It was the best of times. But also… the best of times?
The first bookstore I connected with on twitter when I announced the publication of Speculative Blackness was Red Emma’s in Baltimore. They’re a radical bookstore and cafe run as a worker’s cooperative: an actually existing alternative to capitalism. We had arranged the reading for May 12, 2016. May Day would have been ideal, right? I set up a reading at Giovanni’s Room for that date and another at Wooden Shoe Books & Records for later in the month… I figured I would have to travel from Philly to Baltimore after a day of teaching, and that would be an adventure. But I didn’t know at the time that my application for a Career Development Award would be successful and I’d be participating in a swank awards luncheon the same day!
I made dog-care plans for the evening, rescheduled some stuff for my afternoon class, and did what I do any time I have a huge, busy, lengthy day that requires me to be on the whole time, like when I’ve done campus visits for jobs: I told myself, “I am having the greatest day ever/This is the best day of my life.” It really works!
I embarked for campus after having a really fun morning with the dog, and put on the best “I’m a professor but it’s pretty warm and it’s Spring” shirt & tie combo I could muster. I should have figured it was implicitly a “jacket required” event, but this is clearly not indicated on the invitation, above! Seriously, though, this program is wonderful. It’s an internal grant competition to support new collaborative work and mentoring activities that connect junior faculty with senior scholars from other institutions. I will be using my award monies to collaborate with Dr. Alex Weheliye from Northwestern. We’ll be staging a series of dialogues on Afrofuturism and Sound Studies.
It’s equally important to note that the lunch was pleasant, the company esteemed (current and former awardees, members of the selection committee, and the Provost!), and the occasion, celebratory. At the conclusion of the program, we were all connected with the money guys who administer the awards and make sure our departments know what to do with the funds made available, and we were presented (and photographed) with framed award certificates. Like I was saying: pretty esteemed company.
I taught my Literary Theory class, in which we discussed postmodernism, but first, I asked the class to unpack the ridiculous graphic on my shirt. This is serious intellectual work that is important! First, I asked if they knew who Emma Goldman was, and I explained that she’s the namesake of the bookstore I was going to read after class. But we could always use a reminder of why schools of thought like Marxism, feminism, and dialectical materialism come to bear on literary interpretation; everyone’s intellectual priorities influence the way we utilize literature as a source of evidence, and really, the way we produce and respond to culture across the board. So, the Kelis reference structures the sign as a joke by constructing Milkshake as a floating signifier: what makes my Marxist feminist dialectic compelling, fascinating? What does that even mean? Is it a euphemism, an inside joke, an alibi–objet petit a? See, I had to take all the fun out of the joke before we could have our actual discussion about the reading. Phil Harper and Linda Hutcheon would approve.
I placed the dog in the care of a trusted friend, and I headed out to the train. Amtrak has a special place in my heart for taking me to and from important places in my life. I really enjoy the experience of a train ride, in general. It helps that there are some good views on the Northeast Regional, particularly between Philadelphia & Baltimore. And I was traveling right before rush hour really gets in gear. It was that or arrive five minutes before the reading started!
I was greeted at the station by an old friend (not old like that! I would never!), and we had a chance to catch up before the event. I admire and take pride in my friends for doing so much living in the time I’ve known them. This friend is a scientist, has a family full of people she likes (including tiny people), a home she feels good about, and some experience in the world that I think qualifies as adventure.
Okay okay: the main event. Red Emma’s is the most welcoming spot where I have done a reading to date. It’s a real community space, and I could tell it would be a good venue because the poster they made for the event was spot-on.
I’ve sometimes recounted the story of how, when I first presented this research for a seminar at my university, I suggested some graphics for the poster they would be using to advertise the talk. I provided examples Star Trek, X-Men, and the blaxploitation film Cleopatra Jones; the latter was once the subject of a chapter in Speculative Blackness but it’s since gone on the back burner to become a stand-alone essay somewhere, eventually. I’m sure I specified Nichelle Nichols (or Zoe Saldana) as Uhura for the image from Star Trek and Halle Berry as Storm for the X-Men image, but the poster featured Leonard Nimoy and Hugh Jackman. Sure, the images are iconic and immediately recognizable, but the sources of the images on this poster? Are exactly what the book is about. I should have figured, because Red Emma’s has exactly the stuff I nerd out over!
The reading was wonderful, the Q&A was engaging, and the people I was able to meet and talk with while signing books were so gracious and considerate I didn’t mind spending the time I had before catching a late train home. I’m even more excited, after this, to do a talk at Wooden Shoe! It will be a return to the sort of space that intellectuals have a responsibility to maintain and communities deserve, to come together around books and ideas and take our time getting to know one another. Can’t wait!
Hell of a day. I took a late train back to Philadelphia and reunited with the dog, of course. The next day, I attended some events for the Week of Writing in my department (wrote about this in the preceding dog post–I mean, blog post) and got started on some . I feel honored and privileged–I am honored and privileged, actually. Stay tuned! I may have audio from the event to add!