Black Artists and Thinkers Who Shaped the Last Century
As we remember and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years after his final speech and assassination, we also want to reflect on the monumental ways black artists and thinkers—some, such as Nina Simone, Bayard Rustin, and James Baldwin, featured throughout our season—have shaped the last century. We invited Sojourner Ahebee—a Stanford senior in African and African American studies, a fellow at the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, and a poet—to curate a retrospective of figures whose creative influence and ideas continue to be vital.
Angelina Weld Grimké
Angelina Weld Grimké (1880–1958) was an American journalist, teacher, and playwright whose play Rachel was commissioned by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as part of a grand anti-lynching campaign meant to protest the period’s rampant racial violence. Black women writers take on a particular political role as storytellers, as they were often the ones left behind to bear witness to and tell the story of predominantly male family members who were killed at the hands of the white lynch mob.
Ousmane Sembène (1923–2007) was a Senegalese filmmaker and writer whose life was heavily impacted by West Africa’s colonial and de-colonial period. Interested in issues of social change, economic oppression and corruption brought on by the colonial government, religion, and women’s rights and roles in his country’s shifting landscape, he manipulates the camera and the pen to transform the personal and the mundane into the utterly political.
James Baldwin (1924–1987) was an essayist, playwright, and novelist regarded as a highly insightful, iconic writer with works like The Fire Next Time and Another Country. Essays in his collection Notes of a Native Son examine complex issues of race, sexuality, and class in Western societies, particularly in the United States in the mid-20th century.
June Jordan (1936–2002), born to Jamaican immigrants in New York City, was a relentless dreamer. Over a career that produced 27 volumes of poems, essays, libretti, and work for children, Jordan engaged in the fundamental struggles of her era: civil rights, women’s rights, and sexual freedom.
Dr. Cornel West (b. 1953) is an American writer, public intellectual, philosopher, and social critic whose intellectual work is wholly committed to racial justice. Race Matters (1994), his most influential book, examines the impact of skin color in the United States.
Claudia Rankine (b. 1963) is an American poet, essayist, and playwright whose genre-defying work poignantly asks readers to reconsider their social commitments to one another. Her collection Citizen: An American Lyric struck a powerful chord throughout the United States, as it rigorously mapped a past, present, and future marked by racism, microaggressions, and the relentless question of American citizenship.
Thelma Golden (b. 1965) is director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, the world’s leading institution devoted to visual art by artists of African descent. Former president Barack Obama appointed Golden to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, on which she served from 2010–2016.
Katherine McKittrick is an assistant professor of women’s studies at Queen’s University. Her landmark publication Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle zeros in on places traversed and negotiated by black women during and after the transatlantic slave trade.
Dee Rees (b. 1977) is an American screenwriter and director whose major feature films include Pariah, Bessie, and Mudbound. Her work archives and stages some of the most prolific and undocumented moments of black existence.
Robin Coste Lewis
Robin Coste Lewis is an American poet whose stunning debut collection, Voyage of the Sable Venus, won the 2015 National Book Award. Mixing detailed research with narrative, autobiography, and art-historical constructs of racial identity, Lewis creates an archive of titles, catalog entries, and exhibit descriptions of objects in Western art that depict the black female form dating back from 38,000 BC to the present day.
Related Event: May 9
Bing Concert Hall
Arturo O'Farrill Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra
Cornel West Concerto
Related Event: May 16
Bing Concert Hall
In Conversation with Claudia Rankine