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Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

Miss Portia Owusu

BA (Hons) English and American Literature (Kent); MA Cultures of Empire, Resistance and Postcoloniality (York)


Portia Owusu
Miss Portia Owusu
Email address:
Thesis title:
Spectres from the Past: The Politics of 'History', Memory and Slavery in West African and African-American Literature.
Internal Supervisors


I was born in Ghana but grew up in the UK, with some of my education in the States. I feel privileged to have had these experiences for my encounters with different cultures and traditions have impacted on and shaped my personal and academic interests. Upon completing my BA in English and American Literature, a programme which included an exchange year at the University of Kansas, I headed to the University of York.

The MA at York focused on Postcolonial Literatures and my dissertation examined the narrative of ‘return’ in African-American and West African Literature. I concentrated on the politics of home and belonging in the two bodies of literatures, looking at African-Americans and their perception of Africa as home and the response of Africans to the ideologies that encourage the ‘return’ to Africa.

After York, I worked in International Education before applying to SOAS for my doctorate. The research is an opportunity for me to develop my MA dissertation; specifically engaging with the politics of memory on the slave trade and its impact on individual and collective identities in West African and black American contexts.

I have also taught literature on a cover basis at secondary and primary schools in London.

PhD Research

My research examines the politics of ‘History’ and representations of slavery in contemporary African-American and West African literature.

I am interested in interrogating the impact of ‘official’ historiographies of slavery on individual and collective memories of communities in West African and African-American contexts. As such, the project looks at how slavery is memorialised in written narratives by writers from these two geographical sites of subjugation. The project moves beyond discourses on memory/amnesia and forgetfulness/remembrance. Instead, it seeks to show that there are different articulations of painful memory and where one form is more obvious than another, we need to examine why this is so in the context of the traditions and cultures from which a text or a writer is situated. In particular, I engage with theories of trauma as conceptualised by western academics and practitioners to question their (in)applicability in examining pain, loss, absence and horror in the experience of slavery by people of African descent.

In addition to materials available to me in Britain, I have conducted research in Ghana and in 2015, I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to return to the States as a Visiting Researcher at the University of Kansas (KU). I will finish the dissertation there under the supervision of Prof. Maryemma Graham, an expert in African-American literature. At KU, I will also be contributing to the work of The Project on the History of Black Writing, a national research institute committed to the recovery and preservation of literary texts by writers from Africa and the diaspora.

PhD Publications

  • Converging Identities: Blackness in the Modern African Diaspora (Book Review). African Studies Quarterly Volume 15, Issue 2, March 2015
  • In Toni Morrison's Latest Novel, Black (Children's) Lives Matter (Book Review). The Project on the History of Black Writing (http://projecthbw.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/in-toni-morrisons-latest-novel-black.html) May 4, 2015
  • “If it hurts, why don’t you cry?” The Burden of memory in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Conference Proceedings: Revisiting the First International Congress of Africanists in a Globalised World, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon (Forthcoming)

PhD Conferences

  • Invited Participant (New Scholars Panel): “Dialogue Between Africa and the African Diaspora in Languages, Literatures, and Film” at Seventy-Sixth Annual Convention of the College Language Association, April 6-9, Houston, Texas.
  • Portia Owusu: "“All God's Chillun Got Wings”: The Search for Home in twentieth century African-American Travel Narratives. The Collegium of African American Research (CAAR), Liverpool Hope University, 24-28 June 2015
  • Portia Owusu: “An Immoveable Bridge or Breach? The Slave Forts in Ghana and the Question of Black Cultural Identity. ASAUK Conference 2014, University of Sussex, 11th September 2014
  • Portia Owusu: “African-Americans in Paris: An Illusion of Freedom?” Callaloo / University of Oxford’s ‘Race and Resistance across Borders in the Long Twentieth Century’ Network. Postgraduate and Early Career Workshop: Britain, Europe, and the African Diaspora. Oxford, 27th November 2013
  • Portia Owusu: “Reading the Silence as Trauma: Memories of the Slave Trade in West African and African American fiction. Revisiting the First International Congress of Africanists in a Globalised World, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon. October 24-26, 2013
  • Portia Owusu & Sara Marzagora: “Decentred and localised constructions of memory, nationhood and ‘home’ in Africa and its diaspora” Critical methods beyond Eurocentrism: First annual postgraduate conference of the Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (SOAS), SOAS, University of London. 14 June 2013
  • Invited Participant: Inaugural Conference of the BMBF-Project “The Americas as Space of Entanglement(s): (Trans)Cultural Mobility in the Americas”. Monday, May 6 -8th, 2013. Bielefeld University, Germany
  • Invited Participant: Language Matters IV: Reading and Teaching Toni Morrison in Translation, Paris, France. November 2010
  • Conference Moderator: ‘Virtually Brilliant: interpreting Morrison’s Works in the Virtual World in Second life / l’ œuvre de Toni Morrison à l’heure du virtuel (Second life)’ Toni Morrison and Circuits of the imagination, Sixth Biennial conference of the Toni Morrison Society (hosted by Université de Paris 8 - Saint Denis) November 4-7, 2010