How do you protect yourself but not live in fear? ‹ Literary Center


When we think of racism, we often think of actions, obstacles, systems. What we often forget is the power of images, movement, art and words. They represent both the power of evil and hope. Elizabeth Alexander in her new book, The Trayvon Generation, uses this prism to share poetry, art and cinema. And with its exquisite and evocative language, we find ourselves educated, provoked and challenged.

Elizabeth is uniquely equipped to tell us this story. She is a poet. Many were introduced to her when she read her poem “Praise Song for the Day” during President Obama’s inauguration. She is an award-winning best-selling author and is now president of the Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest funder of arts, culture and humanities. But at her core, she’s an educator, having had that role as chair of African-American studies at Yale University. In her new book, that’s exactly what she does. She educates us, and the poet in her dispenses education with lyrical beauty.

From the episode:

Elizabeth Alexander: What I hadn’t planned for this generation, which, again, for me, it starts with my sons, and also, having been a college professor for so many years, generations of young people that I have known and loved so deeply… I think one of the messages of the book is that we need to care more than we all need to love these children. We all have to take responsibility for these children. We all need to listen to these children. Everyone needs to be a parent or aunt or uncle beyond their own, beyond their own world. So I wanted to know how, when you received this message as a young person, how do you still find joy or self-expression? How do you stay safe without living in fear? How do you factor in all the knowledge that there’s this disproportionate violence out there waiting for you, but there’s other knowledge that you need to have as well, and that knowledge needs to both keep it human and complete and also collectively move society to a better place because we have to solve this race problem.

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Elizabeth Alexander is awarded and New York Times best-selling author, renowned poet, educator, scholar and cultural advocate. His most recent book, The Trayvon Generation (2022), is a galvanizing meditation on the power of art and culture to illuminate America’s unresolved issue with race and the challenges facing young Black Americans. Of the fifteen books she has authored or co-authored, her memoir, The Light of the World, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2015 and her collection of poetry Sublime American was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2006. Notably, Dr. Alexander composed and recited “Praise Song for the Day” for President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. During an esteemed career in the field of education, she has held distinguished faculty positions at Smith College, Columbia University, and Yale University, where she taught for fifteen years and chaired the Department of African American Studies. Dr. Alexander is currently Chairman of the Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest funder of arts, culture and humanities.


Roxanne Coady owns RJ Julia, one of the leading independent booksellers in the United States, which since 1990 has been a community resource not only for books, but also for the exchange of ideas. In 1998, Coady founded Read to grow, which provides books for newborns and children and encourages parents to read to their children from birth. RTG has distributed over 1.5 million books.

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