‘African-American Art Today’ is topic of free lecture series by Yale poet Elizabeth Alexander

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Yale professor Elizabeth Alexander, a noted poet, essayist, playwright, and scholar of African-American literature, will deliver the DeVane Lectures Series this spring term on the subject “African-American Art Today.”

The DeVane lectures function as a semester course for Yale undergraduates and are open to the public at large. There is no charge for admittance, although seating is limited. “African American Art Today” takes place Tuesdays and Thursdays 4–5:15 p.m. in Rm. 114 of Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, 1 Prospect St.

Alexander gained national celebrity when she read her poem “Praise Song for the Day” at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. In her DeVane Lectures, she will explore the flourishing renaissance of African-American culture that began in 1980. The lectures, according to the course catalogue, offer “critical vocabularies and approaches with which to think about questions of genre; writing knowledgeably and persuasively about art across multiple genres and in historical context.”

In addition to exploring works of art representing a wide range of forms — from poetry and drama to dance and hip-hop — the DeVane lectures will feature public conversations with some of the artists whose work is being studied: among them, choreographer Bill T. Jones (Feb. 9); jazz bassist Christian McBride (Feb. 16); actress and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Anna Deavere Smith (March 19); and poet Kevin Young (April 17).

Other featured speakers will include novelist Danzy Senna (Jan. 26); poet Terrance Hayes (Feb. 23); artist Kerry James Marshall (March 1); artist and photographer Lorna Simpson (March 29 — this talk will take place in the Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel St.); and film director and producer Charles Burnett (April 9 — a Monday).

Alexander, the Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of African-American Studies and current chair of the African-American studies department, is a 1984 graduate of Yale College and has been a member of the Yale faculty since 2000. She has published seven books of poems, beginning with “The Venus Hottentot” in 1990. Her collection of poetry “American Sublime” was a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist and was one of the American Library Association’s “Notable Books of the Year.” Her two collections of essays are “The Black Interior” and “Power and Possibility.” Her play “Diva Studies” was produced at the Yale School of Drama in 1996.

Her numerous honors include the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry (2010), the first Jackson Prize for Poetry (2007), a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship, three Pushcart Prizes, the George Kent Prize for Poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at the University of Chicago. She received the Alphonse Fletcher Sr. Fellowship for work that “contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.”

The DeVane Professorship was established in 1969 with a grant from the Old Dominion Foundation. It is named for William Clyde DeVane, a former dean of Yale College, and honors his memory by addressing his concern that undergraduate education not become excessively narrow and departmentalized. An invitation to deliver the DeVane Lectures is considered a major honor for Yale faculty. 

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