His contributions included 3 a.m. e-mail notes about Derrida to his soon-to-graduate collaborator. Her work took dead aim, through a multicultural lens, on the ethics of reading anti-colonial literature by means of Jean Rhys’ “Wide Sargasso Sea,” J.M. Coetzee’s “Foe” and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”
For their collaborative effort, Gaurav Majumdar, assistant professor of English, and senior Nani Gilkerson are this year’s recipients of the Adam Dublin Award for the Study of Global Multiculturalism. To mark the award, Majumdar and Gilkerson recently presented the results of their work to a gathering of faculty, students and staff on campus.
“Gaurav was overwhelmingly committed to this project,” said Gilkerson in her opening acknowledgments. In turn, Majumdar saluted Gilkerson’s “intense concentration and fizzing curiosity” for the duration of the project.
“Nani’s project is an elegant, alert and scrupulously researched argument,” Majumdar said. “Her theoretical commentary… is fantastic without qualification. Frequently she reads against critical convention rather than merely amplifying critical convention.”
Rhys’ novel “rewrites in a certain sense” Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” Gilkerson noted. Similarly, Coetzee’s “Foe” reframes Defoe’s “The Life and Strange Surprizing [sic] Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,” and Morrison’s “Beloved” rewrites, in a manner, the traditional American slave narrative.
“I call these rewrites ‘postcolonial’ because they attempt to write over and through the original texts,” Gilkerson said. “Alfred Lopez puts it well: ‘The argument that the diverse criticism known collectively as postcolonial can be said to have a single unifying principle or project. It is the general interrogation of Western culture and its power structures, its assumptions of superiority over its marginalized others and, most importantly, the discourses that underlie those structures and suppositions.’”
Majumdar underscored Gilkerson’s attention to “the singularity of literature — on the claim that reading literature for its singularity or peculiarity affords a model of ethics as a responsibility and respect for difference.”
During Majumdar’s sabbatical last fall, Zahi Zalloua, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures (French) and general studies, and Bruce Magnusson, associate professor of politics, also advised Gilkerson on her project.
Majumdar kidded that Gilkerson’s “originality alone” convinced him that she “should be heading toward a doctoral program in English rather than working unselfishly in Washington, D.C., for the next two years, which is what she’ll be doing.”
Gilkerson, who hails from Blue Lake, Calif., is a race and ethnic studies major at Whitman. She served as a member of the college’s Diversity Committee and as co-chair of the Race Symposium Planning Committee. She also worked as a tutor for the Walla Walla Adult Literacy Program spearheaded by the Blue Mountain Action Council.
The Dublin Award was established in honor of the late Adam Dublin ’96 by Kari Glover ’72, a member of the Board of Trustees, and her husband, Thaddas L. Alston. This year’s selection committee included Provost and Dean of the Faculty Lori Bettison-Varga and professors Allison Calhoun, Andrea Dobson, Kay Fenimore-Smith, Robert Tobin, Sharon Alker and William Bogard.
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