Nyae Nyae Journey

This is the first of four blog posts by CTTR’s Candi Miller recounting her experiences with the San people in Northeastern Namibia over the summer, and the development of her latest research project. 

candi-blog-1Courtesy of my employer, the University of Wolverhampton, I received funding to undertake a reccie to Nyae Nyae, homeland of the Ju|’hoansi San in North-eastern Namibia. My aim was to investigate reading/writing literacy among this group of former hunter-gatherers. Personally, I was hoping to find a San writer I could mentor so s/he could write first-hand about the experiences of this, one of the world’s oldest and most marginalized indigenous people.

I was able to coincide my visit with that of Melissa Heckler, founding teacher of the Village Schools Project, which offers culturally-mediated mother–tongue education to Ju|’hoan children in remote areas, so I was keen to learn about this renowned literacy initiative. But first we had to get there.

One reaches Nyae Nyae by crossing the African continent, then travelling 670 km north from Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. We passed troupes of baboon which live in the copper-coloured hills surrounding the city, then entered a seemingly endless savannahscape: dark umbrella-shaped thorn trees protruding above an ocean of bleached grass; families of warthog on calloused knees rooting around on the verges; roan antelope and once, a rare Nyala gazing out from behind a high game fence. The road goes on and on and on and on, but I was with one of the world’s top storytellers so the kilometers flew by.

candi-blog-1bI’d barely registered the turn off to the big meteor crash site near Grootfontein before we were on the ‘Great White Way’, the gravel road that leads ultimately to the border between Namibia and Botswana.  It’s a hot and dusty 5-hour drive through thorn scrub that’s tinder-dry after a long drought.  Veld fires, set and accidental, are common, and I was relieved that the wide road acted as firebreak to the inferno we encountered on our right-hand side. The not-so-hard shoulder of this road (beware deep, sucking sand turned glassy by the intense heat) was a feeding station for the startlingly coloured lilac-breasted rollers who waited there to gobble up grasshoppers fleeing the flames. I’ve never seen so many rollers concentrated in one space. They say every bird has 27 colours in its plumage and I can vouch for the fact that the turquoise-blue wings alone are dazzling against the backdrop of charred veld.

Finally a transmission tower appeared on the horizon (Remember this tower; it looms large in my new project) and Melissa craned forward. This was her seventeenth trip to the Nyae Nyae Conservancy since she started the first Village school 25 years ago. Some of the Ju|’hoan children she taught are now adults and send their children to Village schools. On this visit Melissa planned to initiate a pre-school program for the new generation of Ju|’hoan children.

I had personal reasons for feeling excited.  It was 22 years since I‘d visited this area and I hoped to meet up with some of the people who unwittingly inspired my first novel, Salt & Honey. I figured the chances were slim; they were nomadic, the group may have disbanded, people could have died. And I wasn’t sure how close to Tsumkwe, the town where I’d be based, they had been. Still, strange things happen in the Kalahari; as Melissa says, you’ve just got to be there.

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Turning Perpignan Green

In this Guest Blog for Transculture, CTTR postgraduate research student Stephen Greenfield reflects on his recent experiences at the International Conference on Ecopoetics at Perpignan:

IMG_8140Almost 53 years after Salvadore Dali referred to Perpignan as the ‘centre du monde’, the French/Catalan city nestled ‘twixt the Pyrenees and Mediterranean, hosted a gathering of 100 delegates representing 20 different nations at ‘Ecopoetics Perpignan: International Conference on Ecopoetics, 22-25 June 2016’.

I was privileged to join such international ecocritical luminaries as keynotes Prof Scott Slovic (University of Idaho, USA), Prof Joni Adamson (Arizona State University, USA) and Prof Wendy Harding (University of Toulouse, France), to present my own research in a paper entitled ‘The Trees of The Lord of the Rings.’

Couvent des Minimes

Couvent des Minimes, Perpignan

The Conference welcome and registration on Wednesday 22nd June, was located in the suitably grand location of the Couvent des Minimes where delegates gathered in expectation. Conference organiser Prof Benedicte Meillon was joined by the Head of Research of the host institution L’Université de Perpignan Via Domitia (UPVD), and by a representative of the city’s mayor. The latter noted that Perpignan was pleased to welcome its second major academic conference of the year, which like the first was being opened up to the public so that research can reach beyond the boundaries of academia.

