Come January 2010, York English and education Professor Rishma Dunlop will forgo the iciness of Toronto for the hot, dry breezes of Arizona, the sweet scent of orange groves and the brilliance of a midday sun. As this year’s recipient of a Canada-US Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Creative Writing, Dunlop will be spending January to May at Arizona State University’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.
Involved in the centre’s Program for Global Engagement, Dunlop will be engaged in creative and scholarly activities, public lectures and literary readings. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work with faculty, and students across faculties at the Virginia Piper Center, and to the cultural and intellectual exchanges that will be possible,” says Dunlop, coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at York.
Right: Rishma Dunlop
She also plans to work on a multi-genre book, Midnight at the Algonquin Hotel. “It is part travelogue, part memoir, and includes poetry, lyric prose and creative non-fiction,” says Dunlop, an award-winning Canadian poet, playwright, essayist and fiction writer.
"The work is a creative investigation of contemporary cities, including Paris, New York, Toronto, Montreal and settings in the American Southwest. The themes resonate with concerns of my earlier books of poetry, Metropolis and to some extent Reading Like a Girl. The poet sees contemporary cities as sites of contradictory beauty where genteel culture leans hard against ghettos; where prostitutes and cocaine dealers ply their trade next to green streets immaculate with rose gardens; where hotel rooms become characters in the traveller’s narratives. Urban portraits of violence, grief, mourning and joy are underscored by philosophical, historical, moral and theological concerns."
Dunlop plans to investigate the themes of linguistic and cultural hybridity, immigrant identities, sensual and sexual life, and the ways in which places and travel shape identity in the 21st century. “The quest for home is navigated through the contemporary landscapes of cities, suburbia, dreamscapes, deserts, oceans, gardens, schoolyards and ruins,” says Dunlop. It will be informed by historical and political contexts of war and violence and their ecological and sociological consequences.
“I envision the poet as traveller and witness, invested in historical consciousness,” says Dunlop. Her scholarly research and creative works have long been invested in the notion of poet as witness and the ways in which literature can be a form of public pedagogy and an aid to transitional justice, particularly in countries that have been traumatized by state-sanctioned crimes and oppression. Dunlop recently published translations of Maria Elena Cruz Varela, a Cuban poet who was imprisoned and tortured during Castro’s regime, in 20 Canadian Poets Take on the World: The Exile Book of Poetry in Translation (Exile Editions, 2009), edited by York Professor Priscila Uppal. In addition, Dunlop collected many works by poets whose commemorative practices exposed such regimes and legal tribunals in the international anthology White Ink: Poems on Mothers and Motherhood (Demeter Press, 2007).
She is looking forward to being in contact with the rich diversity of writers in Arizona, including Aboriginal as well as Hispanic and Latino communities. And Dunlop hopes to devote an issue of Studio, the international literary journal she founded and edits, to issues of regionalism, cross-border literatures and the unique voices of contemporary Arizona writers.
Dunlop is the author of four books of poetry: White Album (Inanna Publications, 2008), Metropolis (Mansfield Press, 2005), Reading Like a Girl (Black Moss Press, 2004) and The Body of My Garden (Mansfield Press, 2002). She received the Emily Dickinson Prize for Poetry in 2003, and her radio drama, “The Raj Kumari’s Lullaby”, was produced by CBC Radio in 2005. Her poems have appeared in anthologies and journals including Blackbird, the Literary Review of Canada, CV2, Canadian Literature, Descant, Event, Grain and The Comstock Review.
By engaging the brightest minds in academic exchanges, the Canada-US Fulbright Program, which operates in over 150 countries worldwide, seeks to enhance mutual understanding between Canada and the US. Through its bilateral academic exchanges, outstanding students, scholars and professionals strengthen Canada-US relations by examining a wide range of subjects that are critical to the relationship between the two countries.
For more information, visit the Canada-US Fulbright Program Web site.