“The Sweetness that Survives the Slaughter” Aracelis Girmay & Zun Lee: Poetry Reading, Photography, Socially-Engaged Practice, Conversation, and Q&A

September 30, 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.

Moderated by Dawn Lundy Martin & Angie Cruz

How do we bridge the gap between individuals? Is there a redemptive beauty in the representation of a black body? Where in the image (linguistic and/or visual) does resistance/refusal lie? How do poetry and photographic images open up moments for intimacy? What is the relationship between the archetypal, the stereotypical, and what we create? Where is “blackness” located in diaspora: anchor or fissure, community or dispersal? How might we consider geographical space, traveling, the natural world, belonging, and displacement in our storytelling? Poet Aracelis Girmay, whose poems often serve a moral vision and enact both a generosity and a vulnerability calling forth a cross-continental history, joins photographer and social practice artist, Zun Lee, whose photographs and archives dynamically interact with the subjects on the other side of the lens, in the service of black resistance.


Aracelis Girmay holds a B.A. from Connecticut College and an M.F.A. from New York University. She is the author of three poetry collections, Teeth (Curbstone, 2007), Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions, 2011), for which she won the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award and which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Black Maria (BOA Editions, 2016). Her awards include a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a 2015 Whiting Award in Poetry. Girmay has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Jerome Foundation, the Watson Foundation, and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. Originally from Santa Ana, California, she lives in New York City.


Zun Lee is an award-winning visual artist, physician, and educator. He was born and raised in Germany and has also lived in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago. He currently divides his time between Toronto, ON and Charlotte, NC. Through lens-based storytelling, archival, and socially engaged practice, Lee investigates Black everyday life and family spaces as sites of intimacy, belonging, and insurgent possibility against cultural displacement and erasure.

Lee has exhibited, spoken, and taught at numerous institutions in North America and Europe. His works are widely published and represented in public and private collections around the world.

Selected honors and awards include: Guggenheim Fellow (2020), Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Practitioner in Residence (2019), Knight Foundation Grantee (2018), Ontario Arts Council Grantee (2018), Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts Grantee (2016), Magnum Foundation Fellow (2015), Photo District News Photo Annual Winner (2015), LOOK3 Educator (2015), Paris Photo/Aperture Photobook Awards Shortlist (2014), Photo District News’ 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch (2014).


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