In conversation: Dionne Brand, Christina Sharpe, and David Chariandy on The Work of Words

from The Work of Words

On June 9, 2017, Dionne Brand and Christina Sharpe delivered the 2017 Shadbolt Lecture, sponsored by the Writer in Residence Program of the English Department at Simon Fraser University. The lecturers were invited to read from recent writings and then use this as a means to discuss “the work of words” more broadly, with special attention to their own celebrated books but also to the broader climate of language today. Christina Sharpe read from In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Duke UP, 2016) and Dionne Brand read from The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos (forthcoming from McClelland & Stewart and Duke UP, 2018). David Chariandy, author most recently of the novel Brother (McClelland & Stewart, 2017) moderated their onstage dialogue.

David Chariandy: Earlier, Christina was generous enough to visit my class. Some of my students are here right now. And there was a moment in which you invited us—in this powerful way—to contemplate what is the weather like here, how do particular ecologies of anti-Blackness work out in specific sites of the African diaspora?

Christina Sharpe: Right. How do you have microclimates where you can actually get something else done, so that there are lateral moves where you have a kind of microclimate. You’re working toward liberation, but you have these micromoments—like in Bail Out Black Mamas in the US. You’re working toward prison abolition, and you’re working toward the end of cash bail. But you have these moments where, in the midst of working toward that, you also do this other thing. I think of those as microclimates within a larger climate of violence in which you try to create a sustainable life. In which you don’t accede to everything that would try to suffocate you, to all of the forces that are intent on that kind of suffocation.

David Chariandy: Which is why, I must say, I find work written by both of you so profoundly important in that you allow us to chart those connections between those microclimates, those different spaces, landscapes, and geographies. Your projects have never been confined to specific national or regional spaces. They prove themselves global in orientation while demonstrating close attention to specific places.

Dionne Brand: I also think that just writing, itself, is that. It creates those microclimates, if you will. Because to make a poem, for me, is to create that space where not only the vulgar and brutal exists but language opens places where someone might actually recognize themselves outside of the short instrumental stereotypic location that in public they occupy—or in the public they occupy. So, I think writing is itself a space where that happens or can happen.

Read the full excerpted dialogue in our Winter 2018 Issue 3.34.

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