Professor Tiffany Florvil, “Borderless and Brazen: May Ayim’s Internationalism”

Professor Tiffany N. Florvil, Associate Professor of 20th-century European Women’s and Gender History at the University of New Mexico, gave a public lecture on the life and legacy of Afro-German writer and activist May Ayim entitled, “Borderless and Brazen: May Ayim’s Internationalism.”

This lecture took place virtually on February 16, 2021 from 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm and was co-sponsored by the Center for German and European Studies, the African Studies Program, the Department of German, Nordic, & Slavic, and the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies. The lecture was introduced and organized by Venkat Mani, Professor in the Department of German Nordic & Slavic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as part of the Center for European Studies Spring 2021 Virtual Lecture Series and as a part of the Center for German and European Studies research project “The Undocumented Nation” led by Professors Venkat Mani and Weijia Li.

Using images of primary documents and contemporary photographs, Professor Florvil illustrated a picture not only of Ayim’s individual background and upbringing, but also provided context for the anti-Black racism present in interwar and post-war Europe. During the lecture, Professor Florvil narrated Ayim’s journey to becoming a politically engaged diasporic intersectional feminist activist, emphasizing the important role of Afro-German and transnational friendships and international outreach events in establishing and promoting the Black feminist movement of the 1980’s and 90’s.

In her lecture, Professor Florvil does not neglect the significance and power of Ayim’s writing, which Florvil describes as inseparable from her activism, “It was her poetry more so than her organizing that ultimately gave her international acclaim.” Ayim’s writing success earned her access to international intellectual circles and a greater platform from which to promote social change.  Although May Ayim led a short life, Professor Florvil’s lecture demonstrated the lasting impact of her words and of her organizing efforts.

The lecture was followed by a Q&A session moderated by Professor Mani.

To learn more about other significant figures in the Black German movement of the 1980s to the 2000s, read Professor Florvil’s most recent book, the groundbreaking Mobilizing Black Germany: Afro-German Women and the Making of a Transnational Movement (University of Illinois Press, 2020), which was awarded Black Perspectives Best Black History Book of 2020.

Watch the recording of this lecture in full below.