Virtual Event: Joshua Bennett
Being Property Once Myself:
Blackness and the End of Man
in conversation with IMANI PERRY
September 29, 2020
7:00 PM ET
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Free - $5 contribution suggested at registration
Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes acclaimed poet Dr. JOSHUA BENNETT—the Mellon Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College and author of The Sobbing School: Poems—for a discussion of his latest books, Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man and the poetry collection Owed. He will be joined in conversation by writer and scholar Dr. IMANI PERRY, author of the award–winning biography, Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry.
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About Being Property Once Myself
Throughout US history, black people have been configured as sociolegal nonpersons, a subgenre of the human. Being Property Once Myself delves into the literary imagination and ethical concerns that have emerged from this experience. Each chapter tracks a specific animal figure—the rat, the cock, the mule, the dog, and the shark—in the works of black authors such as Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Jesmyn Ward, and Robert Hayden. The plantation, the wilderness, the kitchenette overrun with pests, the simultaneous valuation and sale of animals and enslaved people—all are sites made unforgettable by literature in which we find black and animal life in fraught proximity.
Joshua Bennett argues that animal figures are deployed in these texts to assert a theory of black sociality and to combat dominant claims about the limits of personhood. Bennett also turns to the black radical tradition to challenge the pervasiveness of antiblackness in discourses surrounding the environment and animals. Being Property Once Myself is an incisive work of literary criticism and a close reading of undertheorized notions of dehumanization and the Anthropocene.
Gregory Pardlo described Joshua Bennett's first collection of poetry, The Sobbing School, as an "arresting debut" that was "abounding in tenderness and rich with character," with a "virtuosic kind of code switching." Bennett's new collection, Owed, is a book with celebration at its center. Its primary concern is how we might mend the relationship between ourselves and the people, spaces, and objects we have been taught to think of as insignificant, as fundamentally unworthy of study, reflection, attention, or care. Spanning the spectrum of genre and form—from elegy and ode to origin myth—these poems elaborate an aesthetics of repair. What's more, they ask that we turn to the songs and sites of the historically denigrated so that we might uncover a new way of being in the world together, one wherein we can truthfully reckon with the brutality of the past and thus imagine the possibilities of our shared, unpredictable present, anew.
Praise for Being Once Property Myself
“A tremendously illuminating study of how black writers wrestle with black precarity. Bennett’s refreshing and field-defining approach shows how both classic and contemporary African American authors undo long-held assumptions of the animal–human divide.” —Salamishah Tillet, author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post–Civil Rights Imagination
“Bennett writes so beautifully that it hurts. Imagine a world of animals―rats, cocks, mules, and dogs―that prompt renewed ways of seeing, thinking, and living beyond cages or chains. These absorbing, deeply moving pages bring to life a newly reclaimed ethics, and black feeling beyond the claims of property or propriety.” —Colin Dayan, author of With Dogs at the Edge of Life and The Law Is a White Dog
“Being Property Once Myself is destined to be an event. Exhilarating and original, it is as much a work of literary history as it is of literary theory, as much a poetic invocation as it is critical intervention, and as much about animals as it is about people, elegantly uniting the many singularities that constitute, collectively, black literary culture.” —Akira Mizuta Lippit, author of Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife
Praise for Owed
“Not only are these poems eloquent but also lyrical, intelligent, and, occasionally, funny. Most reflect upon and communicate the pain, joy, and intensity of the current Black experience . . . In a time when many confront and protest the racism prevalent in our society, Bennett’s new book is vital.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“We’re lucky to have Joshua Bennett’s Owed at this hour in America. The resonances of ‘ode’ and ‘owed’ underscore his tremendous acts of invention amid ‘an ever-expanding grand Black Epilogue.’ Lyrical and political fibers are woven through narratives as clear and idiosyncratic as the plastic on your grandmother’s couch. Owed fights for the ‘ground where the children can play & come home whole.’ Bennett swings with song and exaltation; he swings with resistance and defense. I’m glad to have his amazing collection right now. I will be glad to have it tomorrow.” —Terrance Hayes, author of American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
“Owed is an indictment of the state even as it is an ode to the ongoingness of Black imagination. Here, a single moment shimmers with a million resonances of attention. So the world is loved this much. And what has been taken has been taken this much. Bennett insists on repair even as he mourns what is utterly irreparable. This book is part of a breathful, bodied fight for Black life. I am emboldened and sharpened by Bennett's genius and by his love made plain across each of these shimmering pages.” —Aracelis Girmay, author of The Black Maria
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