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Fri, Mar 08


Sankofa Video, Books, & Café

Turn the World Upside Down: Empire and Unruly Forms of Black Folk Culture in the U.S. and Caribbean

Join us for a special discussion with Dr. Imani D. Owens author of Turn the World Upside Down: Empire and Unruly Forms of Black Folk Culture in the U.S. and Caribbean! Sponsored by UMD African American and Africana Studies Department!

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Turn the World Upside Down: Empire and Unruly Forms of Black Folk Culture in the U.S. and Caribbean
Turn the World Upside Down: Empire and Unruly Forms of Black Folk Culture in the U.S. and Caribbean

Time & Location

Mar 08, 2024, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Sankofa Video, Books, & Café, 2714 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA


About The Event

Watch Conversation HERE

About the book:

In the first half of the twentieth century, Black hemispheric culture grappled with the legacies of colonialism, U.S. empire, and Jim Crow. As writers and performers sought to convey the terror and the beauty of Black life under oppressive conditions, they increasingly turned to the labor, movement, speech, sound, and ritual of everyday "folk." Many critics have perceived these representations of folk culture as efforts to reclaim an authentic past. Imani D. Owens recasts Black creators' relationship to folk culture, emphasizing their formal and stylistic innovations and experiments in self-invention that reach beyond the local to the world.

Turn the World Upside Down explores how Black writers and performers reimagined folk forms through the lens of the unruly--that which cannot be easily governed, disciplined, or managed. Drawing on a transnational and multilingual archive--from Harlem to Havana, from the Panama Canal Zone to Port-au-Prince--Owens considers the short stories of Eric Walrond and Jean Toomer; the ethnographies of Zora Neale Hurston and Jean Price-Mars; the recited poetry of Langston Hughes, Nicolás Guillén, and Eusebia Cosme; and the essays, dance work, and radio plays of Sylvia Wynter. Owens shows how these figures depict folk culture--and Blackness itself--as a site of disruption, ambiguity, and flux. Their works reveal how Black people contribute to the stirrings of modernity while being excluded from its promises. Ultimately, these works do not seek to render folk culture more knowable or worthy of assimilation, but instead provide new forms of radical world-making.

About the author:

Imani D. Owens is an assistant professor of English at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Her interests include African American and Caribbean literature, music, and performance. Her research has been supported by a Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellowship and an NEH funded residency at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Her work has appeared in the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Inquiry, Caribbean Literature in Transition, the Journal of Haitian Studies, MELUS, and small axe salon. She is completing a book manuscript entitled Turn the World Upside Down: Folk Culture, Imperialism, and U.S.-Caribbean Literature, which charts the connection between literary form and anti-imperialist politics in Caribbean and African American writing.

About the host:

Joshua M. Myers is an Associate Professor of Africana Studies in the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. He is the author of  Holy Ghost Key, the winner of the 2023 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Prize (Broadside Lotus Press, due February 2024), Of Black Study (Pluto, 2023), Cedric Robinson: The Time of the Black Radical Tradition (Polity, 2021), and We Are Worth Fighting For: A History of the Howard University Student Protest of 1989 (NYU Press, 2019), as well as the editor of A Gathering Together: Literary Journal.

His research interests include Africana intellectual histories and traditions, Africana philosophy, musics, and foodways as well as critical university studies, and disciplinarity. His work has been published in TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, Zanj: The Journal of Critical Global South Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies Journal, Washington History, The Journal of Academic Freedom, The Journal of African American Studies,The Journal of Pan African Studies, The African Journal of Rhetoric, The Human Rights and Globalization Law Review, Downbeat, The New Inquiry , Pambazuka, Obsidian, and Burning House Press, among other literary spaces.

He serves on the board of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations and the SNCC Legacy Project and is the senior content producer at the Africa World Now Project. He was the co-coordinator of the SNCC Legacy Project’s Black Power Chronicles Oral History Project and organizes with Washington DC’s Positive Black Folks in Action. In addition he serves on the editorial boards of The Compass: Journal of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, Siyabonana: The Journal of Africana Studies, and The Journal of Black Studies.

A central thread that guides all of this work is an approach to knowledge that takes seriously that peoples of African descent possess a deep sense of reality, a thought tradition that more than merely interprets what is around us, but can transform and renew these spaces we inhabit—a world we would like to fundamentally change.


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