Dr. Asha Varadharajan

613 533 6000 extension 74420
Watson 433

“One must have tradition in oneself, to hate it properly." - T. W. Adorno

Biographical Assemblage

“Asha’s insistence on explaining the inspiration or the impact of a particular theory as well as her own irreverent reactions to the works invigorated my own understanding and memory of them." - Ruth Emode, undergraduate student


2017/18 Courses

Curricular Innovation

During my career at Queen's, I have developed several courses to enhnace and unsettle the English department's offerings.

1. “The Souls of Black Folk": African American Literature and Culture

This course takes a multi-faceted approach to African American literature and culture in order to define a “black aesthetic” in all its complexity and contradiction. Teasing out the interplay of tradition and innovation in African American culture, we study slave narratives, poetry, drama, fiction, spirituals, jazz, blues, rap, hip hop, art (including performance pieces), folk tales such as Brer Rabbit and Tar Baby, film, and humour (including minstrelsy). We pay particular attention to historical contexts, political movements, and economic factors that determine and inflect cultural expression, and, wherever appropriate, we examine critical and philosophical interventions on the question of race, miscegenation, passing, and sexuality, as well as “white” representations of blackness that “black" artists reformulate. In our study of African American rhetoric and expression, we also pay particular attention to what Geneva Smitherman calls “black talk” and Henry Louis Gates calls “signifyin’”.

2. Selected Women Writers Post-1900

In A Room of One's Own(1929), Virginia Woolf wonders, “who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman's body?” This course introduces students to fiction, poetry, and drama by twentieth-century and twenty-first century women writers who have sought both to “measure” and to heal that division between poet’s heart and woman’s body. Focusing on aural, oral, visual, and digital cultural production by women as well as significant moments of collective struggle, we discuss

  • The global diversity of feminine Anglophone literary traditions across categories of genre, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, and geography.
  • Women writers’ adaptation and alteration masculine literary influences to both scandalous and sobering effect.
  • Perspectives on the radical social, economic, psychological, scientific and technological, and cultural transformations of the modern and contemporary world.

3. The Bard is Still with Us: The Cultural Hegemony of the Plays of William Shakespeare

The Bard is like the force in the many incarnations of Star Wars – always with us. This course addresses how and why Shakespeare is the only celebrity to have had so much more than his fair share of 15 minutes of fame. By reading Shakespearean works against their transnational cinematic, dramatic, and television performances, revisions, translations and adaptations, we ask two primary questions:

  • How and why do Shakespeare's poetry and plays continue to appeal to the imagination, traversing the divide between geographies and histories, and between elite and popular imaginations?
  • How and why does a continued investment in the cultural hegemony of Shakespeare matter?

In accord with scholarship that attends to permeable boundaries, transactions, and conversions between “voyagers’ and “others” in Shakespeare's “geography of difference”, we also examine texts by both Shakespeare and his contemporaries’ that speak to the dawn of English expansion to the Atlantic world.


Statement on Supervision

My sustained attention to scholarly self-fashioning rather than merely to the dissertation's race to the finish line has played no small part in the remarkable success of my graduate students and post-doctoral supervisees.

  • Several graduate students I have worked with have been nominated for the A.C. Hamilton Prize and have had their dissertations published as well-regarded monographs.
  • Almost all the students and postdoctoral fellows hold tenure-track positions or are otherwise gainfully employed in academic and non-academic jobs.
  • One won the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship.
  • I have supervised 16 doctoral candidates, 2 Master’s students, 4 postdoctoral fellows, and 3 Honors research students.

Past Areas

  • postcolonial studies broadly speaking with writing from Africa, the Caribbean, India, Pakistan, and Australia
  • diasporic and travel writing
  • American: 19thC, modernism, postmodern and contemporary, post 9/11
  • Canadian: "Africadian" Literatures
  • British: post-Thatcher contemporary fiction
  • Literary and Cultural Theory

Post-doctoral: Grey Owl, Imperial Boyhood, Arab Novel in English, Fetishism in Contemporary American fiction

Undergraduate and Master's: South African, Canadian, and Cambodian writing


cosmopolitanism — creolization — mourning and melancholia — "tripping" — love, nostalgia, and affect — nation and narration — crowds and processions — hardboiled detective fiction — the discourse of mental health — agape and emancipation — authorship in the age of terror — cynicism and modernity — the travails of whiteness

“Working with Asha is like being in a Charles Olson poem. She is “a high-energy construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge.” She does not abide conventional logical paths, and learning from her is more like venturing into an open field than following a map. One does not “receive guidance” but rather is encouraged to constellate—to put into conversation, to restring, often to redefine. It’s a heady experience–sometimes baffling, sometimes humbling, always exhilarating."

– Dr. Lindsey Banco, doctoral supervisee

“I seldom remember first day of class exercises, but it has been seven years since I first entered Asha Varadharajan’s postcolonial theory seminar, and over the years I have thought of that first day often. We responded to the text of “Strange Fruit” — I found the piece extraordinarily difficult, so I wrote about feeling unable to fully analyze the song’s text. I would return to recordings of it (Billie Holiday’s is my favourite) and think about the intellectual and ethical imperatives of scholarly analysis. Somewhere along the way, a poem emerged about it. But it is the process that Asha made so much space for that has stayed with me. Her class was an invitation to sit with the difficult — theory, literature, history, writing — and spend time, to make a companion of it.."

– Anna Thomas, undergraduate student