Dr. Iida Pöllänen and the Black Renaissance

Elliot SteevesStaff Writer

Iida Pöllänen delivered a lecture on the Black Renaissance and its Nordic Affiliations on March 9 from 7 to 9 p.m. in Cec Echoff Alumni Hall. Dr. Pöllänen has undertaken postdoctoral research concerning the connection of Black Modernism to the Nordic region according to the Gustavus website, true to the topic of the lecture.

The lecture concerned the Nordic region, which has been largely neglected by studies concerning the Black Renaissance and the Jim Crow era of segregation, according to the Gustavus website. The website also detailed that Pöllänen was concerned with the unexplored ways in which Nordic literature explored Black art and the ways in which products of that Renaissance were appropriated into a largely white cultural context in Europe.

After the lecture, there was a session involving snacks and a one-on-one opportunity to converse with Dr. Pöllänen. This took place in the Interpretive Center on March 10 from 2:30 to 4 p.m. The conversation was an opportunity for students to further engage with her and ask their own questions about the lecture. 

This lecture had been in the works since at least the Fall semester of 2022. Per Senior Amanda Nyakwada, Pöllänen was brought to Gustavus Adolphus College by longtime friend and connection Martha Ndakalako, an English Professor at Gustavus specializing in African literature and feminisms.

“She was friends with Martha, and they are very close,” Nyakwada said. “Martha just asked her to come in and talk about her research.” Indeed, both Ndakalako and Pöllänen hail from the University of Oregon, where they obtained their doctorates.

Nyakwada also had the opportunity to be on the planning committee alongside Ndakalako. This proved to be an extensive endeavor. Nyakwada discussed how she helped make Iida comfortable at Gustavus, and marketed and researched in preparation for the opportunity.

Nyakwada also discussed the specific areas in which Pöllänen’s lecture would resonate with the student body at Gustavus.

“I think that for Gustavus globally, there is an interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Nyakwada emphasized. “In perspective, it is about the black renaissance and the history of black people, and that is important for diversity and inclusion.”

Further, the angle that Pöllänen took was unique within the scope of the Black Renaissance itself.

“Most people think of the Harlem Renaissance,” Nyakwada pointed out where people’s minds generally go with the Black Renaissance. “[Pöllänen] is taking it from the Nordic perspective; this is a new perspective that people do not often consider.”

The connection proved to be fruitful not just for the opportunity to lecture, but for connection in the classroom. During her visit, Pöllänen took the opportunity to connect with three different classes in the English department: Ethnic Literature, Pan-African Poetry, and Writing Fiction.

Part of Pöllänen’s visit to classes was influenced by an overlap in coursework for these respective courses. As an example, the assigned reading in Writing Fiction was a transcript of a lecture that Pöllänen delivered on Race, Narrative, and Literary History. The article detailed a lot of Pöllänen’s broad research, in particular focusing on her work on colorblindness in modern literature.

Nyakwada also commented on the overlap in Ethnic Literature as a student in the course. The class covered Quicksand by Nella Larsen, a book that received focus from Pöllänen in her lecture. 

“[The book is about] a mixed race woman, Black and Danish, who is sort of figuring herself out…she is at an institution that should be uplifting Black students, but it is hypocritical”, Nyakwada commented.  

The sponsors for the event were the English department, the Division for Equity and Inclusion, the Scandinavian Studies department, the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies department, the Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies department, the History department, and the Comparative Literature department.

Pöllänen received her doctorate at the University of Oregon in RUHG, and also resided in the school’s Comparative Literature department. Her main areas of research, in addition to the material covered in the lecture, are English, Finnish, and Swedish prose, as well as Novel theories, according to the University of Oregon website.

Pöllänen has delivered additional lectures on topics in Modernist Literature. Per Ohio State, she served as a guest scholar in 2019 and delivered a lecture concerning Willa Cathar’s The Song Of The Lark in relation to immigration communities.

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