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Harjo and Rankine spark conversations on inclusion

April 9, 2021 | Brandy Gottlieb |

Joy Harjo and Claudia Rankine

At the heels of the most recent outbreak of racial tensions in the US, UWF students and faculty members have been responding. Through scholarship, community conversations and academic inquiry, spaces have surfaced to propel the cultivation of critical thought and understanding. 

The efforts have been largely inspired by the works and virtual visits of two renowned poets, Joy Harjo, US Poet Laureate, and Claudia Rankine, nationally renowned poet and Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University

Inspired by the need to engage the broader community, UWF English instructor Scott Saterwhite moderated a series of community conversations around the fight for racial justice. The “Race and the Community: Past, Present, and Our Future” series welcomed leading voices from Pensacola's African-American community to explore these themes in the realms of art, activism, history and the media. The discussions served as a springboard for both Harjo and Rankine’s virtual visits.

“Be who you are, even if it kills you. It will. Over and over again. Even as you live.” Joy Harjo, An American Sunrise

In An American Sunrise, Harjo offers an investigation of how her personal life intertwines with tribal histories and her connections to the Mvskoke people. 

Harjo’s participation with the 2020 NEA Big Read served as the springboard for a community-wide read of her work, sponsored by the Pensacola Museum of Art. The community conversation, sponsored by the Experience UWF Downtown Lecture Series, welcomed more than 200 virtual participants on November 14, 2020.

“Perhaps the most insidious and least understood form of segregation is that of the word.” ― Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Her work inspired artistic and poetic interpretation, as well as critical inquiry among UWF students and faculty.  

February 4, Rankine visited with students and community members as part of the Experience UWF Downtown Lecture Series, in partnership with Kugelman Honors; and UWF Office of Equity and Diversity. Nearly 300 attendees tuned into the virtual evening lecture.  

Satterwhite moderated a student-focused critical masterclass with Rankine.

The events offered students and community members insight into Rankine’s text, while interacting with the poet. 

One hundred and twenty English and art students participated in common reads of Harjo and Rankine’s text. Students applied the texts in creative and scholarly rhetorical applications. They were invited to think critically in response to specific literary moments in the multi-faceted texts. Art, poetry and literature course assignments have fostered student exploration of the core values of decency and humanity. 

In response to Citizen: An American Lyric, Rankine’s text, “Citizens: Rhetoric, Response, Representation” will exhibit at the Pensacola Museum of Art, April 17- July 24, the Pensacola Museum of Art will exhibit student artwork. April 29th, the Pensacola Museum of Art, in partnership with the UWF Department of English and Department of Art and Design will host a virtual exhibition of art and poetry. 

Visit the UWF Event Calendar for more information.