Upcoming Event

Patricia J. Williams at Harvard Book Store


The Miracle of the Black Leg:
Notes on Race, Human Bodies,
and the Spirit of the Law

in conversation with CAROLINE LIGHT


July 29, 2024
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes PATRICIA J. WILLIAMS—James L. Dohr Professor of Law Emerita at Columbia Law School and the longtime former "Diary of a Mad Law Professor" columnist for The Nation—for a discussion of her new essay collection The Miracle of the Black Leg: Notes on Race, Human Bodies, and the Spirit of the Law. She will be joined in conversation by CAROLINE LIGHT—Director of Undergraduate Studies in Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. 

About The Miracle of the Black Leg

Beginning with a jaw-dropping rumination on a centuries-old painting featuring a white man with a Black man’s leg surgically attached (with the expired Black leg-donor in the foreground), contracts law scholar and celebrated journalist Patricia J. Williams uses the lens of the law to take on core questions of identity, ethics, and race.

With her trademark elegant prose and critical legal studies wisdom, Williams brings to bear a keen analytic eye and a lawyer’s training to chapters exploring the ways we have legislated the ownership of everything from body parts to gene sequences—and the particular ways in which our laws in these areas isolate nonnormative looks, minority cultures, and out-of-the-box thinkers.

At the heart of “Wrongful Birth” is a lawsuit in which a white couple who use a sperm bank sue when their child “comes out Black”; “Bodies in Law” explores the service of genetic ancestry testing companies to answer the question of who owns DNA. And “Hot Cheeto Girl” examines the way that algorithms give rise to new predictive categories of human assortment, layered with market-inflected cages of assigned destiny.

In the spirit of Dorothy Roberts, Rebecca Skloot, and Anne Fadiman, The Miracle of the Black Leg offers a brilliant meditation on the tricky place where law, science, ethics, and cultural slippage collide.

Praise for The Miracle of the Black Leg

"Patricia Williams never fails to deliver incisive critiques of the complex ways that race, gender, law, capitalism, and culture shape our understandings of, and responses to, our world. This book is no exception." —Michelle Alexander, New York Times bestselling author of The New Jim Crow

"With her always stunning analyses of seemingly ordinary stories and the surprising connections she draws, Patricia Williams urges us to understand deeply and differently how our histories continue to produce us and how we might begin to dismantle ideas and structures so utterly dependent on our intellectual passivity." —Angela Y. Davis, professor, UC Santa Cruz, and author of Women, Race, and Class

"With her incisive brilliance and stunning legal imagination, Patricia Williams yet again proves herself to be one of the sharpest thinkers on race and the law in our nation’s history. Law is at the center of our contemporary national crises, and Williams takes us on a journey deep into the history of cases and doctrine to understand how we got here and why ideas about what law can and should be matter for all of us who believe in freedom. " —Imani Perry, New York Times bestselling author of South to America

Masking Policy

Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.

Caroline Light
Caroline Light

Caroline Light

Caroline Light is a Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Harvard's Program in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Her research combines historical, critical race, and feminist methods to investigate citizenship and belonging in the U.S. She teaches courses on labor, gun violence, immigration, and consumer culture, all with an eye to the ways in which historical narratives take shape against a backdrop of long-standing structural injustices.

Patricia J. Williams
Patricia J. Williams

Patricia J. Williams

Patricia J. Williams is the James L. Dohr Professor of Law Emerita at Columbia Law School and the longtime former "Diary of a Mad Law Professor" columnist for The Nation. She is a MacArthur fellow and the author of six books, including The Alchemy of Race and Rights, Open House, and The Miracle of the Black Leg (The New Press). She is currently a University Distinguished Professor of Law and Humanities at Northeastern University in Boston, where she lives.

Photo Credit: Mark Ostoff

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes

As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

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