CMSI Lecture: Catherine Gilbert

CMSI Lecture: Catherine Gilbert

Event date: Thursday 23 February 2017, 5.30 – 7 p.m
Location: Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Blandijnberg 2, Faculty Room (first floor, right above main entrance)

“Mobilising Memory: Rwandan Women Genocide Survivors in the Diaspora”, given by Dr. Catherine Gilbert (King’s College London)


Since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, there has been a steadily growing body of testimonial and literary narratives written by Rwandan women genocide survivors living in the diaspora. This paper seeks to explore how Rwandan women negotiate a space within which to tell their stories in their host communities and the processes of cultural translation that this inevitably entails. Taking as its starting point Madeleine Hron’s Translating Pain (2009), which examines the sociocultural dimensions of pain in narratives of immigrant suffering, this paper will consider Rwandan women’s narratives not only as bearing witness to the cataclysmic trauma of genocide, but also in light of the trauma of the experience of immigration and exile. Moreover, while these women must engage representational strategies to convey the traumatic experience of genocide and exile, they must also ‘translate’ this pain, in cultural terms, in order to reach their target readers in the host community.

This paper will focus on a selection of Rwandan women’s testimonies, examining how these narratives emphasise the cultural specificity of suffering while at the same time bringing these experiences to an international audience. Many of the Rwandan women living in the diaspora also maintain strong links to Rwanda and work with survivor communities in Rwanda and in Europe. As such, this paper will explore how Rwandan women’s narratives inhabit different geographical spaces and speak for survivors living both in Rwanda and across the diaspora, leading to a broader reflection on the ways in which the memory of the genocide can move between geographical and cultural spaces through narrative. While written narratives will be the primary focus of this paper, it will also think beyond the texts themselves to interrogate the wider role these women play as witnesses, educators, activists, intellectuals and artists, emphasising the myriad functions of memory within the Rwandan diaspora and the ways in which this memory is mobilised.


Catherine Gilbert is a Teaching Fellow in Comparative Literature at King’s College London. Her research focuses on women’s responses to conflict and violence, particularly in the Rwandan context. She has published articles in the journals Dialogues Francophones and Bulletin of Francophone Postcolonial Studies, and is currently developing a monograph, From Surviving to Living: Voice, Trauma and Witness in Rwandan Women’s Writing, which focuses on representations of trauma and cultural memory in Rwandan women’s testimonial literature.

All are welcome. Admission is free, and registration is not required. For more information, please contact Stef Craps.