“i am my ancestors’ wildest dreams”
contemporary cultures of black impossibility
The Black impossible is a rich site of inquiry: it’s Sandra Bland not being pulled over for failing to signal; Emmett Till living to his 80s; Eric Garner breathing. But, the Black impossible also gives us this: the Haitian Revolution and the Nat Turner rebellion; Black Twitter, #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy; Insecure, Underground, Black Panther, and Get Out.
The Black impossible is at once about continuing to live and resist in the face of the debilitating policies of modernity (impossible to do, but nevertheless done), yet also about the seeming impossibility of ever just living. The Black impossible draws together modes of cultural responses to the ethos of life and living in the face of practices of discipline and death. On the fiftieth anniversary of Black Studies, it asks us to bring together the critical methodologies and creative practices of Black Study to bear on the now and the future.
How has contemporary Black culture responded to, resisted, and existed in the face of this tension? What do we make of the visual, sonic, material, and digital cultures (to name a few) of the now? How do the realities of culture manifest themselves through and as political behavior? How do we turn to cultural productions as sites of life and living? How do we define the impossible?
The second biannual conference of the African American Studies Department at Princeton University will explore the contemporary cultures of the Black impossible. This conference seeks to bring together intellectuals, artists, and organizers working across many different disciplines, mediums, and movements that speak to the cultures and the impossibility of Black life in the U.S. and abroad.
We invite graduate students working in the humanities and social sciences, artists, political prisoners, organizers and intellectuals (broadly conceived) to submit papers on topics including – but not limited to – cultures of the black impossible, and:
→ narrative & literature
→ material cultures
→ Black politics
→ gender & sexuality
→ visual cultures (mass media, art, etc.)
→ capitalism, neoliberalism, & economic inequality
→ philosophy & critical theory
→ grass-roots organizing
→ Black love
→ the carceral state
→ the (new) Black radical tradition
→ digital cultures (social media, video games, etc.)
→ mourning practices
→ religion & spirituality
→ Black institutions (the Black church, etc)
→ Black counter-publics
→ speculative futures
Please submit an abstract of no more than 400 words, a short biographical description, and your contact information by June 1st, 2018. Proposals and questions should be sent to conference organizers Kimberly Bain and Chaya Crowder at email@example.com.
Please circulate widely.
October 18-20, 2018
The 2018 James Baldwin Lecture will be held Thursday, April 12th at 4:30 p.m. in McCormick 101 and is entitled, “The Dramatist’s Call to Action: Realizing the Provocative Prescience of James Baldwin and María Irene Fornés.” This event is free and open to the public.
María Irene Fornés (b. 1930, Havana, Cuba) is among the most influential American theater-makers of the twentieth century. A defining force within the off-off-Broadway movement of the 1960s and 1970s (and nine-time Obie Award winner), Fornés — as playwright, director, designer and teacher — became a guiding presence for emerging theater artists of the 1980s and 1990s, especially those invested in staging feminist, queer and latinx aesthetics and experiences. Fornés’ experiments in theatrical form and her transformative teaching techniques continue to challenge and inspire new generations of theater-makers today. Even so, the living legacy of María Irene Fornés remains remarkably under-acknowledged among contemporary theater artists, students and scholars.
Thursday’s lecture is given in conjunction with a constellation of events being held at Princeton, and around the country, occurring in April 2018 to honor the work of María Irene Fornés. (More information: arts.princeton.edu)
PIIRS Global Seminars are held over six weeks in June, July and August. Since the program was launched in 2007 by PIIRS in collaboration with the Office of International Programs, more than 800 students have taken part in 56 Global Seminars in Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Europe, the Near East and South America. Participating students earn credits for one University course.
Learn more about Global Seminars and apply to “Japan and Black America.” The application deadline is Feb. 13, 2018.
Read the full story at piirs.princeton.edu.
This year’s ceremony took place November 18, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.
Upon receiving the award, Professor Wendy Laura Belcher stated, “Almost three hundred and fifty years ago, a young monk was urged by his community to write the story of their extraordinary founder. He protested, saying he was too inexperienced to write a whole book, a feeling many of us know. But he did do it because he wanted word of this amazing woman to ‘spread around the world.’ I’m happy to have been a little part of making his dream come true.”
The book is the first English translation of the earliest known book-length biography of an African woman. It was written by Ethiopians for Ethiopians in an Ethiopian language in 1672 about a seventeenth-century Ethiopian saint named Walatta Petros. She was an Ethiopian religious leader who lived from 1592 to 1642 and lead a nonviolent struggle against the Jesuits’ mission to convert Ethiopian Christians to Roman Catholicism.
Eligible for consideration are editions of primary source materials dealing with the history, literature, and other aspects of the cultures of Africa, whether in African or European languages, whether from oral or written traditions, and whether the text is published for the first time or in a new edition. Books, digital resources and databases that meet these criteria are all eligible for consideration. Evaluation for the Paul Hair Text Prize is based on the importance of the text, the presentation of the text and the critical apparatus, and the utility of the work as a whole for scholars and teachers of Africa. Works edited by a single individual or jointly edited by more than one author are eligible for consideration. Anthologies with separate contributions by different authors, children’s books, and straightforward texts are not eligible. The minimum length is 10,000 words, excluding the apparatus.
In 2005, David Henige provided an initial investment to permit a modest cash award to accompany the prize. The cash prize amount is $300. In the event that there are co-winners for an award/prize that carries a cash payment, the payment will be equally divided amongst the co-winners. The ASA Board expressed support for creating a prize for editing primary texts relating to Africa at its meeting of November 1990. The Board approved the award following presentation of a report on processes for selecting potential winners, and it was presented for the first time in 1993.
The Paul Hair Prize Committee consists of three scholars identified by the Board.
History of Awards
2017: Galawdewos, The Life Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman, edited and translated by Wendy Laura Bulcher and Michael Kleiner (Princeton University Press, 2015)
2015: Paul Hair Prize Committee decided none of the nominated texts were of sufficient quality for an award
2013: Karin Barber, Print Culture and the First Yoruba Novel: I.B. Thomas’s ‘Life Story of Me, Segilola’ and Other Texts (Brill Publishers, 2012)
2011: Malyn Newitt, Treatise on the Rivers of Cuama (Tratado dos Rios de Cuama) by Antonio da Conceicao (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)
2009: Prize not awarded
2007: Mohamed Kassim and Alessandra Vianello, Servants of the Sharia: The Civil Register of the Qadi’s Court of Brava 1893-1900 2 Vols.: African Sources for African History 6.1-2 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006)
2005: P.F. de Moraes Farias, Arabic Medieval Inscriptions from the Republic of Mali: Epigraphy, Chronicales and Songhay-Tuareg History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
2003: C. de B. Webb (the late) and J.B. Wright, The James Stuart Archive, Volume 5 (University Of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2001)
2001: John Hunwick (ed. & trans), Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Sa’di’s Ta’rikh al-sudan down to 1613 and other Contemporary Documents, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1999)
1999: Jean Boyd and Beverly B. Mack (eds.), Collected Works of Nana Asma’u, Daughter of Usman Dan Fodio, (Michigan State University Press, 1997)
1997: James H. Vaughan and Anthony H.M. Kirk-Greene (edited & introduced by), The Diary of Hamman Yaji: Chronicle of a West African Muslim Ruler, (Bloomington and Indianapolis Indiana University Press, 1995)
1995: Percy Coriat, Governing the Nuer: Documents in Nuer History and Ethnography, 1922-1931, Douglas H. Johnson (ed.), (Oxford: JASO, 1993)
1993: Paul Hair, Adam Jones, Robin Law (eds. & annotators), Jean Barbot, Guinea: The Writings of Jean Barbot on West Africa, 1678-1712, ( Hakluyt Society)
Symposium participants included:
Tera W. Hunter
Professor in the Departments of History and African American Studies at Princeton University
Robin D.G. Kelley
Gary B. Nash Processor of U.S. History at UCLA
Alice Griffin Professor of Literary Studies and director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia
Filmmaker and artist
Writer, performer and director
Erica Armstrong Dunbar
Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University
Singer and actress
Assistant Professor of Women, Gender & Sexuality at the University of Virginia
Justene Hill Edwards
Assistant Professor in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia
Kali Nicole Gross
Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of History at Rutgers University
Crystal N. Feimster
Associate Professor in the Department of African American Studies, the American Studies Program and History Department at Yale University
Associate Professor in the Departments of Gender Studies and African American Studies at UCLA
Lisa Smith Discovery Associate Professor in African and African-American Studies at the University of Virginia
Jennifer Dominique Jones
LSA Collegiate Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan in the Department of History
Amrita Chakrabarti Myers
Ruth N. Halls Associate Professor of History and Gender Studies at Indiana University
Professor History at California State University, Sacramento
Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Jessie B. Ramey
Founding Director of the Women’s Institute at Chatham University and Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies
Read the full story at Princeton.edu/news.
Read the full story at Princeton.edu/news.
Dr. Elizabeth Alexander will deliver the keynote address for the conference on Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. in McCosh Hall, Room 50. Alexander, the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University is an accomplished poet, essayist, playwright and scholar. She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, a founding member of Cave Canem, and former Chair of the African American Studies Department at Yale University. In 2009, she became only the fourth poet to read her poetry at an American presidential inauguration.
Dr. Arnold Rampersad, scholar and biographer of Langston Hughes, will participate in a session with Dr. Wallace Best, chaired by Dr. Imani Perry, on Friday at 4:00 p.m. in McCosh Hall, Room 50. Rampersad, author of the biographies The Life of Langston Hughes (Oxford University Press, 2 vols, 1986, 1988) is Professor of English and the Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University. Rampersad edited The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes and Selected Letters of Langston Hughes (co-edited with the scholar David Roessel, who will also participate in the conference.) Rampersad served as the director of the Program in African American Studies at Princeton from 1994-1997, while professor of Literature at Princeton.
Additional panelists include James T. Campbell of Stanford University who will offer the conference comment; Randal Maurice Jelks, University of Kansas; John Edgar Tidwell, University of Kansas; Farah Jasmine Griffin, Columbia University; Evie Shockley, Rutgers University; Herman Beavers, University of Pennslyvania; David Roessel, Stockton University; Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper, Spelman College; Vera Kutzinski, Vanderbilt University; Anne Anlin Cheng, Princeton University; David Chinitz, Loyola University Chicago; Steven Tracy, University of Massachussetts-Amherst; Christopher De Santis, Illinois State University; Josef Sorett, Columbia University; and scholar and documentarian Carmaletta Williams.
On Saturday evening, the conference will conclude with an evening of performances in Wallace Theater in the new Lewis Center for the Arts. Tatayania Robinson will perform Hughes’ “The Negro and the Racial Mountain,” Steven Tracy will perform musical renditions of Hughes, and poet laureate Tracy K. Smith of Princeton and Kevin Young, director of the Schomburg Center, will perform poetry.
Conference organizer Dr. Wallace Best writes, “Langston Hughes has long shaped people’s understanding of themselves and of the United States more broadly. His powerful written works have provided insight into our painful past and hope for a future beyond the ills that have plagued our society. He was the ‘Bard of Harlem’ and he remains America’s Bard.”
The forum is jointly sponsored by several Princeton University academic departments including the Department of African American Studies, the Department of Religion, Princeton University Public Lectures, the Department of Music at Princeton, the Lewis Center for the Arts, the Department of English, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Department of History, the Center for the Study of Religion, the University Center for Human Values, the Princeton University Humanities Council, the Davis International Center, and the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies.
The keynote address and selected panels will be recorded and may stream live.
Full details can be found at conference.aas.princeton.edu.
Ruha Benjamin, a faculty member since 2014, is a sociologist whose work examines the connections between science, technology, medicine, race and gender. She is known for her interdisciplinary scholarship and her dedication to mentoring students.
A colleague described Benjamin’s wide-ranging impact: “[Her] commitment to excellence in teaching has touched undergraduates, graduate students and the broader community. She is truly a remarkable teacher, and having her as a colleague inspires me to push a little deeper, give a little more, when I step into the classroom.”
Benjamin is highly regarded for her commitment to advising graduate students across departments. “Professor Benjamin has served as a mentor for graduate students within the African American studies certificate program and beyond,” noted a colleague. She was also the faculty convener of the African American studies graduate colloquium of 2015-16.
Undergraduate students cite Benjamin’s courses as formative in their education and personal development. One student commented, “Professor Benjamin’s enthusiasm, investment of time and energy, and thoughtful coordination of lectures and class activities made for a learning experience that not only inculcated important sociological principles, but also empowered me to use them in my daily life.”
Among her popular courses are “Black to the Future: Science, Fiction and Society” and “Race is Socially Constructed: Now What?” Students have described her lectures as “amazing,” “inspiring” and “nothing short of transformative.”
One student noted Benjamin’s lasting influence, “To this day, I still refer to her syllabi from the two classes I’ve taken with her.”
Another undergraduate said, “Professor Benjamin became a role model to me because of her intelligence, dedication to her students, interdisciplinary study, emphasis on community engagement, and encouragement to her students to begin imagining a better future for our country and the world.”
A committee of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and academic administrators selected the winners from nominations by students, faculty colleagues and alumni.
The awards were established in 1991 through a gift by Princeton alumni Lloyd Cotsen of the Class of 1950 and John Sherrerd of the Class of 1952 to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching by Princeton faculty members. Each winner receives a cash prize of $5,000, and their departments each receive $3,000 for the purchase of new books.