Francophone women in Atlantic Canada the focus of magazine edited by SMU professor

With field schools to lead, research to conduct and conferences to organize, summer is a hectic season for many Saint Mary’s professors, including Dr. Rohini Bannerjee of the Department of Modern Languages & Classics.

Dr. Bannerjee was delighted to serve as guest editor for the 15th edition of Understorey Magazine, which  launched six years ago as a project of the Second Story Women’s Centre in Lunenburg and is now published in partnership with the Alexa McDonough Institute for Women, Gender and Social Justice. A member of the editorial advisory board, Bannerjee enjoyed diving into the subject matter for this edition, ‘Femmes francophones du Canada atlantique’.

“Thanks to a strong foundation in French at Sacred Heart School of Halifax and a certain affinity for interculturality, I learned the French language in Nova Scotia with enthusiasm,” she explains in her editorial. Born in a Punjabi-Hindi-Urduphone immigrant family, she went “beyond the barriers imposed on and by” herself to pursue her graduate studies in French. At Saint Mary’s, she is Associate Professor of Francophone Literature and Culture of the Indian Ocean, and is also a Faculty member of the Asian Studies program, the Joint MA Women and Gender Studies program (SMU-MSVU) and, starting this fall, will also be teaching in the International Development Studies program.   

She was thrilled to include non-fiction pieces by several SMU voices in the magazine, including two of her former students:

·   French Professor Dre. Sophie Beaulé “gives life to the notion of elsewhere”;

·   Sonja Williams (BA’15) of Cheticamp, now working with the federal Department of Canadian Heritage in Halifax, explains how her Acadian pride is never in question even after taking her husband’s English surname after marriage; and

·   Eve Julia Powell (BA’13), a Newfoundlander who is now a French Immersion teacher in Saint John, NB, explains how the language became her passion and destiny after her English parents enrolled her in French immersion school as a youngster.     

Available to read online, Understorey has a mandate "to sustain a relevant, accessible and aesthetically beautiful venue that empowers women (defined inclusively) through self-expression and contributes to the diversity and vitality of Canadian literature and visual art."

Submissions are welcome for the next two editions, from emerging and established writers and artists who identify as women or non-binary. First up is ‘Diverse Stories of Women on Stage’ (deadline July 15), then ‘Re Nature: Writing on a World under Threat’ (deadline Sept. 30). See the submission guidelines.

Other highlights from Bannerjee’s busy summer:

·   She celebrated the 50th anniversary of official bilingualism in Canada on June 19 at Government House, during the Lieutenant Governor’s annual garden party.

·  The mother of three boys, she was a featured guest June 26 on the CBC Maritime Noon phone-in show, discussing the realities of everyday racism when you’re raising children of colour. Her recent article in Eco Parent magazine provided a starting point.

·   She is co-organizer of an international Francophone literature and linguistics conference coming up July 11-13 in Balaclava, Mauritius, titled ‘Résistance, Résilience, Réactualisation’, co-sponsored by Saint Mary’s, Dalhousie and the University of Mauritius.

·   Also in July, she will teach a graduate seminar class at the University of Mumbai, thanks to a Faculty Mobility Grant from the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, which promotes academic and cultural exchanges between India and Canada.

·  Winding up a period of sabbatical, she’s preparing to teach several new SMU courses this fall and winter, such as Voices of the Francophone South Pacific; Migration and Displacement of the Indian Ocean; and one at the Halifax Central Library that will be open to the public, Oral Traditions in the Francophone World

Follow her updates on Twitter at @RohiniBannerjee.