chapter  2
14 Pages

“That May Be Where I Come from but That’s Not How I Read” Diaspora, Location and Reading Identities

ByBETHAN BENWELL, JAMES PROCTER, GEMMA ROBINSON

The historical neglect of readers within the fi eld of postcolonial studies has produced what C. L. Innes suggests is a reductive and presumptuous idea of “the reader”: “most critical analyses of postcolonial writing implicitly or explicitly presume that the reader is either a member of the writer’s nation, as in Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1983) . . . or, more frequently, a generalized cosmopolitan Westerner”; even in those accounts that do exist “there is little differentiation between different kinds of Western reader” (2007, 200). Much of the haziness around readers here hinges upon commonsense assumptions about the location of reading, whether it is conceived in terms of national affi liation or in more generalised, global and diasporic terms of cosmopolitan consumption in “the” West. In what follows we explore some of the fi ndings of a recent project that attempted to fi rm up current conceptions of readership by investigating how readers in a series of geographically dispersed locations made sense of the same, or similar works of fi ction associated with postcolonial or diaspora writing.1 These works included canonical classics such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958), as well as proto-canonical contemporary works such as Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2001), experimental writers like Junot Diaz and more mainstream realist novelists like Andrea Levy and Monica Ali, poetry and short fi ction, as well as novels, and prescribed works as well as books selected by the individual groups themselves. By recording and transcribing a series of isolated book group readings of these texts in Africa (Lagos, Kano, Nigeria; Tetuan, Morocco), India (New Delhi), Canada (Kingston), the Caribbean (Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; Kingston, Jamaica) and across the UK (from Cornwall to Glasgow), this project asked how (if at all) the reception of the same book differs according to the place in which it is read.