Carceral Imaginaries: A Conversation about Poetry, Literature, and Media Behind Bars

Wednesday, March 3, 2021 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm


Event Contact

Rogers, Sarah

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Focusing broadly on the real and imaginary landscapes of the carceral, this conversation between poets, writers, translators and film scholars will address the tropes of everyday life, the body, and the natural environment in the context of contemporary imprisonment and detention. Mediated through analog and digital technologies, prisons and detention centers, these "netherworld" and diaspora of the disconnected and dislocated emerge in word, sound and image as spaces of imaginative dreaming and connection. In the face of practices of containment, surveillance and isolation, captives conjure counter-carceral maps that germinate nature, unbounded landscapes, and homeland.
The Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani, who was held in Australian-run detention centers in Papua New Guinea from 2013-2019; his translator and collaborator, Omid Tofighian; and the poet and literary scholar Shahrzad Fatemeh Shams explore how the tropes of the carceral are spun into spatial imaginaries.
This event is organized by the Carceral Imaginary Working Group, which is supported by the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.
Moderated by Karly Alderfer and Negar Mottahedeh (Program in Literature, Duke University), with an additional screening and discussion of selected gallery films by Mona Hatoum.

The Kurdhish-Iranian journalist, human rights defender, writer and film producer Behrouz Boochani was held in the Australian-run Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea from 2013 until its closure in 2017. He was held on the island in detention until 2019. His memoir, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison (Picador Australia, 2019), won the Victorian Prize for Literature and the Victorian Premier's Prize for Nonfiction in 2019. The book was written on a mobile phone in a series of single messages that were sent via WhatsApp and translated into English by Omid Tofighian. Boochani has been granted refugee status and is working as Senior Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Omid Tofighian is an award-winning lecturer and community advocate, combining his interest in philosophy with topics in transnationalism, displacement and discrimination. He is author of Myth and Philosophy in Platonic Dialogues (Palgrave, 2016). He is currently teaching in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney, Australia.


An award-winning poet, translator and literary scholar, Fatemeh Shams is a professor of literature specializing in the politics of literary production in post-revolutionary Iran.  Her most recent book A Revolution in Rhyme: Official Poets of the Islamic Republic (Oxford UP, 2021) is a study of the role of the state in the post-revolutionary literary scene. She teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, USA.


Carceral Imaginary Working Group
Wednesday, March 3, 2021 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Franklin Humanities Institute (FHI)
Event Co-Sponsors
Center for Documentary Studies (CDS)