I was raised by Scottish parents in Manchester, UK, before arriving at the University of Leeds in 1987 as a student of English literature. My first academic post was as Lecturer in English at Southampton, before returning to Leeds as a staff member in 1996. I was promoted to Professor of Postcolonial and Diaspora Literatures in May 2010. I've also been a Visiting Research Fellow at the Research Institute for History and Culture (OGC), Faculty of Arts, University of Utrecht, Netherlands (2009), a Transatlantic Forum Scholar at Washington University in St Louis, USA (2014), and a Visiting Researcher at the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (2019).
I work primarily in the field of postcolonial studies, and have particular interests in transcultural adoption writing and representations of diasporic and once-colonised locations.
My recent book, Life Lines: Writing Transcultural Adoption (Bloomsbury, 2015), explores fiction, film and memoir writing concerning the adoption of children across the lines of culture, race and nation. It attends to the sorry histories of severance and sundering which adoption always exposes, while addressing the transgressive and transformative possibilities which thinking through adoption makes available to all. I shape a new concept of 'adoptive being' from these possibilities and explore the new forms of transpersonal relations and modes of personhood that transcultural adoption texts may prefigure beyond the usual lines of biogenetic, racial or cultural filiation.
Adoption writing remains a key research priority and passion of mine. I'm co-editor (with Emily Hipchen) of the new Ohio State University Press series Formations: Adoption, Kinship, and Culture, and I'm also a member of the editorial board of the international journal Adoption and Culture.
Previously I've published Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis (Routledge 2004) which explores how London has been reimagined by a variety of post-war writers, while my co-edited collection The Revision of Englishness (Manchester University Press 2004) considers the ways in which Englishness has been imaginatively reconsidered by different kinds of writers and film-makers. I've also contributed many scholarly essays to academic journals and books concerning postcolonial, diasporic and transcultural literatures.
I am also interested in critical theories of the postcolonial - my first book, Beginning Postcolonialism (Manchester University Press, second edition, 2010) introduces many of the key concepts in the field and considers their application to the reading of literature. I have also edited the Routledge Companion to Postcolonial Studies (Routledge, 2007), which engages with the histories, cultures, theories and key figures of Anglophone, Francophone, Lusophone and Hispanic postcolonial contexts.
I have published in the field of Caribbean and black British writing, with particular focus on the work of Caryl Phillips, Derek Walcott and V. S. Naipaul. I maintain a healthy general interest in postwar British literature and the novel in general. In 2007 Northcote House published my book J. G. Farrell, which concerns one of my favourite novelists, while in 2014 Bloomsbury published my co-edited collection The 1970s: A Decade of Contemporary British Fiction which includes my essay on Black British writing in the seventies.
I'm on the editorial boards of a number of important journals in postcolonial studies – Moving Worlds, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, New Literatures Review, Journal of Commonwealth Literature - and I've guest-edited two issues of Kunapipi (XXI, 2, 1999, and XXV, 1, 2003).
My current research activities concern migration and mobility amid the prohibitions of twenty-first-century globality, with a particular focus on transcultural adoptees, elite sporting figures and documented migrants in world cities. I was recently awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship to support this research.
I've supervised PhD theses on a wealth of topics - race and anti-racism, recent representations of slavery, Caribbean literature, South Asian cities, EM Forster's postcolonial legacies, representing refuge and asylum, black British cosmopolitanism, the ruin in Irish writing - and I've worked as a doctoral thesis examiner in the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Italy, Australia, Germany, Austria, Spain and Canada.
In January 2020 I delivered a keynote address concerning the literary aesthetics of trespassing at an international conference, Challenging Precarity: A Global Network, at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy.
In November 2019 I delivered an invited lecture, ‘Remembering the Postcolonial: Past Paradigms, Present Perceptions’, to staff and students at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
In November 2019 I gave a keynote address, ‘Writing the Trespasser’, at the 43rd AEDEN conference at the University of Alicante, Spain.
From March-April 2019 I was honoured to be an invited Visiting Researcher at the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
In March 2019 I gave a research presentation on 'postcolonial reading' to staff and students at Aarhus University, Denmark.
In December 2018 I was honoured to deliver a research presentation titled 'Adoptive Being and Postcolonial Writing' and lead a research symposium based on my book Life Lines at the Free University of Berlin, Germany.
In November 2018 I gave an invited paper titled 'Reading Postmigration in Black Writing of Britain' at an international conference, The Postmigrant Condition: Art, Culture and Politics in Contemporary Europe, at the University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.
In October 2018 I participated in latest biennual conference of the Alliance for the Study of Adoption and Culture, titled 'Formations: Thinking Through Adoption', at the Oakland Asian Cultural Centre and Oakstop, Oakland, California, USA.
In June 2018 I lectured on transcultural adoption writing at the University of Vienna, Austria.
In May 2018 I presented a research paper on my work on adoption studies at the University of the Sorbonne, Paris, France.
In April 2018 I was pleased to join an invited roundtable discussion about migration and cities at an international conference, Migrant Narratives and the City, held at Central European University, Hungary.
In March 2018 I was honoured to give an invited keynote address titled 'Black British Writers and Transracial Adoption' at the international conference 'On Whose Terms?': Critical Negotiations in Black British Literature and the Arts at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK.
In March 2018 I was invited to speak at a symposium on the work of Caryl Phillips held by the University of East Anglia, UK, at the Writers' Centre Norwich.
In January 2018 I was invited to present my research on transcultural adoption and postcolonial writing to the staff and students at St Mary’s University, Nova Scotia, Canada.