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Elegizing Black Lives

How have African American poets elegized victims of lynching and state violence? How have they celebrated acts of resistance? We study poems that bear witness to histories of violence visited on black bodies. Explore their literary mastery and the ways they expose and resist violence and mass incarceration. Reflect on how contemporary works revise elegiac tropes in response to the persistence of racist violence and the rise of Black Lives Matter.

Elegizing Black Lives

Taught by Gabriele Hayden

Wednesdays, August 10-31 || 6:00-8:00 pm
People's Food Co-op, 3029 21st Ave.
Four weeks, $100 || Space is limited to 28 students.

Admission is restricted to ensure a diverse class. If interested, please email gabriele.hayden<at>gmail.com

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 exposeand 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.


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.


Gabriele Hayden, PhD, has taught poetry at Yale University and Reed College. One of her poems was published on Tri-Met buses through Poetry in Motion, and her translations have appeared in the literary journal Free Verse. Her archival research has uncovered previously unpublished poems and translations by Langston Hughes and William Carlos Williams.


Accessibility notes: The Community Room at People's is up a flight of stairs. There's a lift to the second floor as well -- check in with a cashier or other employee to use it. There are all-gender bathrooms on the first and second floors. People's Food Co-op is nearby the 4, 9, and 10 bus lines. Feel free to be in touch with Sofie at sofie@peoples.coop with any accessibility questions or concerns.