Longer Bio

LONGER BIO: Dr. SA Smythe (they / them) is an artist, educator, and critical theorist committed to black belonging beyond all borders and studying how archives of otherwise possibility come to be narrated, realised, and remembered. Smythe’s intervention and commitment to deepening the Black Radical Tradition agitates across black cultural studies, trans poetics, literary criticism, postcolonial historiography, contemporary Mediterranean studies, queer and trans feminist studies, and critical human geography. Their primary research is on 20th and 21st century literature and other cultural responses to racism, misogyny, colonialism, and other relational aspects of inequality and oppression between Europe (in particular, Italy), East Africa, and the Mediterranean. They are also invested in black trans poiesis (that is, both poetics and the philosophy of creation/creativity in relation to black trans theory, reading praxis, and embodiment) as practitioner and theorist. In July 2022, Dr. Smythe joined the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information (iSchool) as Assistant Professor of Black Studies and the Archive. They are also a Senior Fellow at the Center for Applied Transgender Studies based in Chicago, IL.

Smythe recently edited Troubling the Grounds: Global Configurations of Blackness, Nativism, and Indigeneity (2021), a special issue of Postmodern Culture, and is working on several book-length projects. The first is a forthcoming monograph provisionally titled Where Blackness Meets the Sea: On Crisis, Culture, and the Black Mediterranean. This is a transdisciplinary study of black Italian, migrant, and postcolonial cultural production that addressed racialised notions of citizenship and belonging in the wake of self-initiated “crises” of migration and the attendant levels of dispossession in the Mediterranean. The second is a collection of poetry and accompanying sound art performance, titled proclivity, which focuses on a familial history of black migration (between Britain, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Italy), trans embodiment, and emancipation. The third is Transnational Black Studies, an edited volume dedicated to global encounters and fissures between black studies and modern languages. Smythe work has appeared in several academic venues including Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black InternationalTSQMiddle East ReportNational Political Science Review, Forum for Modern Language Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies JournalPostcolonial Studies, gender/sexuality/italy, and elsewhere, including several forthcoming chapters in edited volumes and encyclopedias.

Smythe’s artistic practice is primarily poetry and performance-based, an ode to black poiesis that is grounded by black feminist, trans, and other political theories of survival and liberation. Smythe integrates (visual and text-based) poetry, light and sound sculptures, live-looping, photography, found footage and archival ephemera to choreograph cartographies of black belonging and to witness the thrival of all our relations beyond every border. Their public and artistic engagement has been featured in The Feminist Wire, okayafrica, contemp(t)orary, Johannesburg Salon, Critical Contemporary Journal, and elsewhere, including several anthologies and edited volumes. They have performed or exhibited their work internationally at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery and Art Gallery of York University (Toronto), Kampnagel (Germany), Scuderie del Quirinale (Rome), the Berkeley Arts Center (California), Centro nazionale di produzione Virgilio Sieni (CANGO, Florence), GXRLSCHOOL (Los Angeles), Polo del ‘900 (Turin), as a member of the Dark Matter Cypher in collaboration with Ni’Ja Whitson (Fathomers/CAAM), Mattatoio (Rome), as a headliner for the Africa Writes Literary Festival (London) and elsewhere in collaborative and solo projects, installations, and festivals.

Prior to joining the University of Toronto, Dr. SA Smythe worked as an assistant professor of Black European Cultural Studies, Contemporary Mediterranean Studies, and Black Trans Poetics in the Departments of Gender Studies and African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Smythe is an editorial advisory board member of MF! Momentary Futures in Black Studies (UT Austin), Imagining Black Europe (Peter Lang), and punctum books. They are network co-editor of H-Black Europe and the founder and former advisory board member of the Queer Studies Caucus of the American Association for Italian Studies (AAIS), and former publishing editor of the (now defunct) trans literary journal THEM. Smythe is the recipient of the 2022 Rome Prize for Modern Italian Studies at the American Academy in Rome. They are a former UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Gender & Sexuality Studies (2017-18) and Anthropology (2018-19) at UC Irvine. They were a co-investigator of the British Arts & Humanities Research Council network grant “Queer Italia,” along with Charlotte Ross (PI) and senior researcher Julia Heim (2016-18). Smythe was also formerly an Academic Fellow in the Department of Black Studies at UC Santa Barbara, a Visiting Researcher in the Faculty of Modern and Mediaeval Languages at the University of Cambridge, and a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Modern Language Research at the University of London’s School of Advanced Studies in the Centres for Cultural Memory (CCM) and Contemporary Women’s Writing (CCWW). Their Master’s (with Distinction) and PhD are from UC Santa Cruz’s History of Consciousness Department with graduate concentrations in Literature and Feminist Studies. They previously studied Russian, Linguistics, and Italian (Honours) at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center and Queens College; Italian Studies and Gender & Women’s Studies as a Research Fellow at UC Berkeley; and Semiotics at the Università di Bologna in Italy.

Smythe has organised within QTBIPOC feminist and abolitionist writing collectives and migrant support groups between NYC, the San Francisco Bay Area, London, Berlin, and Los Angeles, and as a founding coordinating committee member of Cops Off Campus (in the UCFTP faculty contingent across California and in the larger coalition, COCC across Turtle Island). Smythe’s meditations on black genders, loss, belonging, and aberrance manifest most clearly in their poetry and performance art, which they’ve exhibited on stage and in writing in/across English, Italian, Spanish, and choreographed soundscapes/compositions. They are also a translator and editor of academic and literary texts across several languages. SA really enjoys violin lessons at their local conservatory, baking scones, reading poetry, knitting, and cultivating home. While classic films featuring Chaplin, Dietrich, Mastroianni, or Poitier are some favourites to watch, nothing beats anything at all starring Dame Angela Lansbury, especially Mame (1966) and Murder, She Wrote, a show to which SA is unironically devoted and willing to re-watch until the end of time, period.