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Christine Okoth (King's College London)

Dr. Christine Okoth

Dr. Christine Okoth
Image Credit: King’s College London

Fellow in Research Area 1 "Competing Communities"
April - August 2024

Black Feminism's Politics of Land: Agrarian Utopias and the late 20th Century Novel

This project considers how the novel form reflects on and interrogates visions of Black feminist liberation that revolved around the establishment of utopian, agrarian communities. As Black feminist scholars maintain, quotidian practices of cultivation offered a source of literal sustenance to the enslaved populations of the Americas. At the same time, subsistence farming also produced a set of aesthetic interventions that shaped the character of Black cultural production and, as Sylvia Wynter argues, the particular generic conventions of the novel. In such an account of the relationship between land and literary form, the highly contested space of colonial expansion and enslavement also provides the materials for a revolutionary aesthetic practice. In this project, Okoth builds on recent work by Erica Edwards, Randi Gill-Sadler and Patricia Stuelke to ask how this relationship is reshaped as activists and novelists began to seek the materials for liberatory writing in the Caribbean, South America and Africa. During the 1960s and 1970s a Black feminist project of liberation was frequently articulated through recourse to a physical escape from the bounds of the US nation-state. Okoth proposes that these political tendencies are central antecedents of contemporary novels which revolve around Black women protagonists who question how their practice of liberation hinges on the acquisition of land in formerly colonised regions. In Andrea Lee’s Red Island House (2021) where the protagonist travels between the US, Italy and a second home in Madagascar and Danzy Senna’s New People (2017) in which the protagonist Maria spends her days completing a doctoral dissertation on the music of The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project. Together, these texts interrogate the historical appeal of communitarian thinking to Black separatism and identify the structural and epistemological circumstance that have led to these political projects’ transformation into imperial fantasy.

Christine Okoth is Lecturer in Literatures and Cultures of the Black Atlantic in the Department of English at King’s College London. Her work is primarily concerned with questions of environment and race in contemporary Black literature and visual art. Prior to coming to King’s, Christine was Research Fellow in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Warwick where she worked on Mike Niblett and Chris Campbell’s Leverhulme-funded project ‘World Literature and Commodity Frontiers.’ She is currently writing a book entitled Race and the Raw Material and her work has been published in Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Modern Fiction Studies, Cambridge Quarterly and Textual Practice