Bernardine Evaristo joins calls to save Goldsmiths’ Black British literature MA | Universities

Bernardine Evaristo joins calls to save Goldsmiths’ Black British literature MA | Universities

The Booker prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo has criticised the “amputation” of Black British literature and queer history courses at Goldsmiths University in London, as part of a cost-cutting programme in which 130 academic jobs are to go.

Evaristo, along with former students and writers, issued a plea to Goldsmiths to reconsider the removal of “pioneering” postgraduate courses after plans were announced to cut the jobs in 11 departments.

Evaristo, who won the Booker in 2019 for her novel Girl, Woman, Other, criticised the “threat” posed to the world’s first master’s in Black British literature, which has been hailed as groundbreaking, and said it should be “protected from cuts at all costs”.

She said: “Compare this with African American literature, which is widely taught at all levels throughout academia in the States … conversely, British universities have historically only offered token gestures to include Black British writers on the curriculum.

“Yet this field is expanding exponentially and deserving of focused critical attention, with many talented new writers emerging every day in a continuum that extends back to the slave memoirs of the 18th century.

“The MA in Black British literature shouldn’t be seen as dispensable but as an essential course that is intellectually and culturally enriching for academia, the college and society.”

The master’s degrees in queer history and Black British literature attracted much attention when they were announced as world firsts in 2017 and 2015 respectively.

The MA in Black British literature also received praise from writers and authors including Zadie Smith, Farrukh Dhondy, Gary Younge, the Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, and Jackie Kay, a former poet laureate of Scotland.

Angelique Golding, who completed the master’s in Black British literature in 2019, said the course had “expanded my horizons”.

“I had never encountered many of the authors on the MA reading list – who had, unfortunately, been hidden in plain sight,” she said.

“To lose such an important degree will be a backwards step that will impact future scholars and scholarship and work, once again, in the service of undermining the Black voice and presence in the UK.”

Margaret Busby, a publisher and editor, also raised concerns about the future of the master’s in Black British literature.

Dhondy, a fiction writer and playwright, said: “It may be that in decades or generations to come, the study of ‘Black’ literature and its critical appreciation and placing will pass into the general considerations of lit crit, but at present, with such literature being at best half a century old, it stimulates and necessitates in its historical context a specialist approach.

“My plea is to reconsider the amputation of this dynamic and not yet adequately explored contribution to world literary culture.”

The views expressed about the future of the master’s programmes are one aspect of broader unease regarding proposed cuts in the departments of arts, humanities and social sciences at Goldsmiths.

Members of Goldsmiths University and College Union (GUCU) have also threatened strike action in protest at the planned cuts, including a marking and assessment boycott on 19 April.

Catherine Rottenberg, a professor in the department of media, communications and cultural studies, and a member of the GUCU executive, said: “The college has already made huge savings with a voluntary severance programme and a jobs freeze.

“These cuts will wreck the lives of committed academics and will cause untold reputation damage to an institution that claims to support social justice and inclusive education.”

A spokesperson for the university said: “We are consulting on proposals with the union to deal with the unprecedented challenges that Goldsmiths and other universities are facing from a funding system that is no longer fit for purpose.

“The proposals are part of a wider plan aimed at ensuring that Goldsmiths continues to be a beacon for radical research and innovative teaching as well as an entry point for students who are the first in their family to go to university.”

They added: “We’re proud to have widened scholastic learning with the introduction of the MAs in Black British literature and queer history and are committed to both protecting and enhancing arts and humanities subjects in the best way we can.”

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