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The 2020 Marion Thompson Wright Conference at Rutgers University-Newark To Explore Black Futures

originally published: 12/30/2019

The 2020 Marion Thompson Wright Conference at Rutgers University-Newark To Explore Black Futures(NEWARK, NJ) -- Since 1981, the Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series has brought to Newark leading scholars of and figures in African American history to participate in a civic ritual dedicated to the rigorous exploration of the past as a means of bringing about brighter futures. The Series’ 40th installment, “Black Futures: What Seems to Be, Need Not Be,” will look to multiple futures –of the series itself, the field of African American Studies, and of Black America as a social, cultural, and political formation -to foreground a tradition of futurism in black intellectual and cultural life, as well as how that tradition and the freedom dreams it has generated have driven movements for change. Ten years ago, the thirtieth anniversary of the series looked back to take stock of its history and that of the field in which it works. For this anniversary, it will look forward to how the series might more fully and meaningfully participate in bringing about a more just and inclusive future.

The annual Black History Month conference will be held on Saturday, February 15, 2020, beginning at 9:30am in the Paul Robeson Campus Center, 350 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., on the campus of Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N). The conference is organized annually by the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at RU-N.

This year’s keynote speaker will be Saidiya Hartman, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and recently named MacArthur Fellow. In books such as Scenes of Subjection and Wayward LivesBeautiful Experiments, Hartman has written brilliantly about how black people, particularly black women and girls, have imagined, negotiated, and invented their own futures in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Professor Hartman’s keynote will be followed by three more lectures, each by a distinguished scholar uniquely engaged with black futurism.

Jason King is a songwriter, producer, and scholar, who serves as a founding faculty member of New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. In numerous essays and his book, The Michael Jackson Treasures, as well as his work as an avant-garde artist with the band Company Freak, King has emerged as one of the nation’s most perceptive critics and curators of black experimental and popular music.

Ruha Benjamin is an associate professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, where she founded the JUST DATA Lab. In her work there and in writings that include People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier (2013) and Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code (2019), Benjamin critically explores the social dimensions of science and technology, uncovering the complicated relationships between innovation and inequity.

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Ytasha Womack is an award-winning author, filmmaker, and dance therapist. Honored among DesignHub’s 40 Under 40 designers for social good and innovation in 2017 and named a “Filmmaker to Watch” by The Chicago Tribune, Womack is a leading expert on AfroFuturism, imagination, and their social functions and applications. Her award-winning book Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi and Fantasy Culture (Chicago Review Press) is the leading primer on the subject.

Following the conference, MTW attendees are invited to a reception in the Engelhard Court of the Newark Museum, 49 Washington Street. The reception will feature food and live musical entertainment by The Bradford Hayes Trio.

All events are free and open to the public.

The MTW lecture series was co-founded in 1981 by the late Dr. Clement A. Price, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History at Rutgers University, the late Giles R. Wright, director of the Afro-American History Program at the New Jersey Historical Commission, and the MTW Study Club. Over the past 39 years, the conference has drawn thousands of people to Rutgers University-Newark and has attracted some of the nation’s foremost scholars, artists, and humanists in the field of African and African American history and culture. It has become one of the nation's leading scholarly programs specifically devoted to enhancing the historical literacy of an intercultural community.

The annual conference was named for East Orange native Dr. Marion Thompson Wright, a pioneer in African-American historiography and race relations in New Jersey, a groundbreaking historian of race and education, and among the earliest professionally trained women historians in the nation. The Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series is presented by the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience; the Federated Department of History, Rutgers University-Newark/New Jersey Institute of Technology; and the Department of African American and African Studies, Rutgers University-Newark. The 2020 conference is made possible by funds and support from: Prudential, the New Jersey Historical Commission/Department of State, and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

For additional information about the program, please visit the Price Institute’s Facebook page.

PHOTO: l-r, clockwise: Saidiya Hartman, Jason King, Ruha Benjamin, Ytasha Womack

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