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Colonial, postcolonial and global iterations of Bangladeshi Literatures

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Organizer: Asif Iqbal

Co-Organizer: Umme Al-Wazedi

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Bangladesh, born in 1971, was imagined as a place of Bangla-speaking peoples. The over-emphasis on “linguistic nationalism” contributed to the flourishing of Bengali literatures, often at the cost of literary expressions in other languages.

The richness of literary culture in Bangladesh could be seen in the production of a wide variety of literature including poetry, fiction and plays. Compared to other South Asian language literatures, Bangladeshi masterpieces have remained obscured till now in the world.

Moreover, they have been sparsely translated. In Bangladesh, the translation industry has flourished only recently, creating opportunities for some of the major Bengali works of the colonial and postcolonial era, to be made available to the global readership via translation. Nevertheless, the issue of facilitating global accessibility through translation is by no means uncontroversial in Bangladesh. Having established its nationhood as a proud inheritor of a vernacular literary culture going back to colonial and pre-colonial times, the translator is eyed with skepticism. It is almost as if vernacular works are guarded against them! Consequently, much of the nation’s rich literatures have remained inaccessible to readers outside the country.

The insularity of literature and culture means Bangladesh continues to be identified in terms set by the dictates of the international publishing market and stereotypes about economic, cultural and literary underdevelopment. It is only lately with the slow and steady growth of a Bangladeshi Anglophone literary tradition, readers across the world can draw a more intricate picture of what is really “Bangladeshi.” And yet like translators of Bangladeshi writing, the English language writer is not received on a positive note in Bangladesh.

Despite domestic antagonism, however, Anglophone writing has flourished. There is, indeed, a great deal of hope surrounding this emergent cultural practice. The aim of this present panel is to initiate dialogues across the different literatures of Bangladesh. We invite papers on the literary traditions that can be identified as “Bangladeshi.” The questions that can be answered in the papers we are seeking are as follows:

What is “Bangladeshi” literature? Is it a national tradition or can it be seen from a perspective that asks us to consider its transnational and global provenances? In other words, How would you define modern Bangladeshi literature?

Can we call “colonial” era literary giants Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam “Bangladeshi?” To what extend have they and others close to their stature been translated?

How can we imagine such possibilities of co-existence and mutual sustenance between English and Bengali literatures?      

How is the Bangladeshi Anglophone literary tradition related to the larger corpus of South Asian Anglophone writing? 

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