Conference papers were presented across the spectrum of ecocritical positions, taking in deep ecology, marginalised cultures and indigenous non-Western perspectives, spiritual ecology, ecofeminism, environmental justice, rewilding, and living in the Anthropocene Age. Most of the speakers were international postdoctoral researchers and professors. The PhD students accepted to present represented institutions from Belgium, USA, Australia, Wales, Estonia, Switzerland, India, Germany, England and from across France. Papers were presented either in English or in French.

On Friday the conference moved from Couvent des Minimes to UPVD’s campus. It was here that I presented as a member of Panel 19 which was chaired by Joanne Clavel, Museum d’Histoire Naturelle. My fellow presenters were Anne Cirella-Urrutia, Adjunct Professor at the University of Huston-Tillitson, Austin, USA (“Places of Memory and Memory of Places in bande dessinée: Re-Enchanting (Sub)urban Spaces in Davodeau & F. Jacquet’s Jeanne de la zone (2014) and Guy Delisle’s Shenzen (2000).”) and Esther Laso y Leon, Professeure à l’Université d’Alcala, Madrid, Espagne (“ Quand les ogres et les princesses s’inquiètent de ce qu’ils mangent : détournement écologique des contes.”).

IMG_4839My contribution focused on Tolkien’s representation of trees in The Lord of the Rings to articulate the struggle between an enchanted ecological authenticity and the threat of a fallen world. Tolkien’s trees recycle mythology to represent ecology as a mythological and cosmologically iterative divine system. I argued that through his use of trees Tolkien underlines the deep ecological subtext of The Lord of the Rings that reaches beyond the shallow environmentalism of the Ring narrative. As a result the book conveys a profoundly ecological message of hope.

Following a break for lunch the conference reconvened with a sobering account of the Anthropocene in Professor Wendy Harding’s keynote. Wendy’s keynote included the shocking images of cyanide lakes in North America, as one of the largely ignored consequences of transformative human engagement with its environment. The seminar highlighted the importance of ecocriticism in the foregrounding of hidden ecological and environmental perspectives in literature.


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Public lecture: 24 May 2016, Owen Martell in Conversation

IntermissionTrilingual novelist and translator Owen Martell will be reading from his award-winning novels and discussing his work and the writer’s life with Dr Aidan Byrne. The discussion will take place on Tuesday, 24 May 2016, from 5:30 p.m. in  Room MA030, at City Campus, University of Wolverhampton. This event is free and open to the public.

Owen writes novels and short stories in English and in Welsh, and translates philosophy/anthropology from French into Welsh and English. He has won the Welsh Book of the Year in 2001 and is a recipient of a Creative Wales award in 2008/09. His work has been translated into multiple languages, and his first English-language jazz novel, Intermission (Heinemann 2013), won the Irish Times Book of the Year. He also played harp and computers on the 2005 album Cywmp y dŵr ar gaol dydd by Rhodri Davies and Traw.


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Public lecture: 17 May 2016: Francis O’Gorman on Worrying

Professor Francis O’Gorman (University of Leeds) will be presenting a public lecture on the subject of his recent book, Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History. His talk will take place on Tuesday, 17 May 2016, from 6:00 pm, in Room MK045, City Campus, University of Wolverhampton. This event is free and open to the public.


41EQ6BJtO8L__SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Why do we worry? Where did it come from? Why is the word itself only known to us in its current meaning from the middle of the nineteenth century? This lecture will discuss the short history of worrying as a product of the busy, individual-centred world that modern capitalism has created. And it will also discuss the long history that sees worry as a result simply of being human and of having the ability to choose. Ranging across disciplines and historical periods, the lecture will affirm worrying as the peculiarly moth-eaten sign of being a modern human being.

About the Speaker:

Francis-OGorman-400x387Francis O’Gorman is Professor of Victorian Literature at the University of Leeds. His principal research and writing interests are in English literature including John Ruskin and Algernon Charles Swinburne; Edward Thomas and Samuel Taylor Coleridge; nineteenth and twentieth-century poetry; conceptions of literary ‘life’; Venice; textual editing; biography; manuscripts; the visual arts;  poetry of all periods. He also has a career as a writer of creative non-fiction.

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Women Travel Writers, 1780-1840: Communities of Authorship


CTTR is pleased to announce the commencement of a British Academy funded research project, Women Travel Writers, 1780-1840: Communities of Authorship. Led by Dr Benjamin Colbert in collaboration with database designer Chris Veness of Moveable Type Ltd., the project aims to restore visibility to 139 women who published travel books as authors, co-authors, contributors, letterpress writers, editors, and translators during a period in which women’s travel writing became established in Britain and Ireland. Original biographical research on these authors will contribute to our knowledge of the conditions of publishing, networking, and support that helped women become
transformative presences in a male-dominated genre.

Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence in Chile (1824)

Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence in Chile (1824). Public Domain.

The research builds upon and augments the Database of Women’s Travel Writing, launched at Chawton House Library in July 2014, which aims to provide accurate
bibliographical entries for all books of travel by women published in Britain and
Ireland during this period. This final phase of the project will produce a biographical dictionary of women travel writers, expand the database to include new categories of collaborative authorship, and enhance the user interface to maximise open access to the research.

The eighteen-month project finishes in January 2018. Look out for bi-monthly progress
reports and featured author profiles, part of the News & Update pages soon to be launched on the database (and to be reblogged here).

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Public Lecture: 5 May 2016, Tracey Hill on Immigrants in Early Modern London

Dr Tracey Hill (Bath Spa University) will be presenting a CTTR Public Lecture, ‘Strangers and aliens: immigrants in early modern London’, on Thursday 5 May 2016 in MK045 at 6:00 p.m. (City Campus, University of Wolverhampton). The event is free and open to the public.


ImmigrantsLondon was a fast-expanding metropolis in the early modern period, largely fuelled by migration, domestic as well as from overseas. Certain areas of the City were home to well-established ‘stranger’ communities, and these locales were sometimes the focus of xenophobic hostility. In most instances, however, strangers made an active contribution to the economic and cultural life of the City. Strangers, or ‘aliens’, in the terminology of the time, were therefore a reality on the streets as well as being figures available for cultural representation. My talk will explore the cultural significance of strangers in the seventeenth-century London, focusing on civic pageantry. These civic triumphs presented strangers in complex ways: as industrious, quasi-naturalised citizens, as grateful refugees, and as foreign exotics. Such representations were sensitive to state policy, and my talk will also address the portrayal of Protestant migrants from the Low Countries compared to that of Catholic nations such as Spain.

About the Speaker:

HillDr Tracey Hill is Associate Professor of Early Modern Literature & Culture at Bath Spa University. She specialises in the cultural history of early modern London, especially civic pageantry. Her publications include two books – Pageantry and Power: a cultural history of the early modern Lord Mayor’s Show, 1585-1639 (Manchester University Press 2010) and Anthony Munday and Civic Culture (Manchester University Press 2004) – and a number of articles in journals and edited collections. She is currently working on a book-length study of modes of spectatorship in Jacobean London.

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From Czech Republic to Czechia

Made%20in%20CzechiaThe Czech Republic has just announced that it plans to change its name to Czechia. Presciently, CTTR linguist Dr Tom Dickins wrote a long article a few years ago entitled ‘The Czech-speaking lands, their peoples and contact communities: titles, names and ethnonyms’, published in The Slavonic and East European Review, 89 (3), 2011, pp. 401–54, which is generating new interest in the light of current events. In the article, Dr Dickens writes:

“The degree of acceptance of short forms for the Czech Republic in foreign languages varies significantly. Some languages have largely embraced a new descriptor; for instance, French Tchéquie, German Tschechien and Spanish Chequía. Others have proven more resistant. Neither Czechia in English nor Cechia in Italian (which is perhaps too close to cieca [blind woman]) have become so well established, despite their endorsement in 1993 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, and their appearance in official geographical lists.105

There can be few precedents of a small state attempting to impose usage of this type on the speakers of major foreign languages, so it is difficult to predict the likely degree of acceptance of the promoted forms. For what it is worth, a poll conducted in 2006 found that ordinary Czechs overwhelmingly prefer the adjectival form Czech (used as an odd-sounding substantive in English) to Czechia, Czechlands and Czecho.106 Amongst native English speakers, Czecho, the misnomer Czechoslovakia (cf. continued references to ‘Yugoslavia’), the Czech-speaking lands and the Czechland(s), all appear to be more common than Czechia, for which there is only one citation in the Bank of English corpus.107 It is striking that even English-speaking Bohemicists are reluctant to adopt Czechia, and in some cases oppose it on the not altogether rational grounds of euphony.

To some extent, the Czechs recognize the anomaly of the situation, as exemplified in the variety of terms which they use to promote themselves abroad, including Czech/CZ made (which invites the unfortunate pun šmejd [junk]), Made in Czechia, Made in (the) Czech Republic, Made in Czech R./Rep./CR/CZ, Czech (Team) or Czech Republic (on sports kit), Czech beer or Brewed in Bohemia/the Czech Republic/in Plzeň, Czech (on the Prazdroj bottle) and Moravian wine.”


