English department hosts Evie Shockley events

Juliette Gaggini, News Co-Editor

On Wednesday, Feb. 17 and Thursday, Feb. 18 the University hosted Dr. Evie Shockley for events through the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program, a national competition that the University’s English department entered in. Shockley is a professor at Rutgers University and a renowned author of several collections of poetry. Shockley gave three separate speeches to students and faculty that were originally intended as in-person events, but were instead hosted on Zoom.

Shockley is the author of several collections of poetry, including “a half-red sea” (2006) and “the new black” (2011). She is also the author of “Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry” (2011). Shockley’s work, including poetry and essays, have also been featured in several anthologies.

The English Department organized the three events in collaboration with the University Humanities Center, the Stadler Center and the Griot Institute.

Assistant Professor of English Jeremy Chow was the point person and organizer of the events. “Professor Shockley is both a scholar of African American literature as well as an award-winning poet. Given that the English department at the University is constituted by Creative Writing, Film & Media Studies and Literary Studies, we felt that Shockley’s areas of expertise reflect important intersections within our department. The three events we’re hosting speak to these intersections. The Lit Studies program is also home to a Race & Literature Concentration, and Shockley’s work speaks directly to that focus,” Chow said.

Shockley’s first event was geared towards English majors, titled “Finding Your Path Towards the English Major.” This took place on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 11:30 a.m. Shockley spoke about her own journey becoming a faculty member as well as what it means to be an academic and a poet. Shockley answered questions from current English majors about underrepresented students in academia and about the future of English studies, both at the University and in general.

About 30 individuals attended this event, including Christian Melgar ’23. Melgar admired Shockley’s circuitous path to her career. “I thought her journey going to college, then law school, and then back to her doctorate in English was a unique journey. It is crazy to see how some knows exactly what they want to do, and others do not. Both are okay,” Melgar said.

The second event Shockley held was a public event titled “Black Graphics: ‘Colorblindness’ & the Survival of Black Being.” This was on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 4:30 p.m., with a total of 95 student and faculty attendees. Shockley began the event by sharing a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

During this event, Shockley focused on poetry by Natasha Tretheway and read three of her poems to guide the talk. The event ended with an audience Q&A.

Shockley’s final event was held on Friday, Feb. 19 at 12 p.m. titled “Writers in Conversation.” This event was public with over 80 participants. Assistant Professor of English Chet’la Sebree shared her own poetry alongside Shockley. Sebree kicked off the event by reading poetry from her new book, “Field Study,” for the first time. Sebree read a poem titled “An Elaborate Non-Yoga Pose in Which You Realize You Were Not Made For This World.”

Following Sebree, Shockley read from her book “semiautomatic.” She read a poem titled, “a-lyrical ballad (or, how America reminds us of the value of family).” Shockley touched on her connection and conversation with other writers, and in the case of this poem, William Wordsworth and his lyrical ballads. Shockley read a total of three poems, the last two titled “easy” and “goodlife,” each named after songs from her childhood. Shockley said about these poems, “What I’m doing in both of those is not only re-underlining the connection between poetry and music which is ever-present, but also in these two poems that I picked in the series, I am throwing little tributes to poets that I deeply love.”

Macie Ruda ’22 attended the Writers in Conversation event and said, “I think the event allowed students to engage in conversation with poetry and ideas that they would not have otherwise. I will definitely take a look at more of Evie Shockley’s poetry and I am glad to have gotten some additional information about what they mean to her.”

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