May 31 – June 1, 2018 Sapienza – University of Rome Rome, Italy
In his foreword to a reissue of William Demby’s landmark novel The Catacombs (1965), Nathan A. Scott, Jr., bemoaned that “by some unfortunate miscarriage of advertisement the fiction of William Demby over more than a generation has remained little known and is not today generally accorded the prominence in the canon of Afro-American literature that it deserves” (Northeastern Library of Black Literature, 1991, ix). This two-day symposium will address this critical gap and commemorate the life and work of the late African American author William Demby (1922-2013). Demby spent decades living in Rome following his service in Italy during World War II. Scholars will discuss Demby’s work as a novelist, reporter, and screenwriter, translator, and actor for the Italian cinema. The symposium will pay particular attention to Demby’s final novel, King Comus, which was completed in 2007, but remained in manuscript form at the time of Demby’s death in 2013. The author’s son, James Demby, will deliver a reading from the novel, which the Ishmael Reed Publishing Company will release in November 2017.
We welcome papers devoted to Demby’s literature written in Italy, including Beetlecreek (1950), The Catacombs (1965), and King Comus (2017), and his work in the Italian cinema, as well as papers that provide historical context for the postwar cultural scene in Rome. In addition to panels and plenary talks, the symposium will present evening screenings of some of Demby’s films, including Il Peccato di Anna (1953), a retelling of Othello set in Rome, in which Demby played a supporting role, and Congo Vivo (1962), cowritten with his wife, Italian writer Lucia Drudi Demby.
The symposium will take place at the Sapienza University of Rome, Rome’s largest university, and will be conducted in English. Participants will have a unique opportunity to consider Demby’s cultural achievements and legacy in the inimitable setting of the Eternal City, home for decades to Demby and inspiration for much of his work.
The event will be co-organized by Ugo Rubeo (Sapienza University of Rome) and Melanie Masterton Sherazi (California Institute of Technology). Please send a 250-word abstract and a brief bio to Ugo Rubeo’s and Melanie Masterton Sherazi’s attention at: firstname.lastname@example.org by December 1, 2017. General inquiries about the event may also be sent to this email address. Notifications will be made by December 20, 2017.
Topics may include, but are not limited to:
-Form, style, and content, and/or socio-political and historical contexts, etc. in Beetlecreek (1950), The Catacombs (1965), and/or King Comus (2017) -Demby’s work’s relationship to Rome and/or Italy -Demby’s leftist cohorts in literature and/or film -Demby’s work in the Italian cinema as a screenwriter, translator, and/or actor -Demby’s experimental style -Demby and modernism -Demby and postmodernism -Demby and postwar black internationalism -Demby’s transnational work in journalism for periodicals including Epoca, Harper’s, etc. -Demby’s relationship to his contemporaries