BA (Hons) Oxon, MA PhD York

Office: AC Jordan 127
Tel: +27 (0)21 650 2844

Research Interests

  • 20c and contemporary literature; South African writing, history and performance cultures
  • Narrative non-fiction: life-writing, long-form, memoir, essay, literary biography
  • Environmental humanities; Anthropocene arts and activism; literature and the environmental imagination 
  • Memory and forgetting: literatures of dementia, Alzheimer's disease and lost memories
  • Writing and music, sound studies
  • Utopian writing and social thought, dystopia, speculative fiction

I joined the department in 2010 as a lecturer in southern African and postcolonial literatures, and since then my research has grown steadily out of my doctoral work into three different but related branches.

The first concerns genres and forms of narrative non-fiction, initially within the South African context, but also in other transitional, postcolonial or decolonising societies. A book on this subject, Experiments with Truth: Narrative Non-fiction and the Coming of Democracy in South Africa, appeared in the African Articulations series from James Currey / Boydell and Brewer in 2019. It explores the array of non-fictional modes that are simultaneously drawn on, refashioned and blurred into each other in South African writing: life writing, memoir, experimental auto/biography, investigative journalism, the Struggle memoir, the diary, microhistorical and archival reconstruction.

My second research strand relates to the environmental humanities in the global South: how questions of ecology, climate science and environmental justice can be addressed from literary studies and the creative arts, and specifically from the perspective of the African continent. This has led to my role in establishing Environmental Humanities South, an interdisciplinary research cluster and postgraduate programme in the Faculty of Humanities which launched in 2015. Much of my research in this field explores the difficult relation between postcolonial and environmentalist approaches in the humanities, and what questions of deep time, slow violence, climate change and the non-human do to literary form. I am particularly engaged in the intersections between creative non-fiction, global ecological crisis and the arts of environmental justice and resistance (also with a growing interest in speculative fiction and imagined futures).

A third interest lies in the critical and narrative essay as a genre, and also as a means of teaching creative writing. Examples of my work in this area are collected in Firepool: Experiences in an Abnormal World (2017), a mixture of cultural criticism, personal essays and memoir. My essays and journalism have appeared in a range of local and international publications, including the New Statesman, Financial Times and Harper's magazine.

Recent Publications


Experiments with Truth: Narrative Non-fiction and the Coming of Democracy in South Africa (African Articulations, James Currey / Boydell and Brewer, 2019).

Firepool: Experiences in an Abnormal World (Kwela Books, 2017).
A collection of essays and creative non-fiction.

Other writing: essays, journalism and reviews.

Selected journal articles

Matching Shadows: Remembering the Plant Conservation Unit. Roundtable on University of Cape Town fire of April 2021. Safundi 22 (2022).

Shadow of a Drought: Notes from Cape Town’s water crisis. Interventions special issue: Reading for Water, ed. Isabel Hofmeyr, Charne Lavery, and Sarah Nuttall, 24:3 (2022).

'As Others Feel Pain in Their Lungs': Albert Camus’s The Plague. English Studies in Africa, 64:1-2 (2021).

Teaching the Environmental Humanities: International Perspectives and Practices. Environmental Humanities 11:2 (2019). Contributing author.

Experiments with Truth: Narrative Nonfiction in South Africa. Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa, 31:2 (2019).

Impossible Images: Radio Astronomy, the SKA and the Limits of Representation. Journal of Southern African Studies 45:2 (2019).

‘A Very Strange Relationship’: Life Writing, Overwriting and the Scandal of Biography in the Gordimer-Roberts Affair. Biography 41:1 (2018).

N2: Reading and Writing the South African Highway. Social Dynamics 43:1 (2017).

An Interview with Rustum Kozain. Wasafiri, 31:2 (2016).

Unusable Pasts: Life-writing, Literary Non-fiction and the Case of Demetrios Tsafendas.Research in African Literatures, 46:3 (2015).

Invasive Narratives and the Inverse of Slow Violence: Alien Species in Science and Society. Environmental Humanities, vol. 7 (2015). Co-authored with Susanna Lidström, Simon West, Tania Katzschner and M. Isabel Pérez-Ramos (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden).

Visions of Tsafendas: Literary Biography and the Limits of ‘Research’. Safundi, 16:4 (2015).

Rachel Carson and the Perils of Simplicity: Reading Silent Spring from the Global South. Ariel 44: Special Issue on Postcolonial Ecocriticism (2014).

‘In a Country Where You Couldn’t Make this Shit Up?’ Literary Non-fiction in South Africa. With responses by Stephen Clingman, Rob Nixon and others. Safundi, 13:1-2. Special Issue: Beyond Rivalry: Fact | Fiction, Literature | History, ed. Rita Barnard, (2012).

Book chapters

The Great Dying. In Our Ghosts Were Once People: Stories on Death and Dying, edited by Bongani Kona. Jonathan Ball, 2021.

Thirteen Ways: Teaching Writing, Creative and Otherwise. At the Foot of the Volcano: Reflections on Teaching at a South African University, ed. Susan Levine, HSRC Press, 2018.

Nothing Extraordinary: E.M. Forster and the English Limit. In Relocations: Reading Culture in South Africa (University of Cape Town Press, 2015).

Sea Point Contact: Preface to a Literary History of Cape Town (Never Written). Weeds and Viruses: Ecopolitics and the Demands of Theory. Editors: Cordula Lemke (Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School) and Jennifer Wawrzinek (English Institute), Institute of English, Freie Universität Berlin (2015). Foreword by Dipesh Chakrabarty.

‘The Bushmen’s Letters': |Xam narratives of the Bleek and Lloyd Collection and their Afterlives. Chapter One, The Cambridge History of South African Literature (2012), ed. David Attwell and Derek Attridge.

From The Origin of Language to a Language of Origin: a Prologue to the Grey Collection, in Print, Text and Book Cultures in South Africa, ed. Andrew van der Vlies, Johannesburg: Wits Press, 2012.

Selected presentations

The Burning of the Plant Conservation Unit: Environmental Change and Institutional memory. After the Fire: Loss, Archive and African Studies: Symposium at the University of Cape Town, 18-19 April 2022.

Memoir, Utopia and Belonging in the Postcolony: Akash Kapur’s Better to Have Gone. Research Seminar, English Literary Studies, University of Cape Town. 8 April, 2022.

Impossible Images: Radio Astronomy, the Square Kilometre Array and the Art of Seeing. Presentation at the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) to mark launch of special issue of Journal of Southern African Studies special issue: Karoo Futures: Astronomy in Space and Place. 21 November, 2019.

Experiments with Truth: Book panels and talks throughout 2019 at the University of the Western Cape, Stellenbosch University, Open Book Festival and the Archive and Public Culture workshop.

Firepool: A Reading of Creative Non-fiction. University of Exeter, May 2019.

A Very Strange Relationship’: Literary Biography in South Africa. University of the Western Cape, April 2019.

False Bay: Perspectives from the Environmental Humanities. African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, 25 October 2018.

The Pitfalls of Geological Consciousness: Thinking the Anthropocene from Africa South. Karoo Futures seminar group, Stellenbosch, 20 July 2017.

Misreading, Risk and Heterodoxy in the Work of Jacob Dlamini. Paper delivered at the Department of English and Related Literatures, University of York, 27 April 2017.

Literatures of Betrayal: Risk, collaboration and collapse in post-TRC narrative. The Eleventh International Conference for Literary Journalism Studies: ‘Literary Journalism: Telling the Untold Stories’. Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande so Sul. Porto Alegre, Brazil, 19-21 May 2016.

Convening and Curriculum Change: Problems and Possibilities. Third Space Symposium: Decolonisation and the Creative Arts, Hiddingh Hall, University of Cape Town. 13-14 May 2016.

Visions of Tsafendas: Life-writing and the limits of ‘research’. Seminar at the Department of Psychology, Stellenbosch University, 11 April 2016.

Half-lives, Half-truths: Nuclear legacies and some forms of non-fiction. Paper delivered at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER). Literature in the Age of the Anthropocene colloquium, 10 to 11 November, 2015.


contemporary literature, South African literature and culture, literary non-fiction, life-writing, environmental humanities, creative writing, music and literature