News | 26 November 2012

A Night of Poetry and Music with M. NourbeSe Philip


M. NourbeSe Philip

M. NourbeSe Philip

The UC Presidential Chair in Feminist Critical Race and Ethnic Studies presents an evening with acclaimed poet, writer, and lawyer M. NourbeSe Philip on Thursday, November 29, at the UCSC Humanities Lecture Hall.

Philip will perform a dramatized reading of her extended poetry cycle Zong!, accompanied by a jazz duo led by UCSC professor of music Karlton Hester.

Admission is free and open to the public.

Zong! was created by Philip from a legal decision made at the end of the 18th century related to the murder of African slaves on board a ship.

In November, 1781, the captain of the slave ship Zong ordered that 150 Africans be murdered by drowning so that the ship’s owners could collect insurance money.

Drawing entirely from the words of the legal decision Gregson vs Gilbert—the only existing public document related to the massacre—Zong! tells the tragic story in a poem that has been described as a “haunting lifeline between archive and memory, law and poetry.”

“Before she was a poet, Philip was trained as a lawyer,” notes UCSC professor of feminist studies Bettina Aptheker. “She examined the archival record and looked at the transcripts of that trial, and this poem was created out of that historic case.”

“We thought that she would be a great person to bring,” Aptheker added. “It turned out that when she performs this piece, she really  likes to have a jazz accompaniment. So we got in touch with Karlton Hester in the UCSC Music Department –who is a very fine jazz musician–and he was delighted to collaborate with her.”

Aptheker shares the newly appointed UC Presidential Chair in Feminist Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at UCSC with literature professor Karen Yamashita. Philip’s appearance will be the inaugural event presented by the Presidential Chair.

“This event brings together feminist concerns with the history of race and the brutality of the slave trade, the legacy of which remains with us today,” Aptheker noted.

“The UC Presidential Chair will have a major event like this every quarter this year,” Aptheker added.

“In each instance, we will bring a prominent feminist literary and/or scholarly person to the campus. They will do a public program and also meet with faculty and graduate students interested in building a curriculum in Feminist Critical Race and Ethnic Studies.”

Although Philip is primarily a poet, she also writes both fiction and non-fiction. Her best known works include She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks; Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence; and Harriet’s Daughter, a young adult novel.

Philip is the recipient of numerous awards, and her short stories, essays, and articles have appeared in magazines and journals throughout North America and England. Her poetry has been extensively anthologized, and her work is taught widely at the university level.

“This a is a free and public event, and we invite  everyone in the community and on campus to attend,” added Aptheker. “We see ourselves as providing a vital function for our community on these issues.”

A Night of Poetry and Music with M. NourbeSe Philip, accompanied by a jazz duo led by Karlton Hester, will take place on Thursday, November 29, at 6 p.m. in the Humanities Lecture Hall on the UCSC campus. (A reception prior to the event at 5 p.m. will be held in the Humanities 1 Building, Room 210). Admission is free and open to the public. Presented by the UC Presidential Chair in Feminist Critical Race and Ethnic Studies and co-sponsored by the African American Resource Center, the Music Department, and the Living Writers Series. For more information, contact, or (831) 459-5655.

Article written by Scott Rappaport.