Writing and righting: a discussion about the importance of writing, literature and human rights

Online via Zoom
Thursday 3 December 2020 (18:00-19:30)

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Book cover

Perhaps at no point since their modern inception in the middle of the twentieth century have human rights seemed so weak as they do now.

The universal ambitions of human rights have been declared an enemy of the people by right-wing nationalists, and called to account for their failure to challenge structures of world power and inequality by the left. Yet as contempt for human life and dignity grows more explicit by the day, we have never needed human rights --  or something like them -- more. 

Cultures that devalue human expression and curiosity are never going to be good for human rights. How can we think again about the relationship between the arts and justice? What has literature historically contributed to the development of human rights? Are books always good for human rights in the ways we have imagined previously? Or have we become lazy in our assumptions about the obvious humanity of books? What new challenges to imagining justice might writers bring to our politics, courts, and institutions?  

Join our distinguished panel of writers, academics and cultural commentators (details below) to discuss and to launch the publication of Lyndsey Stonebridge’s new collection of essays, Writing and Righting (Oxford University Press).

Please register here to confirm your attendance.

Panellist Biographies

Lyndsey Stonebridge, Professor of Humanities and Human Rights, University of Birmingham

Professor Lyndsey Stonebridge’s work focuses on twentieth-century and contemporary literature, political theory, and history, Human Rights, and Refugee Studies, drawing on the interdisciplinary connections between literature, history, politics, law, and social policy. Her early work was concerned with the effects of modern violence on the mind in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (The Destructive Element (1998), Reading Melanie Klein (1998) and The Writing of Anxiety (2007). Over the past ten years her research has focussed on the creative history of responses to that violence in two awarding-winning books, The Judicial Imagination: Writing after Nuremberg (2011), winner of the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize, 2014, and Placeless People: Writing, Rights, and Refugees (2018), winner of the Modernist Studies Association Best Book Prize 2018, and in her recent collection of essays, Writing and Righting: Literature in the Age of Human Rights (2020). 

The work of the twentieth-century political theorist, Hannah Arendt, is central to Professor Stonebridge’s understanding of modern history, violence, statelessness, and judgement. She is currently writing a critical-creative account of the relevance Arendt’s thinking for today, Thinking Like Hannah Arendt, which will be published by Jonathan Cape in 2022.  

The interdisciplinary focus of Professor Stonebridge’s work is key to her wider project to re-cast global histories of human rights and justice across a broad and comparative modern moral and political canvas, such, for example, as in the collaborative Global Challenges project with refugees and their host communities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, Refugee Hosts, and with the University of Birmingham’s Rights4Time Global network.

She is a regular media commentator and broadcaster, and has written for The New StatesmanProspect Magazine. She is co-editor of Oxford University Press’s Mid-Century Series, and has held visiting positions at Cornell University and the University of Sydney. In 2017, she was elected as a Fellow of the English Association, and in 2019 was elected as a member of the Academia Europaea. 

Sunny Singh, Professor of Creative Writing and Inclusion in the Arts at the London Metropolitan University

Sunny Singh is the Professor of Creative Writing and Inclusion in the Arts at the London Metropolitan University.

She is the author of three critically acclaimed novels: Nani’s Book of Suicides, was praised as a "first novel of rare scope and power" and its Spanish translation won the inaugural Mar de Letras prize; With Krishna’s Eyes (2006) which was commended for its "profound insight" and described as "memorable”; and Hotel Arcadia (2015) described as “powerful and absorbing” and “elegantly plotted, psychologically subtle, and almost unbearably exciting.” Her first non-fiction book, Single in the City: The Independent Woman’s Handbook (2001), is a first-of-its-kind exploration of single women in contemporary India.  Her latest non-fiction book, published by the British Film Institute, is a study of the Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan (2017). Her essays, short stories, and columns are published worldwide in key journals, anthologies and media outlets.

She is the founder of the Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour, the Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize and the Jhalak Art Residency.

In her various roles, Singh is a champion for inclusion across all aspects of society, advocating an intersectional, decolonising approach to building radical global solidarities.

She is currently finalising monograph on Indian cinema as well as a collection of short stories examining aspects of armed conflict over the past century.

Lisa Appignanesi OBE, visiting Professor at King's College London, Chair of the Royal Society of Literature

Lisa Appignanesi OBE is a prize-winning writer, novelist, broadcaster and cultural commentator. Currently a visiting professor at King's College London and chair of the Royal Society of Literature, she is former president of the campaigning writers association, English PEN, and chair of London’s Freud Museum

As deputy president of English PEN, and then its president, (2002-2011) she led the Free expression is no offence campaign against the Incitement to Religious Hatred legislation, and campaigned for an end to the Blasphemy Laws and reform to the visa system and libel laws. She also helped to establish the PEN PINTER PRIZE for writers of courage in Britain and abroad; and worked to site Antony Gormley’s commemorative WITNESS chair in the British Library Plaza.

Her award-winning Mad, Bad, and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present appeared to great critical acclaim, and was followed by the provocative All About Love: Anatomy of an Unruly Emotion. Her book Trials of Passion: In the Name of Love and Madness again delves into the history of psychiatry, investigating the rise of the expert psychiatric witness through remarkable trials of passion. 

Lisa received her OBE for services to literature.

Thomas Keenan, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of Human Rights Program at Bard College

Thomas Keenan teaches human rights, media theory, literature, at Bard College, and directs the Human Rights Project as well as Bard’s degree program in Human Rights. He is the author of Fables of Responsibility, 1997; and with Eyal Weizman, Mengele’s Skull, 2012. He is co-editor, with Wendy Chun, of New Media, Old Media, 2006, 2nd ed. 2015; with Tirdad Zolghadr, of The Human Snapshot, 2013. The Flood of Rights, co-edited with Suhail Malik and Tirdad Zolghadr, appeared in 2017. He has served on the boards of a number of human rights organizations and journals, including WITNESS, Scholars at Risk, The Crimes of War Project, The Journal of Human Rights, and Humanity. He is currently working on the development of initiatives in Human Rights and the Arts and support for threatened scholars within the framework of the new Open Society University Network.