The Emancipation Circuit

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Monday, October 17, 2022

6:30 pm — 8:00 pm


Open to the Public

Join Eric Lott and Thulani Davis as they explore what it meant in the 19th century to have a “capacious sense of the political.”

Two headshots next to one another: Thulani Davis on the left wearing a white shirt with glasses and her hair pulled back. She is smiling. Eric Lott on the right with a black shirt staring intently into the camera.
Thulani Davis and Eric Lott
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this is the book cover of Thulani Davis 2022 publication The Emancipation Circuit. It is a greenish color that fades to red in the lower half of the page. The backdrop is a faded imprint of a map of the United States

While abolitionists fought to end slavery and this could be called a freedom movement, when the end of slavery came, freed-people built a massive movement to define, legislate, and enjoy a multifaceted vision of freedom, some of which has been left to us to realize.

We know of many freedom movements today but was the ground for them broken in the 1860s-70s? Was it how they wanted to embody freedom or how they went about creating it?

Join Eric Lott and Thulani Davis as they explore what it meant in the 19th century to have a “capacious sense of the political.” They will be discussing the many poetic, writerly, and musical projects that Davis has been central to throughout her career including her extraordinary new book The Emancipation Circuit: Black Activism Forging a Culture of Freedom, which Robin Kelley calls a "masterpiece" and Thavolia Glymph welcomes as "something we have not had before," a sweeping account of the activist networks and political formations through which Black people built the first mass black movement in the United States.

Thulani Davis is an interdisciplinary artist and scholar, who is an Associate Professor and a Nellie Y. McKay Fellow in the African American Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has had a long career in journalism while creating work in poetry and theater that includes libretti for four operas. Her most recent nonfiction title is My Confederate Kinfolk: A Twenty-first Century Freedwoman Discovers Her Roots. She has written the scripts for several award-winning documentaries, including Louis Massiah’s W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices (1996), Massiah’s short film, In Ragtime: James Reese Europe (2011) and developed the concept for Blackside’s series, I’ll Make Me a World: A Century of African American Arts (1999). Davis has been a recipient of a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers Award, a PEW Foundation National Theatre Artist Residency, and a Charles H. Reason Fellowship on the Future of New York City. She was also the first woman to win a Grammy in the liner notes category, for writing about Aretha Franklin’s Atlantic Recordings.

Eric Lott teaches American Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. Lott has published widely and lectured at dozens of universities and other institutions on the politics of U.S. cultural and performance history, and his work has appeared in a range of periodicals including The Village Voice, The Nation, The Chronicle of Higher Education, PMLA, Representations, Transition, Social Text, American Literary History, and American Quarterly. He is the author of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (Oxford UP, 1993; 20th Anniversary ed., 2013), from which Bob Dylan took the title for his 2001 album “Love and Theft”; The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual (Basic Books, 2006); and Black Mirror: The Cultural Contradictions of American Racism (Harvard UP, 2017), a study of race, culture, and fantasy across the long twentieth century. Lott has appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, CBS Sunday Morning, Turner Classic Movies, C-Span Book TV, Al Jazeera TV, and various radio shows and podcasts.

Download the event poster (JPG).