“Toni Morrisson: The Pieces I Am” opens Fall Controversy and Conversation series

The first Thursday of the month usually finds Controversy and Conversation meeting at the Terrazas branch of the Austin Public Library to watch and discuss a documentary film. This fall, however, we’re gathering virtually through Zoom to discuss films selected for our theme of “Racial and Social Justice.” The series began with “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” a powerful documentary about the life and work of the celebrated author. For our conversation, Dr. Helena Woodard shared her insight on Morrison’s work. Dr. Woodard’s expertise and passion guided an illuminating discussion.

In our virtual version of Controversy and Conversation, participants screen the film on their own, ahead of the discussion. The virtual format makes it possible for people outside of the Austin area to participate. One participant joined us from Australia!

On September 3, we’ll be discussing Ava DuVarney’s film, 13th. We hope you’ll join us, whatever part of the globe you’re on.

Provocative Works on Racial Injustice and Health Inequity from Recent HI Visitors

By Dr. Sarah Ropp, HI Difficult Dialogues Program Coordinator and Andrew W. Mellon Engaged Scholar Initiative Fellow

The Humanities Institute is privileged to welcome outstanding visiting scholars, performers, and activists to UT each year as part of various programs, including the Cline Centennial Professorship in the Humanities, the Distinguished Visiting Lecture Series, and the Difficult Dialogues Public Forums, among others. We have gathered together a few resources by recent visitors that speak to racial injustice and health inequities in a number of different formats, from books and articles to video and music.

Rita Charon, MD, PhD

In September 2016, the Humanities Institute welcomed Rita Charon as its ninth C.L. and Henriette Cline Centennial Visiting Professor. Charon is Professor of Medicine and founder and Executive Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. Her Distinguished Public Lecture for the Humanities Institute, entitled “The Shock of Attention: Bodies, Stories, and Healing,” can be viewed at this link

Upcoming Event: On Thursday, July 16, 2020, at 1pm CDT, Charon will be participating in an online conversation hosted by the Modern Language Association entitled “Medicine, Narrative, Power, and Pandemic,” along with physician and fiction writer Aakriti Pandita. They will respond to the questions, “How can narrative and the humanities help us understand this pandemic? And how can they make medicine smarter, more equitable, and more effective?” Register for the event HERE.

Alondra Nelson, PhD

In 2018, Alondra Nelson delivered a Humanities Institute Symposium keynote lecture on her book The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome (Beacon Press, 2016) as part of the Distinguished Visiting Lecture Series. President of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and the Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, she has produced a number of recent works that speak to intersections between race, social inequality, health care, and activism:

Article: In “Society after Pandemic,” Nelson asks, “How do the social conditions exposed, exacerbated, and created by the novel coronavirus demand that we substantively rethink our ideas of society and, therefore, some of the prevailing assumptions of social science?” This is the inaugural essay in the SSRC’s “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series.

Teaching resource: The #coronavirussyllabus is an open-access, living list of texts for teaching about Covid-19 in social, historical, and political context, from scholarly books and articles, to music, visual art, and film, to podcasts and videos. Nelson initiated this crowdsourcing effort with the Twitter hashtag #coronavirussyllabus, inviting contributions from around the globe and across a wide variety of disciplines.  

Video: Recently, Nelson participated in a virtual roundtable hosted by the Modern Language Association entitled “Is Higher Education Learning from the Pandemic?” along with Cathy N. Davidson and Christopher Newfield. 

Book: Nelson’s contributions to scholarship on health equity and racial justice date to at least 2011, when she published her first book, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination (University of Minnesota Press), which argues, “The Black Panther Party’s understanding of health as a basic human right and its engagement with the social implications of genetics anticipated current debates about the politics of health and race.”  

(Photo credit: Daniel Cavazos)

Eric Klinenberg, PhD

In fall 2018, Eric Klinenberg was the featured speaker for a Difficult Dialogues Public Forum on “Climate Change, Social Infrastructure, and Inequality,” hosted by the Humanities Institute and Planet Texas 2050. Klinenberg is Helen Gould Shepard Professor of Social Science and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. Klinenberg’s work explores the failures of social infrastructure in moments of crisis, especially for historically neglected populations.

Video: “The Chicago Heat Wave, 20 Years Later” is a talk given by Klinenberg at the 2015 Chicago Humanities Festival that picks up the ideas presented in his 2002 book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (University of Chicago Press). In this book, the publisher writes, “Klinenberg uncovers how a number of surprising and unsettling forms of social breakdown—including the literal and social isolation of seniors, the institutional abandonment of poor neighborhoods, and the retrenchment of public assistance programs—contributed to the high fatality rates” of the record-breaking 1995 Chicago heat wave. 

Book: In Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life (Penguin Random House, 2018), Klinenberg argues that “the future of democratic societies rests not simply on shared values but on shared spaces: the libraries, childcare centers, churches, and parks where crucial connections are formed.”

Article: “Worry Less about Crumbling Roads, More about Crumbling Libraries,” a September 2018 Atlantic article, presents Klinenberg’s basic thesis for Palaces of the People

(Photo credit: Daniel Cavazos)

Martha Redbone 

The Humanities Institute, in partnership with Native American and Indigenous Studies and Texas Performing Arts, was honored to host Martha Redbone for a fall 2019 Difficult Dialogues Public Forum entitled “Indigeneity, the Land, and Storytelling” along with Angelo Baca and Anne Lewis. Redbone is a Native and African American multi-award-winning musician and storyteller celebrated for her roots music embodying the folk, indigenous, and mountain blues sounds of her childhood in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. 

Theater: This clip presents “Caught My Eye,” a song from Bone Hill, Redbone’s interdisciplinary theater work, which premiered in 2015 at Joe’s Pub in New York City (Redbone also presented Bone Hill: The Concert at Bass Concert Hall in February 2020.) Redbone explains, “Bone Hill is the true account of my ancestors, of post-slavery, and people of color working in the coal mines of Appalachia amid the laws of Jim Crow and our survival as the original people of that land as the world changes around us through the generations.” 

Album: Redbone’s most recent album is Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake. Of the album, Anastasia Tsioulcas of NPR writes, “Martha Redbone’s music chronicles the crossroads of the American experience. Born in Kentucky and of Cherokee, Choctaw and African American descent, Redbone combines folk, Appalachian, soul and Native tradition in a group of settings of poetry by William Blake – a startling idea, perhaps, but one that brims with potency and freshness.” 

“On Another’s Sorrow” is a song from the album that resonates particularly deeply at the current moment, asking: “Can I see another’s war and not be in sorrow too?”

“How Sweet I Roamed” is another song from the album that, Redbone writes, could have been the prelude to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” 

Other Songs: Redbone performs her version of “Drums,” originally written by Peter La Farge, at the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The song is a testament to the violence of forced removal and state “education” and is a part of the permanent collection at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. “You may teach us of this country’s history,” the song goes, “but we taught it to you first.” 

Redbone performs the slave spiritual “No More Auction Block” in 2017 in the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Howard Gilman Opera House in association with Voices of a People’s History of the United States.  

Three HI Affiliates Featured in Latest Issue of “Life and Letters”

In the latest issue of Life and Letters, several faculty from the College of Liberal Arts offer their perspectives on “Rebooting Our Lives After COVID-19.” Among the faculty included are two of our Difficult Dialogues professors: Robert Crosnoe, Associate Dean of Liberal Arts and Professor of Sociology, whose Difficult Dialogues course is called “Race and Policy in the U.S.,” and Ken-Hou Lin, Associate Professor of Sociology, who teaches “Two to Tango: The Sociology of Interpersonal Relationships” for the program. Another faculty member who contributed to the article, Heather Houser, Associate Professor of English, is collaborating with the Humanities Institute on our new theme, The Humanities in the Environment/The Environment in the Humanities.

Two Poems by Langston Hughes

Harlem (1951)
by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

 

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

 

Or does it explode?

 

Let America Be America Again (1935)
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.

Let it be the dream it used to be.

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

Seeking a home where he himself is free.

 

(America never was America to me.)

 

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—

Let it be that great strong land of love

Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme

That any man be crushed by one above.

 

(It never was America to me.)

 

O, let my land be a land where Liberty

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

But opportunity is real, and life is free,

Equality is in the air we breathe.

 

(There’s never been equality for me,

Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

 

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?

And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

 

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,

I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.

I am the red man driven from the land,

I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—

And finding only the same old stupid plan

Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

 

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,

Tangled in that ancient endless chain

Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!

Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!

Of work the men! Of take the pay!

Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

 

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.

I am the worker sold to the machine.

I am the Negro, servant to you all.

I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—

Hungry yet today despite the dream.

Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!

I am the man who never got ahead,

The poorest worker bartered through the years.

 

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream

In the Old World while still a serf of kings,

Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,

That even yet its mighty daring sings

In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned

That’s made America the land it has become.

O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas

In search of what I meant to be my home—

For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,

And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,

And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came

To build a “homeland of the free.”

 

The free?

 

Who said the free?  Not me?

Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?

The millions shot down when we strike?

The millions who have nothing for our pay?

For all the dreams we’ve dreamed

And all the songs we’ve sung

And all the hopes we’ve held

And all the flags we’ve hung,

The millions who have nothing for our pay—

Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

 

O, let America be America again—

The land that never has been yet—

And yet must be—the land where every man is free.

The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—

Who made America,

Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,

Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,

Must bring back our mighty dream again.

 

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—

The steel of freedom does not stain.

From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,

We must take back our land again,

America!

 

O, yes,

I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath—

America will be!

 

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,

The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,

We, the people, must redeem

The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.

The mountains and the endless plain—

All, all the stretch of these great green states—

And make America again!

 

 

Official Blog of the Humanities Institute at the University of Texas at Austin