbean carnival cultures in 2017. We had speakers and guests from across the globe and it was a spectacular three-day event. We collaborated with speakers and participants from the conference to form a Caribbean Carnival Cultures network and research platform and I also edition the conference proceedings into for a special carnival edition of the journal The Caribbean Quarterly. In my research and teaching, alongside my charity work, I seek to analyse and celebrate the cultures of the African Diaspora and work towards identifying and dismantling racial injustice and colonial legacies.
Emily’s research is informed by postcolonial theory and includes examinations of constructions of identity, race and racial politics and Caribbean carnival cultures. She is particularly interested in forms of cultural resistance and cross-cultural fertilisation in the face of colonialism. Emily is an expert in the role of trickster figures in the literatures and cultures of Africa and its Diaspora and has published widely in this area.