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The Matter of Black Living: The Aesthetic Experiment of Racial Data 1880-1930

Autumn Womack, African American Studies and English; Imani Perry, African American Studies

April 28, 2022 · 6:00 pm7:30 pm · Labyrinth Books and Livestream

Labyrinth Books; Princeton Public Library; Department of African American Studies; Humanities Council
Image of Womack.

Autumn Womack & Imani Perry in Conversation

In her new book, African American Studies scholar Womack examines how turn-of-the-century Black cultural producers experiments with new technologies of racial data produced experimental aesthetics. Please join us for a conversation between the author and her colleague, Imani Perry.

This is a hybrid event held at the store. You can register for the livestream here.

As the nineteenth century came to a close and questions concerning the future of African American life reached a fever pitch, many social scientists and reformers approached post-emancipation Black life as an empirical problem that could be systematically solved with the help of new technologies like the social survey, photography, and film. What ensued was nothing other than a racial data revolution, one which rendered African American life an inanimate object of inquiry in the name of social order and racial regulation. At the very same time, African American cultural producers and intellectuals such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Kelly Miller, Sutton Griggs, and Zora Neale Hurston staged their own kind of revolution, un-disciplining racial data in ways that captured the dynamism of Black social life.

The Matter of Black Living excavates the dynamic interplay between racial data and Black aesthetic production that shaped late nineteenth-century social, cultural, and literary atmosphere. Through assembling previously overlooked archives and seemingly familiar texts, Womack shows how these artists and writers re-calibrated the relationship between data and Black life. The result is a fresh and nuanced take on the history of documenting Blackness. The Matter of Black Living charts a new genealogy from which we can rethink the political and aesthetic work of racial data, a task that has never been more urgent.

Autumn Womack is assistant professor of African American Studies and English at Princeton University. Imani Perry is a scholar of law, literary and cultural studies, and an author of creative nonfiction and Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. Her acclaimed and prize-winning books include More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United StatesLooking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry; May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem; and Breathe: A Letter to My Sons.

This event is part of Labyrinth and the PPublic Library’s ongoing, jointly-sponsored series of events (LLL), and is also cosponsored by Princeton University’s African American Studies Department and Humanities Council.

Free and open to the public. However, donations in any amount are greatly appreciated and directly support Labyrinths events program.

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