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Claire Chambers

Profile

Biography

Claire Chambers is Professor of Global Literature at the University of York. She joined the Department of English and Related Literature as Lecturer in 2012, following eight years as a Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and a PhD at the University of Leeds. She was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2016 and to Professor in 2020. Her fascination with the literature of the Indian subcontinent and the ‘Muslim world’ was sparked by the year she spent prior to university teaching in Mardan and Peshawar, Pakistan. It continues to be informed by return visits to the region, and by knowledge exchange and schools work with diasporic communities. 

Her latest edited volume is an anthology of food writing from Muslim South Asia, entitled Dastarkhwan in the UK (Beacon Books, 2021) and Desi Delicacies in India (Picador, 2021). Other books include Storying Relationships: Young British Muslims Speak and Write about Sex and Love (with Richard Phillips et al., Zed, 2021), Making Sense of Contemporary British Muslim Novels (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), Rivers of Ink: Selected Essays (OUP, 2017), Britain Through Muslim Eyes: Literary Representations, 1780−1989 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), and British Muslim Fictions: Interviews with Contemporary Writers (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). She edited A Match Made in Heaven: British Muslim Women Write About Love and Desire (with Nafhesa Ali and Richard Phillips, HopeRoad, 2020), and (with Caroline Herbert) Imagining Muslims in South Asia and the Diaspora: Secularism, Religion, Representations (Routledge, 2015). 

Not only is she known for her research on literary representations of Muslims in Britain and South Asia but also on Indian writing in English, especially the Bengali writer Amitav Ghosh. An emerging specialism is Chinese literature. She has published widely in such journals as Interventions, Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Contemporary Women’s Writing, and the Journal of Postcolonial Writing

Claire was Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, which she edited for over a decade. Her research has been supported by grants from HEFCE, the AHRC, ESRC, British Academy, and Leverhulme Trust. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. 

Research

Overview

Claire is an expert in contemporary South Asian literature written in English and literary representations of British Muslims. Her monograph Britain Through Muslim Eyes offers a unique contribution by tracing the development of artistic depictions of Muslims in Britain from the eighteenth century to the present day. She then published its sequel, Making Sense of Contemporary British Muslim Novels, after a sabbatical generously supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship.

The first volume in this trilogy of books British Muslim Fictions is now in its second edition, having received positive reviews in the Times Literary Supplement and the Pakistani newspapers The Friday Times and Dawn, among other outlets.

Another book, co-edited with Caroline Herbert and entitled Imagining Muslims in South Asia and the Diaspora: Secularism, Religion, Representations, was published by Routledge in 2015.

Claire compiled a collection of her essays, entitled Rivers of Ink, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2017.

Out of her AHRC-funded Storying Relationships project, she has co-authored four peer-reviewed articles, as well as Storying Relationships: Young British Muslims Speak and Write about Sex and Love (Zed, 2021) and A Match Made in Heaven: British Muslim Women Write About Love and Desire (HopeRoad, 2020).

From the AHRC-funded Forgotten Food project, she edited Desi Delicacies: Food Writing From Muslim South Asia (Picador India), which was published as Dastarkhwan in the UK and includes creative writing and narrative nonfiction from such authors as Aamer Hussein, Annie Zaidi, Rana Safvi, Sanam Maher, and Uzma Aslam Khan

Supervision

Claire has wide experience of supervising postgraduate researchers writing dissertations on South Asian, postcolonial, and British migrant literature. She welcomes research students interested in many areas of contemporary writing, especially topics related to fiction from South Asia and its diaspora, ‘the Muslim world’, and multicultural Britain. Claire has externally examined more than twenty PhD theses at universities in the UK and overseas. She has supervised or is supervising twenty-one doctoral theses, having taken eleven to completion so far. Topics include:

  • depictions of Muslims in contemporary British fiction
  • contemporary Anglophone Irish and Indian women poets
  • Sri Lanka and fine art
  • Chinese American women’s writing
  • womanhood in Botswana
  • representation of motherhood in Indian women’s writing
  • mystic modernity: Yeats and Tagore
  • the politics of offence in Hara Kiri and Charlie Hebdo 
  • fictional encounters with Rumi in Turkish novels
  • gender and space in the Saudi woman’s novel
  • mute speech in Urdu short fiction
  • same-sex desiring women in Indian life writing
  • writing the Muslim terrorist
  • twenty-first century dystopian Arabic and Muslim South Asian fiction
  • representations of ISIS/Daesh in fiction, television, and films
  • interrogating world literature: contemporary Anglophone Pakistani fiction and the global marketplace
  • queerness and coming of age in Indian women’s writing
  • how to become a refugee: a collection of short stories & critical commentary

External activities

Memberships

2008, continuing: Associate Member, Centre for Research into Diversity in the Professions, Leeds Beckett;  Member, then Vice-Chair (2011−14), Postcolonial Studies Association (PSA)

2011-14: Vice-Chair, Postcolonial Studies Association (PSA)

2020, continuing: Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA)

External Activity

Claire was Editor-in-Chief for eleven years (2010-2021) of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, the leading critical and bibliographic forum in the field of Commonwealth and postcolonial literatures. She is on many advisory boards including those of Crossings: Journal of Migration and Culture, NUML: Journal of Critical Inquiry, and the Rodopi book series Postcolonial Lives. 

