The Literature & Ecology Colloquium

The Literature & Ecology Colloquium was founded in 2004 at Rhodes University, Grahamstown. It was intended as a forum for (particularly) South and southern African scholars of literary studies to share ideas on how literature can articulate, and articulate with – the overwhelming crisis of our times: the ecological. There is little doubt any more that human treatment and mistreatment of the environment will subsume all other politics of region or nation or ethnicity: the health of potable waters, arable soils, and breathable air affects all of us. It is increasingly clear that the present global course of (generally) capitalistic and industrial ‘development’, crises of population and resource-distribution, pollutive effects of desirable technologies, and mass extinctions of other species, is incompatible with such health. While the cultural capital of science has assumed dominance, human emotions, desires and fears, senses of belonging and aesthetic appreciation, remain key to how we pragmatically operate in the world: this is the primary purview of literature (conceived in a broad sense as including not only fiction, poetry and drama, but non-fiction, scientific writing and popular media as well). The Colloquium aims to discuss ways in which literary artefacts have expressed, and might continue to express, humans’ evolving place within the planet’s ecological envelope.

While ecologically-orientated literary criticism is well-developed elsewhere – particularly in the United States, England, and Australia – it remains embryonic in this, the southern region of Africa. The Colloquium has, over the last decade, contributed substantially to thematic studies of eco-critical areas of importance, and has a number of publications and journal special issues to its credit. Amongst the themes have been our relations with others – Animals, Birds – and with places – Mountains, Coastlines. A focus on identity produced a book, Toxic Belonging? Ecology and identity in Southern Africa (Cambridge Scholars Press); other themes have been the subject of special issues of Current Writing and AlterNation. The Colloquium has furthermore been migrating around the country, being hosted successively by interested academics from the Universities of Zululand, Western Cape, Cape Town and Wits. This has attracted participation from local scholars and – importantly – postgraduate students who might not otherwise have stretched themselves in an environmental or ecological direction. The pedagogy of eco-literary studies is a persistent area of focus.

For the tenth edition in 2013, the Colloquium returns temporarily to Rhodes University and Grahamstown, and will make an attempt to reflect on its first decade, and to think more comprehensively about ways of theorising and promoting ecologically-orientated criticism in the southern African and African contexts.

The history of the Colloquium, and the 2013 CFP and programme, is available online: