“Looking for Language in the Ruins” JJJJJerome Ellis, Saidiya Hartman, and Erica Hunt: Performance, Readings, Conversation, and Q&A

September 29, 2020 - 6:00pm

Co-sponsored by the Department of English, The Humanities Center, The Year of Creativity (2019/20), the Center for Creativity, the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series, and the Office of the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies.

Composer, poet, and performer JJJJJerome Ellis’ work explores blackness, dysfluency, and music as “forces structured by, and that rearrange, time.” Conventional notions of time and time-limits, says Ellis, “assume that people have relatively equal access to time through their speech.” Saidiya Hartman’s innovative cultural histories investigate the precarity of black life as she tells the stories of the “unknown, the dispossessed, the disposable.” Using a mode she invented called, “critical fabulation,” Hartman creates the space for a new kind of knowing. Erica Hunt’s poetry and prose make starkly present “the polarization of the world,” and how the quotidian language, the language of the state and the media shrink our imaginations. What can save us? Hunt’s case, writing on the edge of language, or from the corner of the eye, provides an urgent other knowing from the cracks in America’s broken rhetoric.


JJJJJerome Ellis is a stuttering, Afro-Caribbean composer, performer, and writer. His current practice explores blackness, music, and disabled speech as forces of refusal and healing. Ellis’ work has been heard at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, Sotheby’s, Soho Red, and on NPR’s This American Life. He’s a 2019 MacDowell Colony Fellow, a writer-in-residence at Lincoln Center Theater, and a 2015 Fulbright Fellow. Jerome collaborates with James Harrison Monaco as James & Jerome. Their recent work explores themes of border crossing and translation through music-driven narratives. They have received commissions from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Ars Nova.


Saidiya Hartman is the author of Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (Oxford, 1997); Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007) and Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (Norton, 2019), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, the Mary Nickliss Prize for U.S. Women’s and Gender History from the Organization of American Historians, and the Judy Grahn Prize for Lesbian Nonfiction.  She is currently at work on a new book project, N Folio: An Essay on Narrative and the Archive.  She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2019, and has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library, a Fulbright Scholar in Ghana, a Whitney Oates Fellow at Princeton University, and a Critical Inquiry Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago. She received her B.A. from Wesleyan University and her Ph.D. from Yale. She is Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Gender Studies at Columbia University. 


Erica Hunt is a poet, essayist, and author of six collections of poetry, the latest being Veronica: A Suite in X Parts from selva oscura press. Jump the Clock: New and Selected Poems is forthcoming from Nightboat Books in 2020. She works at the forefront of experimental poetry and poetics, critical race theory, and feminist aesthetics. Other publications include: Arcade, with artist Alison Saar, Piece Logic, and Local History. She is co-editor with Dawn Lundy Martin of Letters to the Future: Black Women/Radical Writing (Kore Press, 2018). Her essays include the widely-circulated and influential text, “Notes for an Oppositional Poetics” (The Politics of Poetic Form, ed. Charles Bernstein) and “Parabolay” (boundary 2).  Hunt has also worked as a housing organizer, radio producer, and program officer for a social justice campaign. For many years, she was Executive Director of The Twenty-First Century Foundation which supports organizations addressing root causes of social injustice impacting the Black community. She is currently the Bonderman Visiting Professor in Literary Arts at Brown University.

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