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.
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.