Katrina Daly Thompson
African Languages and Literature
University of Wisconsin, Madison
I began studying Africa while an undergraduate at Grinnell College, a small liberal arts college in the Midwest, where I was lucky to be introduced to African literature, music, and history by talented professors. I studied abroad in Zimbabwe with a program that had a strong Shona component, and an immersion experience in a rural village hooked me with the desire to learn the language well enough to be able to read its literature. I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for graduate school, learning both Shona and Swahili, broadening my knowledge of African literatures, and writing a dissertation on film and television culture in Zimbabwe. A decade after earning my doctorate, I’m delighted to be back at my alma mater, now as an Associate Professor hired to lead one of the strongest African languages programs in the United States.
In the intervening years, my interests have both become more interdisciplinary and increasingly focused on language use. Before returning to Wisconsin, I taught at UCLA for eight years in the Departments of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, where I created courses in postcolonial multilingualism, supervised many African language instructors, and developed a research agenda in critical applied linguistics and African cultural studies. While spending my pre-tenure years working on my book, Zimbabwe’s Cinematic Arts: Language, Power, Identity (Indiana University Press, 2012), I also began conducting new research in Tanzania on Swahili language use across a number of domains: comics, hip-hop music, urban legends, and Islamic pre-marital instruction. My work has appeared in diverse journals that attest to the varied nature of my research: Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Journal of African Cultural Studies, Language in Society, Discourse & Society, Journal of Religion in Africa, Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity, Critical Discourse Studies, and Modern Language Journal. What unites my work amidst this diversity is an abiding interest in how Africans use language to create and perform identities.
My work as African languages coordinator, first at UCLA and now at Wisconsin, has honed my skills as an administrator: I am able to work with diverse groups and to get things done in a highly organized way. Serving as Chair of the MA program in African Studies at UCLA for two years also gave me experience working with graduate students from different disciplinary and national backgrounds united by their interest in Africa. Likewise, my service to the Tanzanian Studies Association (Vice President, then President, and now member of the Executive Council) has helped me establish scholarly networks with colleagues and students from all over the world.
I have been an African Studies Association member since I was a graduate student. ASA offers opportunities to take part in enriching dialogs with like-minded scholars and professionals whose work and questions push my own in new directions. I look forward to giving something back by working with the board to develop new forums for such dialog, including finding ways to incorporate more engagement with and in African languages.