Where in Oxford can we get a t-shirt with Dambudzo Marechera’s face on it? Sure, he didn’t graduate, and he did allegedly attempt arson at New College in the 1970s… But he is one of Oxford’s most talented and (in)famous author-alumni. Marechera deserves at least as much recognition as the fictional Harry Potter, who, unless I am mistaken, was never a student at the university, and yet is the subject of frequent tours around the city and colleges. The author of The House of Hunger is not alone amongst the numbers of those writers who walked the streets of Oxford as student, staff or local, and yet, as one respondent commented: ‘No one ever talks about them!’
Well now we do. Uncomfortable Oxford is launching a new tour - the Uncomfortable Literary Tour, which will feature in the 2019 Festival of Science and Ideas. This new tour is intended to challenge assumptions about Oxford’s literary heritage and profile, while highlighting conversations about access, reputation, privilege, and gendered academic disciplines. What might happen if visitors were encouraged to see beyond the mythologies and narratives of Tolkien, CS Lewis and Inspector Morse’s Oxford? Without erasing these figures of Oxford’s literary heritage, it is time to raise up some others alongside them. After all, whose stories matter, if not our own?
Stories are how we make sense of our lives. We all use narrative to describe our emotions, our experiences, our fears, and our hopes. Using language, and our capacity as human beings to self-identify through language, we make sense of our world and the world as others experience it. But some stories go untold, or unheard. Sometimes this is because a grander narrative is at play. Sometimes this is because the person speaking is in the minority. Sometimes it’s because what a person has to say is difficult to hear, and possibly hard to accept.