Professor Elleke Boehmer

Elleke Boehmer (BA(Hons), MPhil (Oxon), DPhil (Oxon)) is Professor of World Literature in English in the English Faculty, University of Oxford, and Director of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW), based at Wolfson College. She was the Director of TORCH 2015-17, and PI on the Andrew W. Mellon-funded 'Humanities and Identities' project at The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, 2017-18. She is a founding figure in the field of colonial and postcolonial studies, and internationally known for her research in anglophone literatures of empire and anti-empire. She is a novelist and short story writer, most recently of The Shouting in the Dark (2015 and 2019), and To the Volcano (2019). She currently holds a British Academy Senior Research Fellowship (2020) for the research project 'Southern Imagining'.

Postcolonial Poetics

Elleke Boehmer's critical and historical research like her creative work explores issues of migration, identity, friendship, and diaspora; nation, race and gender representation; and world literature and postcolonial debates, particularly relating to sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and contemporary Britain. Elleke Boehmer's monograph, Indian Arrivals 1870-1915: Networks of British Empire, is a critical historical investigation of South Asian contributions to British literary, social, cultural and political life in the period 1870-1915. Indian Arrivals won the ESSE biennial prize (2015-16). Her most recent book is Postcolonial Poetics (2018), a study of how we read postcolonial and world literatures today, and how the structures of that writing shape our reading.

For more on Elleke Boehmer's fiction please visit

Indian Arrivals cover

A Rhodes Scholar (1985-88), Elleke Boehmer is a Professorial Governing Body Fellow at Wolfson College. Among her recent research projects was the Fell-funded Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds (2016-18) which asks how our reading of British literature shapes our sense of identity in Britain today. The project is particularly interested in thinking about how Black and Asian writing in Britain works as a dynamic cultural and imaginative medium through which new ways of thinking about Britain, and Britain in the world, can be shaped. See  

For details of Elleke Boehmer's research involvements up to 2019, please see the TORCH website (especially the research Programme 'Race and Resistance in the Long Twentieth Century'); the Leverhulme-funded International Network Planned Violence: Post/colonial Urban Infrastructures and Literature; the Marie Curie funded ITN 'CoHaB' project; and the AHRC funded ‘Making Britain' project. An essay collection rising from the Planned Violence project, Planned Violence: Post/colonial infrastructures and Literature appeared from Palgrave Macmillan in 2019.  

Rothenstein & Tagore

 Left: Elleke's monograph Indian Arrivals discusses the Modernist friends and collaborators, William Rothenstein and Rabindranath Tagore, here seen meeting on 7 July 1912.

As a mother-tongue speaker of Netherlands, Elleke is interested in comparative inter-relations between colonial, postcolonial and migrant writing in English and Dutch in the long nineteenth century, including the work of Louis Couperus. Her novel The Shouting in the Dark (2015) also considers questions of how we deal with legacies of colonialism and race. Her new research project 'Southern Imagining' explores how lives are understood, recorded and creatively reinterpreted in the global south, in lateral ways that fundamentally question notions of biography and life-writing from the North Atlantic world.

Postcolonial LITH

Elleke Boehmer is the General Editor of the successful Series, Oxford Studies in Postcolonial Literatures (OUP). Series titles include: Postcolonial Poetry in English by Rajeev Patke (2006), West African Literatures by Stephanie Newell (2006), Pacific Islands Writing by Michelle Keown (2007), Australian Literature by Graham Huggan (2010), and Postcolonial Life Writing by Gillian Whitlock (2016). East African Literatures by Russell West-Pavlov is the latest title in the series. 

On her particular perspective on colonial and postcolonial research, Elleke Boehmer has commented: "My work in postcolonial or international literature in English has looked in particular at how selves and lives are articulated by those who do not have authoritative languages and modes of self-description to hand.  The postcolonial authors I have written on include J.M. Coetzee, Peter Carey, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Amitav Ghosh. I am also keenly interested in the colonial period, the time of ‘high empire’, around 1870-1930, focussing on a range of literary and cultural issues not unrelated to these postcolonial concerns: resistance, identity, cultural translation, international modernism, split belonging, and imagining community, amongst others.  Against the grain of much imperial historiography to date, which tends still to privilege the hierarchical relationship of colonizer and colonized, my research has been consistently directed to less conventional or less predictable colonial relations, be they lateral, co-operative or ‘cross border’, that is, surprising proximities rather than situations of conflict, shared rather than divided histories.'

Boehmer & Morton

'Indian Arrivals, for example,' she said, 'considers the lived lives and cultural contributions of early Indian immigrants to Britain (1870-1915)—how they were perceived and how they perceived themselves as ‘travellers in the west’ (Ghosh). The book suggests that the period of high imperialism and Indian migration it covers was distinguished in particular by acts of cultural exchange operating in both directions between India and Britain, expressed as one-on-one interactions between Indian and British individuals (Dadabhai Naoroji and his British hosts; M Ghose and L Binyon; Sarojini Naidu and the 1890s poets around Yeats; Rothenstein and Tagore); within groups such as the National Indian Association, the Theosophical Society, and the India Society, all of which involved Indian and British members; and also, importantly, within literary texts including novels and poems, such as by Naidu, Yeats, Tagore, Mansfield, Conan Doyle, and Wilkie Collins. Looking beyond Indian Arrivals I hope in the next year or so to loop back to the later twentieth century period, and to work more comparatively on certain formal questions raised by international writing in English, to date little addressed in the field: for example, can we speak of certain distinguishing figures, symbols, structures, generic concerns which link international writings in English in a cross-border way, be they elegiac, ‘hybrid’, mimicked, creolized, etc.?  Does it make sense to speak of a postcolonial aesthetic, or of postcolonial texts as ways not only of representing but of thinking through postcolonial identities?"

Professor Boehmer currently supervises DPhil/PhD students working on transnationalism, globalization and postcolonial literature; South-East Asian writing and reconciliation; J.M. Coetzee in the Hispanophone world; crisis in the American Novel; settler colonial writing and book prize cultures; and Derek Walcott.

She teaches undergraduate and MSt courses on literatures of empire and nation, postcolonial literature, Australian, Indian and South African fiction and poetry in English.

Elleke Boehmer has published five monographs and five novels to date, as well as many edited and co-edited collections, interviews, critical creative responses, and essays in refereed journals. Her latest monograph, Postcolonial Poetics, appeared in 2018. Her prize-winning Indian Arrivals will appear in paperback in 2020.

Among her best-known publications are the internationally cited Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors (Oxford UP, 1995; 2nd edn 2005), and an acclaimed monograph investigating transnational links between anti-colonial movements, Empire, the National, and the Postcolonial, 1890-1920 (Oxford UP, 2002; paperback 2004).

In 2005 she published a study of the influential intersections between nationalist, postcolonial and feminist thought Stories of Women: Gender and Narrative in the Postcolonial Nation (Manchester UP). The monograph appeared from Manchester UP in paperback in the summer of 2009.

In the summer of 2008 she published the cultural history, Nelson Mandela: A Very Short Introduction (OUP). See also 'Beyond the icon: Mandela in his 90th year', Open Democracy, November 2008.

She has edited the anthology Empire Writing, 1870-1918 and the British bestseller Scouting for Boys, Robert Baden-Powell's primer of the Scout movement (2004; pb 2005), as well as Cornelia Sorabji's 1934 India Calling (Trent Editions, 2004). A new edition of Scouting for Boys appeared from Oxford World’s Classics in September 2018.

She has co-edited collections of essays on transnationalism, the new South Africa (1990 and 2005), and on questions in postcolonial aesthetics. A collection of critical essays on Terror and the Postcolonial, co-edited with Dr Stephen Morton, appeared from Wiley-Blackwell in 2009.

A collection, J.M. Coetzee in Context and Theory, co-edited with Robert Eaglestone and Katy Iddiols, was out from Continuum in 2009, and a critical reader looking at postcolonial theorizations of India, that pre-eminent 'post-colonial' nation, The Indian Postcolonial, edited with Rosinka Chaudhuri, appeared in 2011.

Elleke Boehmer has published five widely acclaimed novels, Screens Against the Sky (1990; shortlisted David Higham Prize); An Immaculate Figure (1993), Bloodlines (2000; shortlisted Sanlam Prize), Nile Baby (Ayebia, 2008), and The Shouting in the Dark, as well as a number of short stories in journals, magazines, and anthologies. Sharmilla, and Other Portraits (Jacana, 2010) was her first collection of short stories, followed in 2019 by To the Volcano (Myriad Editions), praised for its 'passion and intelligence, and rare moral insight' by J.M. Coetzee. The Shouting in the Dark was the co-winner of the triennial EASA Olive Schreiner Prize, 2018, and appeared in an Australian edition in 2019 (University of Western Australia Press). The story 'Supermarket Love' from To the Volcano was commended for the Australian Review of Books Elizabeth Jolley Prize, 2019. 

Elleke Boehmer was nominated a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2019, and also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She holds an honorary doctorate from Linnaeus University, Sweden.

Elleke is the co-convenor with Professor Ankhi Mukherjee of the lively Oxford Postcolonial Seminar. Speakers have included Emily Apter, Pheng Cheah, Hisham Mattar, Malachi McIntosh, David Palumbo-Liu, and Robert Young.

Other Links:

'Exploring the In-Between: Elleke Boehmer, Writer, Critic & Long Distance Friend' by Karina Magdalena Szczurek


