A Week With Amitav Ghosh

Submitted by Sonja Johnston on Wed, 10/23/2019 - 12:28
Amitav Ghosh portrait
Amitav Ghosh portrait by Ivo van der Bent

We were delighted to have Amitav Ghosh, JHI's Distinguished Visiting Fellow for 2019-2020, as our special guest for an exciting series of events during the week of October 7-11.

Amitav Ghosh began the week by presenting a master class at the University of Toronto Scarborough that featured the work of four top creative writing students. He then participated in a panel discussion about creative practice, the role of fiction and nonfiction in addressing social justice issues, and the challenge of tackling climate change through creative work.

Gun Island Book CoverOn Tuesday evening, Ghosh read passages from his newly-released novel Gun Island to an enthusiastic audience (including Michael Ondaatje and John Ralston Saul), followed by a question and answer period, then an autograph signing and a small dinner with a group of faculty members doing research in the environmental humanities.

Ghosh met with a small group of JHI faculty and postdoctoral fellows for lunch on Wednesday, and then presented a major public lecture—What the Migrant Knows: A Long View of Climate Change—to a full house at the Innis Town Hall. The riveting lecture gave us all a glimpse into the research for his next work in progress.

On Thursday, Ghosh was the guest of honour at our weekly Fellows’ Lunch. He brought a special guest with him—Dipesh Chakrabarty (History and Law, University of Chicago) who was in Toronto to speak at the annual Ato Quayson lecture for the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies. Chakrabarty’s The Climate of History: Four Theses was one of the readings assigned for our previous week’s Fellows’ Lunch, and the reading generated much discussion. Amitav Ghosh generously provided a free copy of Gun Island for every JHI fellow, so they were well-prepared for the lively and engaged conversation that followed with Ghosh and Chakrabarty.

The Great Derangement Book CoverAfter lunch, Ghosh participated in a public conversation about Crafting Climate Stories. The event was chaired by Alan Ackerman, with respondents Stephanie Bernhard, Katherine Blouin, and Cheryl Suzack. The room was full, and people listened intently while Ghosh discussed themes from his book The Great Derangement, then answered questions posed by the respondents and the audience. Afterwards, Ghosh and many of the JHI fellows attended Professor Chakrabarty’s talk, Beyond the Global: The Planet as a Perspective on Human History.

Amitav Ghosh portrait
Amitav Ghosh portrait by Aradhana Seth

On his final day with us, Amitav Ghosh visited the University of Toronto Mississauga, where he met with students in Geoff Bouvier’s Experimental Writing class, and then had lunch with faculty members from the Department of English & Drama, and the Centre for South Asian Civilizations.

During his time with the JHI he was interviewed by Stephanie Bernhard, JHI’s New Media and Public Humanities Visiting Fellow, for a feature article in Orion Magazine and by Denise Balkissoon for a feature article in the Globe & Mail. We’ll be sure to share these articles on social media when they become available.

Thanks to Kimberley Yates who provided content for this post.