“Racial Representations” — Symposium Highlights

Racial Representations panelists / photo by Chelsea Bullock.

Racial Representations panelists / photo by Chelsea Bullock.

Students, faculty and community members enjoyed a full day of literary readings and commentary on race at the University of Oregon on April 26, 2013, when a group of innovative scholars who specialize in African American literature gathered to share and discuss their research. “Racial Representations: African American Literature since 1975,” was organized by Courtney Thorsson, UO assistant professor of English.

The morning panel, moderated by Professor Mark Whalan (UO Department of English), focused on African American poetry. Anthony Reed, assistant professor of English and African American studies at Yale University, examined the science of mourning in contemporary African American poetry. His talk addressed the importance of community building and love as sites for intellectual work. Matt Sandler, who teaches literature in the UO Clark Honors College, addressed the reception of and use of metaphor in Will Alexander’s experimental poetry. In the final morning talk, Evie Shockley, associate professor of English at Rutgers University, used verse plays by Rita Dove and George Elliott Clarke to deconstruct the contemporary notion that we live in a “postrace” and “colorblind” society.

During the afternoon panel, Howard Rambsy, associate professor of literature at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, highlighted a golden age of inspiration for black men writers between 1977 and 1997. He examined the works of Kevin Young, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Colson Whitehead, and Aaron McGruder to argue for the role of “eclectic creative domains,” from horror movies and Star Wars to father-son relationship and hip hop in shaping the work of these writers. Erica Edwards, associate professor of English at the University of California, Riverside, analyzed Condoleezza Rice’s Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family and Nikky Finney’s poem “Concerto no. 7: condoleezza {working out} at the watergate” as a lens for discussing the “racial commonsense of counterterror in African American literature after 9/11.”

The day concluded with two author readings. Evie Shockley returned to the podium to share poems from her award-winning volume the new black (2011) as well as several new pieces. In speech and song, Shockley’s reading displayed the lyricism and musicality of her poetry. Her poems engaged the day’s conversations asking how race looks depending on where you “enter the stream of history.” David Bradley, associate professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon, shared a self-proclaimed “diatribe” against the NAACP’s burial of the n-word in a provocative and powerful piece of creative nonfiction. He also read selections from a new work that highlighted the extraordinary and complex jazz of Miles Davis.

Howard Rambsy’s blog: http://www.siueblackstudies.com/2013/02/a-golden-age-of-inspiration-for-black.html

Video from “Racial Representations” available at: http://media.uoregon.edu/channel/?s=racial+representations&x=21&y=16

UO Today conversation with poet and scholar Evie Shockley and Paul Peppis available at: http://media.uoregon.edu/channel/2013/05/15/uo-today-545-evie-shockley/