Articles by Elleke Boehmer 2010-2018 include

  • ‘The Future of the Postcolonial Past: beyond Representation’. Leiden University Press (2017).
  • ‘Making Freedom: Jawaharlal Nehru’s An Autobiography (1936) and The Discovery of India (1946)’. In Fighting Words Fourteen Books That Shaped the Postcolonial World. Eds. Dominic Davies, Erica Lombard, and Benjamin Mountford. Oxford: Peter Lang (2017) pp. 121-134.
  • ‘Differential Publics—Reading (in) the Postcolonial Novel’. Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry, 4(1), pp 11–25 January 2017.
  • ‘The world, the text and the author: Coetzee and untranslatability’. European Journal of English Studies, 20(2) (2016) with Lynda Ng and Paul Sheehan.
  • ‘The View from Empire: The Turn-of-the-Century Globalizing World’. In Late Victorian into Modern. Eds. Laura Marcus, Michèle Mendelssohn, and Kirsten E. Shepherd-Barr, Oxford University Press (2016).
  • The 1990s: An increasingly postcolonial decade’. Journal of Commonwealth Literature 50.3 (2015). With Alex Tickell.
  • Literature, planning and infrastructure: Investigating the Southern City though postcolonial texts’. JPW 51.4 (2015).  With Dominic Davies.
  • Nelson Mandela entry. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Nationalism.  Ed. John Stone.  2015.  See also: ‘Nelson Mandela: Tribute’. Moving Worlds. 2014.
  • ‘The text in the world, the world through the text: Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys’. Eds. Antoinette Burton and Isabel Hofmeyr. Ten Books that Shaped the British Empire: Creating an Imperial Commons. Durham NC: Duke University Press. 2014. pp. 131-52.
  • ‘Chinua Achebe, a Father of Modern African Literature’.  PMLA 129.2 (March 2014): 237-9.
  • ‘Coetzee and Australia’. In Approaches to Teaching Coetzee’s Disgrace and Other Works.  Ed. Laura Wright et al.  New York.  Modern Languages Association.  2014.
  • ‘The World and the Postcolonial’. European Review 22.2. 2014. pp. 299-308.
  • ‘Nelson Mandela: The Oratory of the Black Pimpernel’.  Africa's Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent. Edited by Adekeye Adebajo. London: Zed, 2013. pp. 161-77.
  • ‘Revisiting Resistance: Postcolonial Practice and the Antecedents of Theory’.  The Oxford Handbook of Postcolonial Studies.  Edited by Graham Huggan.  Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013.  pp. 307-23
  • ‘The zigzag lines of tentative connection: Indian-British contacts in the late nineteenth century’. India in Britain 1858-1950. Edited by Susheila Nasta. Palgrave Macmillan. 2013. pp. 12-27.
  • With Zoe Norridge and Charlotte Baker. ‘Tracing the Visible and the Invisible through African literature’. RAL 44.2 (2013). pp. v-xi.
  • ‘Foreword: Empire’s Vampires’. Dark Blood: Transnational and Postcolonial Vampires.  Eds. Tabish Khair and Johan Hagglund.  Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. pp. 1-3.
  • ‘Perspectives on the South African War’. Cambridge History of South African Literature. Ed. Derek Attridge and David Attwell. Cambridge UP. 2012. pp. 310-38.
  • With Susheila Nasta.  ‘Shaping Britain: Preface’.  South Asians and the shaping of Britain, 1870-1950: A Sourcebook  Eds. Ruvani Ranasinha et al.  Manchester: Manchester UP, 2012. pp. xv-xx  978-0-7190-8513-0
  • ‘J.M. Coetzee’s Australian Realism’.  Postcolonial Poetics: Genre and Form. Edited by Patrick Crowley and Jane Hiddleston.  Liverpool UP.  2011.  pp. 202-218. Shorter version in MLA study volume on Coetzee.  See above.
  • ‘Madiba Magic: Nelson Mandela’s Charisma’.  Political Leadership, Nations and Charisma.  Eds Margit Wunsch and Vivian Ibrahim.  Routledge. 2012. pp. 161-70.
  • ‘J.M. Coetzee’s Australian Realism’.  Strong Opinions: J.M. Coetzee and the Authority of Contemporary Fiction.  Eds. Chris Danta, Sue Kossew, Julian Murphet.  New York and London: Continuum, 2011.  pp. 3-18.
  • ‘The English Novel and the World’. End of Empire and the English Novel since 1945.  Eds. Bill Schwarz and Rachael Gilmore. Manchester UP. 2011. 239-43.
  • With Sumita Mukherjee.  ‘Re-making Britishness: Indians at Oxford at the Turn of the Century’.  Eds. Catherine McGlynn and Andrew Mycock.  Britishness, Identity and Citizenship: The View From Abroad.  London. Peter Lang. 2011. pp. 95-112.
  • ‘Modernism and Colonialism’.  Cambridge Companion to Modernism.  2nd edn.  Edited by Michael Levenson.  Cambridge UP.   2011. pp. 578-611.
  • ‘Katherine Mansfield as Colonial Modernist’.  Celebrating Katherine Mansfield: A Centenary Volume of Essays. Edited by Gerri Kimber and Janet Wilson.  Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011. pp. 57-71.
  • ‘The Worlding of the Jingo Poem’.  Yearbook of English Studies 41.2 Special issue on Nineteenth Century Globalization.  Ed. Pablo Mukherjee. pp. 41-57.  Extended version published as 'Circulating Forms: The Jingo Poem at the Height of Empire'. English Language Notes 49.1.  Edited by Laura Winkiel. Spring/summer 2011. pp. 11-28.
  • A Postcolonial Aesthetic: Repeating upon the Present’.  Re-routing the Postcolonial: New Directions for the New Millennium.  Edited by Janet Wilson, Cristina Sandru and Sarah L Welsh. London. Routledge. 2010. pp.170-81. 
  • ‘Long Live!’ Foreword to Dambudzo Marechera: A Celebration.  Edited by Dobrota Pucherova and Julie Cairnie.  Oxford.  Boydell and Brewer. 2010.