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Phyllis Wheatley, the first African-American author of a published book of poetry, wrote, “Imagination! Who can sing thy force?/Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?”. Wheatley could very well have been calling to the Black creatives, writers, orators, and leaders who would follow her. The imaginative force of Malcolm X and Toni Morrison, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Barack Obama and Langston Hughes are imparted by Farah Jasmine Griffin in a series of meditations on the fundamental questions of art, politics, and the human condition in Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature.
Griffin blends memoir with a deep reading of the Black community’s rich panoply of artists and thinkers who have made an indelible mark on America. By poring over the poems of Phyllis Wheatley, the speeches of Frederick Douglass, the lyrics of Billie Holiday, the novels of contemporary Jesmyn Ward, and others, Griffin sheds light on what it means to be human. Through this lens, Griffin explores deeper questions and themes of justice, slavery, racism, segregation, mass incarceration, and more, all the while calling the names of those recently lost, like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Both a celebration of Black America, and a meditative renunciation of what America has denied its Black citizenry, Griffin gives vivid tribute.
Farah Jasmine Griffin was the inaugural chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department at Columbia University. She is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle.