“Soulmates” author, Kenchana Ugbabe, to serve as Writer at Risk in Residence at Fordham University

Kanchana Ugbabe (photo courtesy of and (c) Penguin India


The Fordham Department of English has welcomed a new colleague, Kanchana Ugbabe of Nigeria, to serve in the newly created position of Writer at Risk in Residence for one year beginning this fall.

The pilot position was made possible through the efforts of the Creative Writing program in partnership with PEN America, Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), Westbeth Artists Housing, ArtistsSafety.net, and Residency Unlimited. The residency is the second effort of the New York City Safe Haven Prototype, a multi-organizational artist residency program designed to house, integrate, and nurture artists at risk.

Ugbabe is a professor of English and African Literature at the University of Jos, Nigeria, and the author of a collection of short stories, Soulmates (Penguin Books, 2011). She has edited two collections of essays on the writings of the Nigerian novelist Chukwuemeka Ike and contributed three chapters to the Dictionary of Literary Biography focusing on African writers. Ugbabe holds a doctorate from Flinders University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia. She holds a master’s in English literature from the University of Madras, India.

Since arriving at Fordham in mid-October, Ugbabe has been visiting English classes as well as courses in other departments, such as “Women and Independence in Africa,” taught by Fawzia Mustafa, Ph.D., professor of African and African-American studies and English. This spring, Ugbabe will teach her own class, “Creating Dangerously: Writing from Contact Zones.”

Over the last decade, the political crisis over ‘indigene’ rights and political representation in Ugbabe’s home city of Jos has developed into a protracted communal conflict affecting most parts of the area.

As a writer and South Asian woman settled in an increasingly unstable part of Nigeria, the risks and uncertainty became personal, Ugbabe says. These risks weighing upon her became intrinsically associated with a place she considered home—the town of Jos, which in the early days was a quaint, attractive outpost but has now devolved into a deeply fractured, overpopulated town rife with ethno-religious conflict. Ugbabe and her family, along with Nigerian friends, colleagues, and neighbors, found themselves at the center of the vortex of events. Disruption of work and a climate of insecurity escalated over the years as Jos deteriorated and the town became divided along ethnic and religious lines.

An invitation from Harvard University, to serve as Visiting Scholar with the Women and Gender Studies program, enabled Ugbabe to leave Jos and continue her writing and academic work in the peaceful environment of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The period also enabled her to distance herself temporarily from the tumult in Jos and to gain new perspective on the risks faced by fellow writers and academics in her beloved home country, Nigeria. As that fellowship neared its end, the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) reached out to Ugbabe with the new opportunity at Fordham. This year-long pilot position will allow Ugbabe to continue writing and make headway with her research while being part of an enriching, safe, and encouraging community.

Street Scene: Jos, Nigeria The pollution comes from thousands of motorbikes which are the main transport in town. Photo courtesy of Andrew Moore under CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic license

Jos is a city in the Middle Belt of Nigeria.

“The city has a population of about 900,000 residents based on the 2006 census. Popularly called ‘J-town’, it is the administrative capital of Plateau State.

“The city is located on the Jos Plateau at an elevation of about 1,238 metres or 4,062 feet high above sea level. During British colonial rule, Jos was an important centre for tin mining. In recent years it has suffered violent religious clashes between its Muslim and Christian populations in 2001, 2008, 2010, and 2011.” MORE

A Decade of Suffering

“In the past decade, more than 3,800 people have been killed in inter-communal violence in Plateau State, including as many as 1,000 in 2001 in Jos and more than 75 Christians and at least 700 Muslims in 2004 in Yelwa, southern Plateau State. In November 2008, two days of inter-communal clashes following local government elections in Jos left at least 700 dead.” MORE

Some of the killings in Jos hit very close to home for Ugbabe. In 2007, a university professor was kidnapped and never found. Around that same time, church members were attacked, a neighbor’s home was set on fire, and a colleague’s daughter was killed in a bomb blast, to name just a few incidents.

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This feature is compiled courtesy of Artists at Risk, PEN America,  Human Rights Watch, Fordham University and Wikipedia 

The Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) brings together organizations around the world that are committed to defending and promoting artistic freedom of expression, and to ensuring that artists everywhere can live and work without fear.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Human Rights Watch

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