Bessie Smith: Turning the Tables

NPR Music’s Ann Powers, Jacob Ganz, Marissa Lorusso, a whole team of critics are curating a totally thrilling new season of Turning the Tables, which focuses on the (often overlooked) contributions of women musicians. This season is entitled “8 Women Who Invented American Popular Music,” with each week exploring in depth the work of a single artist. This week was Bessie Smith week, and I was honored to write this piece. Enjoy all the other pieces on the site, and follow along in the coming weeks!

American Studies Association: Unmarked at 25

This weekend I had the privilege of serving on a roundtable at the American Studies Association celebrating the 25th anniversary of the publication of Peggy Phelan’s Unmarked. To all of you who attended, witnessed, asked questions: thank you! Much gratitude to my co-panelists as well: our convenor Christopher Grobe, Patrick Anderson, Colleen Kim Daniher, Monica Huerta, Jill Lane, Joseph Roach, and, of course, Peggy Phelan herself, who responded to our comments with such generosity.

I’m still thinking about our conversation: Phelan’s injunction to write not to please the senior leaders in our field, but to satisfy our own questions; the recursivity of the conundrum of visibility politics that the book explores; conversely, the transformations (? maybe not?) in the relation between the visible and the political in the digital age; and all the scholarship of the last couple of decades that has tried to write through the problems of visibility, vulnerability, performance, and power—and I thank Daniher for invoking the work of Brooks, Glissant, and Fleetwood in her comments.

Augusto Boal, H. Rap Brown, and Rehearsing for Revolution (Boston, MA)

At 8 am on Thursday August 2, I'll be presenting new research at the Association for Theater in Higher Education annual meeting in Boston, MA. I'm really looking forward to this session ("Black Revolutionary Performance and the Long Civil Rights Movement"), mostly because it will feature the work of scholars I have admired for so long: Soyica Colbert, Julius Fleming, and Kevin Quashie. Set your alarm for an early wake-up if you want to know what the Brazilian director Augusto Boal has to do with black revolutionary performance.