Wrongful convictions haunt the American criminal justice system, as revealed in recent years by DNA and other investigative tools. And every wrongfully convicted person who walks free, exonerated after years or decades, carries part of that story. From those facts, artist Julie Green posed a seemingly simple question: When you have been denied all choice, what do you choose to eat on the first day of freedom?
In the small details of life at such pivotal moments, a vast new landscape of the world can emerge, and that is the core concept of the First Meal project-turned-book. Partnering with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, Green and her coauthor, award-winning journalist Kirk Johnson, created a unique melding of art and narration in the portraits and stories of 25 people on the day of their release.
Green (1961-2021) was best known for her decades-long project The Last Supper, which depicted the final meals of imprisoned people on death row. First Meal takes on that issue from the other side: food as a symbol of autonomy in a life restored. Set against the backdrop of a flawed American legal system, First Meal describes beauty, pain, hope and redemption, all anchored around the idea — explored by writers from Marcel Proust to Michael Pollan — that food touches us deeply in memory and emotion.
Through the combination of Green’s art and Johnson’s essays, First Meal seeks to inform and spread awareness, but also celebrate the humanity that unites us, and the idea that gratitude and euphoria can emerge in places we least expect.
Join author Kirk Johnson and gallerist Theo Le Guin-Downes as they discuss the themes of First Meal: the powerful narratives of wrongfully convicted individuals and the profound symbolism of food in their journey towards freedom.
Kirk Johnson is a former National Correspondent for the New York Times who covered crime, the environment, economics, politics, sports, and many other subjects over a 38-year career at the paper. He was also part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 2001 for the series, How Race is Lived in America. Born in Utah, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Fran.
Theo Downes-Le Guin is literary executor for author Ursula K. Le Guin and heads the Ursula K. Le Guin Foundation, which continues Le Guin’s legacy of supporting writers and readers of science fiction, fantasy and literary fiction, and poetry. Downes-Le Guin also consults on adaptations of Le Guin’s work for screen and stage, and is a 2023-24 Fellow at the Berggruen Institute. Downes-Le Guin founded a contemporary art gallery in Portland, Oregon, curating more than 80 exhibitions in the gallery, art fairs, museums and online.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle.