African American writers have often given voice to those oppressed and/or marginalized. Many have done so while laboring in obscurity. However, over the years, the works of black authors have increasingly found a more receptive mainstream audience. We Tell Your Stories: Will You Preserve and Tell Ours? is a moderated discussion led by Jeffrey C. Stewart, author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke. Stewart is joined by a panel of critically acclaimed writers including Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory; Alice Randall, author of the newly released Black Bottom Saints; and Tracy K. Smith, the 22nd poet laureate of the United States. The panel provides thought provoking insights around diasporic identity, coping in an unjust world, attempts at suppression and the ability to thrive and survive. The discussion ends with a call to action to preserve the personal collections of African American and African diasporic writers. Following is a Q&A session with questions from The HistoryMakers ArtMakers Advisory Committee. Don’t miss this meaningful conversation on the past, present, and future of black literature.
This 90-minute program is scheduled to stream on YouTube at 12:00 noon EST on Monday, December 7, 2020 as the seventh installment of The HistoryMakers 20@2020: 20 Days and 20 Nights Convening and Celebration.
Jeffrey C. Stewart is a professor of Black Studies at UC Santa Barbara, since 2007, when he was hired as Chair of the Department of Black Studies, a position he served in until 2016. Jeffrey’s most recent book is The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, published by Oxford University Press, 2018. It is one of the few books of history that has won the 2018 National Book Award for Nonfiction and the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, among numerous other awards. Dr. Stewart received his B.A. in Philosophy with honors from UC Santa Cruz, and attended graduate school at Yale University, where he received a M.A., M. Phil. and Ph.D. in American Studies in 1979. He has held numerous fellowships, visiting professorships, and lectureships at Harvard University, Yale University, UCLA, Tufts University, Howard University, George Mason University, the University of Rome, and the Terra Foundation in Giverny, France. Dr. Stewart is also a curator, producing two major exhibitions with accompanying scholarly catalogues—To Color America: Portraits by Winold Reiss at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, and Paul Robeson: Artist and Citizen (1998), that originated at the Zimmerli Museum of Art at Rutgers University and toured nationally.
Alice Randall is the author of novels The Wind Done Gone, Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, Rebel Yell, and Ada’s Rules. As a Harvard undergraduate majoring in English she studied with Julia Child as well as Harry Levin, Alan Heimert, and Nathan Huggins. After graduation from Harvard University, Randall headed south to Music City where she founded Midsummer Music. She became the first black woman in history to write a number one country song. She has written with or published some of the greatest songwriters of the era including Steve Earle, Matraca Berg, Bobby Braddock, and Mark Sanders. Four novels later, the award winning songwriter with over twenty recorded songs to her credit is Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University and Faculty Head of Stambaugh House. Her core courses include courses on Country Lyric in American Culture, and Soul Food as text and in text. After twenty-four years, Randall has come to the conclusion motherhood is the most creative calling of all and health disparity is the dominant civil rights issue of the first quarter of the 21st century.
Edwidge Danticat is the author of several books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection, Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist, The Farming of Bones, The Dew Breaker, Create Dangerously, Claire of the Sea Light, and Everything Inside. She is also the editor of The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States, Best American Essays 2011, Haiti Noir and Haiti Noir 2. She has written seven books for children and young adults, Anacaona, Behind the Mountains, Eight Days, The Last Mapou, Mama’s Nightingale, Untwine, My Mommy Medicine, as well as a travel narrative, After the Dance. Her memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, was a 2007 finalist for the National Book Award and a 2008 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. She is a 2009 MacArthur fellow, a 2018 Ford Foundation “The Art of Change” fellow, and the winner of the 2018 Neustadt International Prize and the 2019 St. Louis Literary Award.
Tracy K. Smith is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former U.S. Poet Laureate (2017-2019). She earned a BA from Harvard University and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. From 1997 to 1999 she held a Stegner fellowship at Stanford University. Smith is the author of four books of poetry: The Body’s Question (2003), which won the Cave Canem prize for the best first book by an African-American poet; Duende (2007), winner of the James Laughlin Award and the Essense Literary Award; Life on Mars (2011), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Wade in the Water (2018). In 2014 she was awarded the Academy of American Poets fellowship. She has also written a memoir, Ordinary Light (2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction. In June 2017, Smith was named U.S. Poet Laureate. She teaches creative writing at Princeton University and hosts American Public Media’s daily radio program and podcast The Slowdown, which is sponsored by the Poetry Foundation.