105 Pavel Boháč, Geografické názvoslovné seznamy OSN – ČR: Jména států a jejich územních částí, Prague, 1993.

106 ‘Které anglické označení České republiky se vám líbí nejvíce?’, iDNES.CZ, 2 March 2006 <http://zpravy.idnes.cz/ankety.asp?id=BKTERANG&gt; [accessed 22 November 2010]. The preferences expressed were Czech – 13,340, Czechia – 4,412, Czechlands – 1,113, and Czecho – 366.

107 The Bank of English comprised 450 million words in 2007. See <http://www.titania.bham.ac.uk/&gt;.

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Public Lecture: 19 April 2016, Adam Thorpe on ‘Writing Out of the Past’

Adam Thorpe, HoddAdam Thorpe, PerspectiveAdam Thorpe, translator, author of novels including Ulverton, Still, and Hodd, of six volumes of poetry, two volumes of short stories and several radio dramas visits the City Campus of the University of Wolverhampton to give a public lecture on “Writing Out of the Past”, on 19 April, from 6-7:30 p.m. in room MK045. Drawing on and reading from his novels The Rules of Perspective and Hodd, Thorpe addresses the question of writing historical fiction and bridging the gap between the deep past and the imaginative present.

The event is free and open to the Public.  For details contact Dr Aidan Byrne a.byrne2@wlv.ac.uk

Karl Ove Knausgaard: “My favourite… English novel is by Adam Thorpe called Ulverton… a brilliant, very, very good and very unBritish novel… It’s magic, a magic book”.

Hilary Mantel: “There is no contemporary I admire more than Adam Thorpe, whose novel Ulverton is a late twentieth century masterpiece.”

The Guardian: “Thorpe is one of the most underrated writers on the planet.”

Winner of the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize 1992.

Shortlisted for the Forward Prize, BBC National Short Story Award, South Bank Show Award and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. He has also been a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

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Research Seminar: Anglo-Saxonism in Migration Debates

Sita Balani (King’s College London) and Kathryn Maude (KCL/University of Swansea) will be speaking on ‘Narratives of Anglo-Saxonism in Contemporary Migration Debates’ on Thursday, 17 March 2016, at 2.00 p.m. in the LATTE room MC229.

About the Speakers:

Sita Balani is an activist and academic living in London. Her PhD research at King’s College London explores neoliberalism and national identity in contemporary British fiction. She is involved in migrant and feminist activism and is also editing an anthology entitled ‘Queers Talk Lesbian Notions’.

Kathryn Maude is  a PhD student in the English Department at King’s College London and Tutor in Medieval Literature at the University of Swansea. Her PhD thesis examines texts addressed to women from 960 to 1160, including anchoritic writing, sermons, and saints’ lives.

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Public Event: Novelists Catherine O’Flynn and James Hannah in conversation

Monday 14 March 2016, 6 – 7.30pm
Wolverhampton Art Gallery – Georgian Room

NovelistsNovelists Catherine O’Flynn (Costa Book Award winner, Booker and Orange Prize nominee, Galaxy Book Award winner) and James Hannah (The A to Z of You and Me, shortlisted for the Desmond Prize 2015) will give readings and discuss their lives and work in conversation with Dr Paul McDonald. Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 6.00 p.m. The bar/café will be open. The even is free and open to the public. For more information contact Dr Aidan Byrne.



About the speakers:

Catherine O’Flynn is the author of three novels and the editor of a short story collection. Her debut, What Was Lost, won the 2008 Costa First Novel Award and she was named Waterstone’s Newcomer of the Year at the British Book Awards. She is a regular reviewer for The Guardian and guest on Radio 4’s Saturday Review. Her short stories and articles have appeared in Granta, Good Housekeeping, The Independent and on BBC Radio. Catherine has been described as ‘the JG Ballard of Birmingham…finding poetry and meaning where others see merely boredom and dereliction”.

James Hannah’s debut novel The A-Z of You And Me was published by Doubleday in 2015 to widespread critical acclaim (The Times: ‘absolutely bloody heartbreaking’) and was nominated for several literary prizes, including the Desmond Prize 2015.

Dr Paul McDonald is course leader for Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Wolverhampton. His research interests include humour, West Midlands Writing, and American fiction. He has published widely in these areas, including three novels and two collections of poetry.


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