She is a Co-Investigator for Forgotten Food: Culinary Memory, Local Heritage and Lost Agricultural Varieties in India, a Cultures, Behaviours and Histories of Agriculture, Food, and Nutrition (AHRC-GCRF)-funded project. The Principal Investigator is Siobhan Lambert-Hurley of the University of Sheffield. Claire’s role in this project has been to commission and edit a new anthology of creative writing. Entitled Desi Delicacies (Picador, 2021) and Dastarkhwan, the stories and life writing essays collected in this book deal with South Asian food and foodways to capture memories and ideas relating to such themes as family, domesticity, feasting, and lack of food.

Claire was also Co-Investigator on Advancing Female Literacy and Empowerment in Pakistan and India through Life Writing, a Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)-funded project. The Principal Investigator was again Siobhan Lambert-Hurley of the University of Sheffield, from where the project was run until 2020. Taking a cue from Malala Yousafzai’s work, the Advancing Female Literacy and Empowerment project used historical research linked to women’s life writing to improve female literacy and empowerment in Pakistan and India.

Until 2019 Claire was Co-Investigator on the AHRC-funded project, Storying Relationships (Principal Investigator: Professor Richard Phillips). Previously, she was a member of the AHRC’s Peer Review College, Vice Chair of the Postcolonial Studies Association and worked as a subject editor for the ‘Indian Subcontinent and Sri Lanka’ section of The Year’s Work in English Studies

She was also awarded an ESRC Impact Acceleration Award for her project Leeds Meets Shakespeare, in partnership with Sarah Olive (Education), Leeds City Council Children’s Services, Artforms, the Leeds Playhouse, Tribe Arts, and Globe Education.

In addition to being one of Times Higher Education’s scholar-reviewers and a blogger on culture for the Huffington Post, she writes book reviews for such journals as Wasafiri, Contemporary South Asia, Feminist Theory, and Moving Worlds. She is a literary columnist for Dawn and 3 Quarks Daily

She was a Project Partner in Muslims, Trust and Cultural Dialogue, an international multidisciplinary network of scholars, practitioners and stakeholders, which sought to explore questions of trust in the relationship between Muslim diaspora populations in the West and the societies around them. 

She co-edits two book series: Multicultural Textualities (Manchester University Press) and Global Literature: Twenty-First Century Perspectives (Routledge). With Kaiser Haq, she edits the six-volume Cultural History series for Bloomsbury, A Cultural History of South Asian Literature.

She regularly participates in literature festivals such as those at Ilkley, Karachi, and Bradford. In 2014, Claire contributed to the Radio 4 documentary First There Was the Word, about Muslims and publishing in Britain. This contributed to her being invited to become a Committee Member of the HopeRoad Project, an initiative around diversity and traineeships in publishing. On 18 December 2015, a half-hour interview with Claire about her research on early Muslim travellers to Britain was broadcast on British Muslim TV, repeated on 7 January 2016. She has also spoken on Radio Asian Fever, BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Leeds, BBC Radio Derby, BBC Radio West Midlands, Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, and BBC One’s The Big Questions and The One Show

Claire Chambers

Contact details

Dr Claire Chambers
Department of English and Related Literature
University of York
Heslington
York
YO10 5DD

Tel: +44 (0)1904 324216

Teaching

Undergraduate

In her teaching, Claire is committed to intersectional feminist approaches, decolonizing the curriculum, and interdisciplinarity (especially with Sociology). She teaches a diverse range of undergraduate and postgraduate modules, which have at their heart issues of race, religion, gender, and social (in)equality. For example, she convenes the second-year world literature module ‘Muslim Translations of Britain’, in which 75% of the texts are in translation from Arabic, Persian, and Urdu. Her advanced option modules are ‘Decoronial Writing’ (about literature resisting colonialism and its legacies and thinking through issues around race, class, and gender, while also exploring public health crises and unequal access to medical care) and ‘Postcolonial Writing: Literature and Resistance’. The latter encompasses theories from Gandhi and Fanon to Barbara Harlow and Priyamvada Gopal, and creative texts from Ghassan Kanafani and Kamala Markandaya to books engaging with the Egyptian Revolution and online radicalism.

Postgraduate

At postgraduate level, Claire is actively involved in the MA in Global Literature and Culture, on which she teaches on the core module Debating Global Literary Culture and offers the option Digitally Decolonial. 

Having acted as Graduate Chair for English from 2017-2020, Claire has a wealth of experience of supervising postgraduates writing dissertations and theses on South Asian, postcolonial, and British migrant literatures. She welcomes MA and research students interested in a wide range of twentieth- and twenty-first century texts, especially topics related to fiction from South Asia and its diaspora, the ‘Muslim world’, and multicultural Britain.