International conference

Caryl Phillips, Crossing the River: "the many-tongued chorus"

6-7 October 2016

Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon

Including a Video Conversation with Caryl Phillips on Crossing the River

This international conference offered new perspectives on Caryl Phillips’s fifth novel Crossing the River, which is part of the syllabus for the Agrégation. Published in 1993 and the recipient of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1994, Crossing the River weaves together four narratives of forced displacement and throws light on the slave trade in Africa in the 18th century, the journey back from America to Africa of emancipated slaves in the 19th century, the ordeal of a former slave turned frontierswoman and defeated pioneer in the American Wild West and the alienation of an Englishwoman and a black GI in England during the Second Word War. Spanning three centuries and criss-crossing three continents, the novel raises questions relating to identity, belonging, uprootedness, responsibility, loss and nostalgia.


Contributors adopted a variety of approaches that illuminated the main themes, narrative strategies, literary traditions, modes of writing, generic traits, structural principles and any other component of the novel. Suggested topics were:

-       Diasporic identities

-       Diasporic writing

-       Exile and unhomeliness (Bhabha)

-       The ethics of responsibility

-       Alternative histories of slavery and colonisation

-       Spatial and temporal crossings

-       Narrative fragmentation

-       Narrative empowerment

-       Intertextuality and literary ancestors

-       Generic hybridity

-       A polyphony of voices

-       Dialogism and pastiche

-       Individual and collective traumas

-       “rememory” (Toni Morrison)

-       “double-voicedness” (Gates) and double consciousness (Du Bois)