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Elegizing for Black Lives

How have African American poets elegized victims of lynching and state violence? How have they celebrated acts of resistance? The poems we will read bear witness to histories of violence visited on black bodies. We will explore both the literary mastery of these poems and the ways they expose and resist violence and mass incarceration. And we will reflect on how contemporary works echo and revise elegiac tropes in response to the devastating persistence of racist violence and the rise of Black Lives Matter.

Admission is restricted to ensure a diverse class. If interested, please email

Classes will be held weekly on Wednesday nights from 6-8pm. 

Week 1
Recent police killings continue a history of racist violence, from slavery to lynchings, and black elegies trace that history. As we read Jean Toomer’s short poem “Portrait in Georgia,” we will ask, what is an elegy? What is the relationship of African American elegies to histories of black music and Western poetry? 

Week 2
Langston Hughes's "Bitter River" draws on Blues poetry and ballad traditions to mourn a specific lynching and call for action against broader racist practices of segregation and incarceration.

Week 3
Gwendolyn Brooks's "Last Quatrain of the Ballad of Emmet Till" draws on ballad traditions to mourn the lynching of 14 year old Emmet Till.

Week 4
Claudia Rankine, selection from Citizen. Rankine’s poems on police killings extend and revise conventions of African American elegy.

This class is put on in partnership with the Portland Underground Grad School. 

Earlier Event: August 17
People's Year 'Round Farmers' Market
Later Event: August 18
Member-Owner Yogs