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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 9, 2007

UI Obermann Symposium focuses on black middle-class 'performance'

Performances, poetry and politics will meld into an exploration of black culture, history and viewpoints during "From Bourgeois to Boojie: Black Middle Class Performances," the 2007 Obermann Humanities Symposium, Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 24 and 25 at Old Brick Auditorium, 26 E. Market St. in Iowa City.

This special arts event, sponsored by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Iowa, is designed to bring together scholars, performers and the public to think about contemporary notions of black middle-class performance within the humanities and American culture at large.

More than 10 presentations will be featured in addition to keynote programs by Amiri Baraka, a poet, playwright and activist, and Michele Wallace, a professor at City College of New York. The symposium is free and open to the public.

The symposium's title refers to the way African Americans gain middle-class success. They find themselves in the painful situation of being criticized on one hand for being too "black" and on the other for sacrificing black identity in order to be successful. Consequently, people find themselves "performing" different racial identities, which also implies that race itself is a kind of performance.

The term "boojie" identifies a lower-class person who integrates middle and lower-class ways into an alternative bourgeois performance, said Bridget Harris Tsemo, who is co-directing the symposium with fellow assistant professor of African-American studies and rhetoric Vershawn Ashanti Young.

Baraka is the Poet Laureate of New Jersey and a professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His performative talk, "Negrossity," will intertwine poetry, short fiction and portions of a novel to illuminate how racial descriptors identify specific eras and mindsets. His presentation is set for 2:35 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24.

Wallace will present "'Soul Pictures:' Black Feminist Generations," at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25. Her talk focuses on the work and lives of three generations her own family, primarily through the accomplishments its women, including her grandmother, Willi Posey, a Harlem designer; and her mother, Faith Ringgold, an internationally known artist. Wallace will also talk about her own career as a feminist author and academic.

Other highlights include:

-- At 3:50 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24, Young will present a solo performance based on his book, "Your Average Nigga."

-- At about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, Angela Kupenda, professor of law at the Mississippi College School of Law, will discuss the position of black women as "the struggling class."

-- At 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, Signithia Fordham, Susan B. Anthony Professor of Gender and Women's Studies and associate professor of anthropology at the University of Rochester (New York) will deliver a poetic performance that chronicles her feelings about her black, tortuous, arrogant hair and her eventual acceptance and celebration.

-- At about 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, Bryant Keith Alexander, associate professor of performance studies and associate dean in the College of Arts and Letters, California State University, Los Angeles, will present "Boojee," a performative essay that comments on black authenticity, racial identity and class as influencing variables in daily life.

A complete symposium schedule is available at Registration is required by Friday, Oct. 19 for the lunch on Thursday, Oct. 25.

The event is co-sponsored by the departments of African American Studies, American Studies, Center of Ethnic Studies and the Arts, Communication Studies, English, Rhetoric, Sociology, and Theatre Arts, all part of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. For more information on the event, contact Diana Baculis, the Obermann Center's communications and events manager, at 319-335-4360 or

The Obermann Center for Advanced Studies provides an environment and resources for reflection and writing and for the exchange of ideas. Scholars from a broad range of disciplines and institutions interact with one another and with the public to create and communicate new knowledge and to establish a vibrant intellectual community. The center is located at N103 Oakdale Hall on the UI's Oakdale Campus. For more information on the Obermann Center, call 319-335-4034 or visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Diana Baculis, UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, 319-335-4360,; Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070,