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May 5 - Please join us to celebrate the book launch of  The Fire That Time: Transnational Black Radicalism and the Sir George Williams Occupation and engage in conversation with the editors, Ronald Cummings and Nalini Mohabir, and contributors, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Nigel Westmaas, and Michael O. West, whose chapters raise questions and reflect on the unfinished business of Black radical protest. Essayist and novelist, Panashe Chigumadzi will moderate.

In 1969, one of the most significant Black student protests in Canada took place in Montreal, when Black Caribbean students occupied the Sir George Williams (now Concordia) University's computer centre for two weeks in a protest against institutional racism. The occupation ended when a mysterious fire was set, forcing students into the line of riot police. Their arrests became an international incident in the Caribbean and sparked solidarity protests across the University of the West Indies, although American papers focused on damage to university property. The shockwaves of this event are felt across the Caribbean and North America more than half a century later, as we continue to learn from the legacies of Transnational Black Radicalism.

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About the Editors:

Ronald Cummings is Associate Professor of Black Studies and African Diaspora Literatures at McMaster University, Hamilton.

Nalini Mohabir is Assistant Professor of postcolonial geographies at Concordia University, Montreal. They have co-edited The Fire That Time, as well as a special issue of the journal Topia on the legacies of the Sir George Williams occupation (forthcoming March 2022). They are members of the Protests and Pedagogy collective.

About the Contributors:

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is an aspirational cousin to all life and a queer Black feminist scholar, writer and educator.  She is the author of Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals, Dub: Finding Ceremony, M Archive: After the End of the World and Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity.  Alexis is co-editor of the anthology Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines and the Creative Writing Editor of Feminist Studies.  Alexis is the granddaughter of Anguillian revolutionaries Lydia and Jeremiah Gumbs and the Anguilla Literary Festival has called her "the pride of Anguilla."  Alexis was a 2020-2021 National Humanities Fellow, is a 2022 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow and a 2022 Winner of the Whiting Award in Nonfiction and is working on her next book The Eternal Life of Audre LordeBiography as Ceremony.

Researcher and public scholar Nigel Westmaas is Associate Professor in the department of Africana Studies at Hamilton College, New York. His research interests include social movements in Guyana and the Caribbean, archival research and projects, and the history of the newspaper press in Guyana.  He has published articles in journals and newspapers including “Resisting Orthodoxy: Notes on the Origins and Ideology of the Working People’s Alliance” in Small Axe journal. He is co-editor with David Granger of a booklet Guyanese Periodicals: 1796-1996. He also published a chapter titled "An Organic Activist: Eusi Kwayana, Guyana and global Pan-Africanism" in the text Black Power in the Caribbean (University Press of Florida, 2014). In 2021 he published chapters in two books,  The Red and The Black: The Russian Revolution and The Black Atlantic (edited by David Featherstone & Christian Hogsberg, Manchester University Press) and in The Fire that Time (edited by Ronald Cummings and Nalini Mohabir, Black Rose books). In 2021 he also published his long term book project, A Political Glossary of Guyana (Edwin Mellen Press). Westmaas is a longtime activist of Guyana's Working People’s Alliance (WPA), the organisation in which the late Walter Rodney was a leading member.

Michael O. West is professor of African American Studies, History, and African Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. He has published broadly in the fields of southern African history, pan-Africanism, African studies, African diaspora studies, and African American studies. His current research centers on the Black Power movement in global perspectives, including a forthcoming book on Kwame Nkrumah and Black Power.

About the Moderator:

Panashe Chigumadzi is an award-winning writer and author of two books and several essays on themes ranging from Black consciousness, race, gender, justice, religion and spirituality and the indignity of black life under crippling poverty and violenceChigumadzi is the author of These Bones Will Rise Again(2018), a historical memoir reflecting on Robert Mugabe's military ouster through the spirits of anti-colonial heroine Mbuya Nehanda and her grandmother Mbuya Chigumadzi, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Alan Paton Prize for Non-fiction. Her debut novel Sweet Medicine won the 2016 K. Sello Duiker Literary Award. Chigumadzi was the founding editor of Vanguard Magazine, a platform for black women coming of age in post-apartheid South Africa.  A columnist for The New York Times, and contributing editor of the Johannesburg Review of Books, her work has featured in titles including The Guardian, Chimurenga, Africa is A Country, Boston Review, Transition, Washington Post and Die Ziet. Chigumadzi is currently completing her doctorate at Harvard University’s Departments of African and African American Studies and History. 


The Fire That Time: Transnational Black Radicalism and the Sir George Williams Occupation

In 1969, in one of the most significant black student protests in North American history, Caribbean students called out discriminatory pedagogical practices at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University), before occupying the computer center for two weeks. Upon the breakdown of negotiations, the police launched a violent crackdown as a fire mysteriously broke out inside the center and racist chants were hurled by spectators on the street. It was a heavily mediatized flashpoint in the Canadian civil rights movement and the international Black Power struggle that would send shockwaves as far as the Caribbean.

Half a century later, we continue to grapple with the legacies of this watershed moment in light of current resistance movements such as Black Lives Matter, calls for reparations, or Rhodes Must Fall. How is the Sir George Williams “affair” remembered, forgotten, or contested? How is blackness included or occluded in decolonizing dialogues?

The Fire That Time addresses those questions while it commemorates and reflects upon the transnational resonances of Black protest and radical student movements. Through several thoughtful essays, scholars examine the unfinished business of decolonization and its relationship to questions of pedagogy, institutional life and culture, and ongoing discussions about race and racism.


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