intimacy · race · southern history

intimacies conference a success

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Panelists gather for a group photo after the closing keynote address.

Just returned home – and in a hurry so as to avoid the A-Day traffic – from the “Black/White Intimacies: Reimagining History, the South, and the Western Hemisphere” symposium in Hotel Capstone at the University of Alabama. It was so wonderful listening to scholars address the difficult issue of intimacy and race. The program is here. Trudier Harris, Andy Crank and Cassie Smith, my colleagues from the English Department, did an amazing job organizing this event with the help of their graduate students.

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Cassander Smith, Trudier Harris and Andy Crank, UA intimacies conference organizers.
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Trudier Harris with former student E. Patrick Johnson and Cornelius Carter, Professor of Dance, University of Alabama.

One highlight was hearing E. Patrick Johnson, Chair of the African American Studies Department at Northwestern University and one of Trudier’s former students, at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, present a monologue invoking his meditations on what it means to be black, queer and Southern.

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E. Patrick Johnson, Chair of the African American Studies Department at Northwester, took us to church via his Friday evening performance.

I also was encouraged by many papers, among them one read by Amrita Chakrabarti Myers concerning her research on the intimate ties between antebellum Kentucky politician and Julia China. Her next research project poses amazing tensions with my own work as well as the work of UA History Chair Josh Rothman and historians Annette Gordon-Reed and Bernie Jones, among others. I first heard Myers present at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) conference in Pittsburgh a few years back when I was still in graduate school. Her book will be an incredible addition to a growing body of literature inviting attention to a difficult topic.

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Selfie with Amrita Chakrabarti Myers, Ruth N. Halls Associate Professor of history and Gender Studies, Indiana University. Myers’ upcoming monograph recovers the experiences of antebellum Kentucky statesman Richard Johnson, Julia Chin, a woman of African descent  and their two daughters.

Some of the scholars referenced the way in which cultural products permit us to see messy stories concerning race. Erich Nunn, Associate Professor of English at Auburn, directed us to country music star Willie Nelson’s friendship with hip hop performer Snoop Dogg.

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Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg

He gave me more than ample cues to stir things up a bit next fall as students in my “Bebop to Hip Hop: Young America and Music” course take up the issue of complex postwar narratives.

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Auburn Associate Professor of English Erich Nunn and UA’s Assistant Professor of English Andy Crank on the Quad. Best dressed that day, believe it.
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Amy K. King, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Literature, Media, and Communication, Georgia Institute of Technology addressed the violence in the 2013 motion pictures “12 Years A Slave” and “Hoe Duur Was de Suiker.”

The event ended with Rebecca Wanzo, Associate Professor, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Associate Director, Center for the Humanities, Washington University, St. Louis, who brought back memories of my late grandmother, a domestic worker, via her closing address on the politics of books and films that situate black-white relations within the context of “the help.” I was reminded of the way in which I use the 1994  motion picture “Corrina, Corrina” in my “Bebop to Hip Hop: Young America and Music” class to push student thinking on the impossibilities of a postwar black woman writing liner notes  on jazz albums during the bebop period. Corrina, a black maid/nanny (Whoopi Goldeberg), shares her dream of wanting to do just that. See clip below for context.

It was great seeing UA colleagues Merinda Simmons and Hilary Green at the symposium. I look forward to more conversations about the topic of intimacies across the color line in the days and years ahead.

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