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Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

Portia Owusu

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


Portia Owusu
Portia Owusu
Email address:
Thesis title:
Spectres from the Past: the Politics of Memory and Slavery in contemporary Ghanaian, Nigerian 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.

Currently, I teach literature on a cover basis at secondary and primary schools in London.

PhD Research

My research project will examine representations of slavery, both internal forms and the transatlantic slave trade, in contemporary African-American and West African narratives. This is a comparative study that engages with the critical assumption that in comparison to the black American context, the history of slavery in West Africa is deliberately forgotten; repressed and situated in a culture of amnesia and silence.

I am interested in identifying ‘alternative’ forms of memory and vehicles through which slavery is acknowledged and remembered and its impact on West African and African-American conceptualisations of individual and collective identities. The project is to move beyond the dichotomies of memory and amnesia / forgetfulness and remembrance that have traditionally separated scholars on the subject of slave memory in Africa and the diaspora. My aim is to identify and show that there are different forms of memory and where one form is more obvious than another, we need to examine and question why this is so, for example raising questions regarding issues of trauma and the inability of language to fully articulate the experience of pain, loss, absence and horror.

PhD Conferences

  • 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