UT Knoxville to Host First Conference of New International Academic Society; Event to Feature Kenyan ‘Prisoner of Conscience’

KNOXVILLE — Nearly 120 contemporary arts scholars from around the world will come to Knoxville next week for the inaugural conference of the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (ASAP), a newly-formed international interdisciplinary academic society.

Highlighting the conference will be a public reading by author and one-time Kenyan political prisoner Ngugi wa Thiong’o, now a distinguished professor of English and comparative literature and the director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine.

Hosted by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the conference, “ASAP/1: Arts of the Present,” will be held Oct. 22-25 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 401 W. Summit Hill Drive.

The conference will bring together scholars from Canada, China, Finland, England, Germany, Japan and the United States. Participants will discuss how to revitalize contemporary arts studies, create synergies between academic disciplines, start conversations between scholars and practitioners and jump-start new arts research.

Amy Elias, UT Knoxville associate professor of English, is both the elected president of the society and the organizer of the conference. Elias worked with a group of UT Knoxville faculty and graduate students to hold the conference in Knoxville.

“We faced a unique challenge in planning the launch conference for a society that didn’t yet exist, in a time of global economic turmoil,” Elias said. “It was an extraordinary experience to create the infrastructure for an international, multidisciplinary arts society at the same time that I was building the infrastructure for its first conference — and then doing the work to actually run that conference.

“The support from UT has been outstanding. At times I didn’t know if we were going to pull it off, but it happened and it’s wonderful,” Elias said.

Charles Maland, head of the English department, says Elias is attracting some of the world’s most respected scholars in contemporary visual, literary and media arts scholarship to Knoxville.

“We’re honored and excited to be hosting ASAP/1,” Maland said. “Thanks to the tireless efforts of Amy and her collaborators on the host committee, an outstanding group of artists, writers, critics and theorists of the contemporaneous arts will be at the conference.”

In 1977, following the publication of his novel “Petals of Blood” and a play he cowrote, “Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want),” Ngugi wa Thiong’o was arrested and imprisoned without charge at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi, Kenya. There he wrote in Gikuyu (his native tongue) the novel “Caitani Mutharabaini” (1981), translated into English as “Devil on the Cross” (1982).

After Amnesty International named Ngugi a “Prisoner of Conscience,” an international campaign secured his release in 1978; forced into exile by the Daniel arap Moi dictatorship, he worked with the London-based Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya. When Ngugi and his wife, Njeeri, returned to Kenya in 2004 after 22 years in exile, they were attacked by hired gunmen and narrowly escaped with their lives.

Professor Ngugi will read from his book “Wizard of the Crow,” which earned international acclaim when its English translation was published in 2006. He will be introduced by Gichingiri Ndigirigi, a UT Knoxville assistant professor of English who calls Ngugi a “truly committed, cosmopolitan writer” and is the author of a book about Ngugi’s work. The reading will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

Free and open to the public, the event is sponsored by the Baker Center, UT Knoxville’s Ready for the World initiative, the UT Haines Morris Endowment, the UT Graduate School and the Department of English’s Literature Speakers Series.

For more information about the conference, visit the ASAP/1 Web site at http://asapconference2009.ning.com/.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Elias (865-974-6964, aelias2@utk.edu)

Charles Maland (865-974-6927, cmaland@utk.edu)

Charles Primm (865-974-5180, primmc@utk.edu)

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