Catching Up with Gabeba Baderoon

How did you first become interested in your specialty?

In August 1996, while I was a Research Fellow at the University of Cape Town, I was struck by a series of news stories in South African newspapers in which the visual and verbal imagery seemed to me highly distinctive. I kept a collection of clippings and eventually these became the basis for my PhD on images of Islam. In the course of my studies, I conducted archival research into colonial-era paintings, newspapers and popular cultures in South Africa, and read these in juxtaposition with contemporary literary representations of Islam. This trajectory of images across two centuries became the material for a theory about representations of slavery and Islam in South Africa.

What is the most exciting or fascinating part of your job?

I enjoy the reading and thinking as well as the discussion and exchange that an academic life involves. I love the smell of old books and newspapers in libraries and archives, and the possibility of original ideas that emerge from long hours in a quiet place.

What is your favorite aspect of working at Penn State?

I love the creativity that emerges from a university community. Working at Penn State with my colleagues and students feels like being exposed to a constant series of illuminating ideas and opportunities for creative collaborations.

Where do you see your field 10 years from now?

I hope we will have developed partnerships and cooperative relations with scholars in other parts of the world, especially in the Global South. For me, such pooling of intellectual and material resources will generate new and necessary ways of engaging with the world's challenges.

When you're not working, how do you spend your free time?

I love reading and visiting museums and galleries, which is also part of my work. Talking with friends over a home-cooked meal is my favorite way to spend an evening.

Selected Poems

  • I Cannot Myself
  • True
  • My Tongue Softens on the Other Name
  • Plant Glossary
  • The Dream in the Next Body
  • The Art of Leaving
  • War Triptych: Love, Silence, Glory

    woman with dark hair smiles

    Gabeba Baderoon

    Title: Assistant Professor of Women's Studies and African and African American Studies

    Primary research interests: Baderoon's research deals with images of race, gender, Islam and sexuality in Africa. She writes on literature, media, popular culture and art. In her Ph.D. she analyzed representations of Islam in South Africa from the period of slavery in the seventeenth century to the present. Two new projects deal with pilgrimage narratives in the Indian Ocean, and with images of sexuality in contemporary South African art.

    Recent publications include: "The five names of Tatamkhulu Afrika: Africanness, Europeanness, and Islam in a South African autobiography," which appeared in World Literature Today in January 2009 "The African Oceans: The Sea as Memory of Slavery in South Africa," which will appear in Research in African Literatures in November 2009.

    She has published three collections of poetry, and has written essays for art journals, catalogues and encyclopedias of art.

    Awards and Fellowships include: DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Poetry 2005 Guest Writer Fellowship at the Nordic Africa Institute in Sweden in 2005

    2008 Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship in Italy Writers Residency at the University of the Witwatersrand, funded by Trust Africa.

    You can contact Gabeba Baderoon here: E-mail:

    Last Updated November 03, 2009