Reading Race in Literature and Film
President Obama’s impromptu comments on the acquittal of George Zimmerman offer one illuminating and vexing look at the state of racial discourses in the U.S. in the early twenty-first century. A bi-racial president usually identified as either Black (and, in some cases, Muslim) spoke of his own experiences with racial profiling, while he considered the fatal shooting of a young African American man, Trayvon Martin, by a perpetrator who commentators tie themselves in knots trying to identify as white, Hispanic, white Hispanic, Latino, or, in several instances, Jewish. The responses to the President ran the spectrum from expressions of gratitude and adoration to outrage and condemnation. W.E.B. Du Bois observed in 1903 that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.” What might Du Bois say about race in the early twenty-first century? How are we experiencing, imagining, and talking about race, and the persistent collapse and proliferation of color lines, one hundred years after his prophetic announcement?
The 2013-2014 Texas Institute of Literary and Textual Studies will convene scholars, artists, filmmakers, and writers for conversations about the degree to which categories of race and ethnicity are both more fungible and more fixed than ever before. Fall guests include Gerald Vizenor, the most celebrated contemporary theorist of American Indian identity and representation; Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient Junot Díaz; and, in a joint event with the Austin Film Festival, the writers, directors, and performers who adapted the James Welch novel Winter in the Blood into film. PEN/Faulkner, PEN/Malamud, PEN/Hemingway, and National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie, a producer on the film, will join the filmmakers and performers for a panel on “Adapting Ethnicity.”