IRAAS Conversations Lecture
Thursday March 26th, 2015 6:15pm -8:15pm
Columbia School of Social Work – Room C03
“Feeling Arab and Black: Conversations about Race and Disability in Literature”
Theri Pickens, Assistant Professor of English – Bates College
In her first book, New Body Politics: Narrating Arab and Black Identity in the Contemporary United States, Therí Pickens begins with following premise: In the increasingly multi-racial and multi-ethnic American landscape of the present, understanding and bridging dynamic cross-cultural conversations about social and political concerns becomes a complicated humanistic project. What can the experience of corporeality offer social and political discourse? And, how does that discourse change when those bodies belong to Arab Americans and African Americans? By way of answer, she argues that Arab American and African American narratives rely on the body’s fragility, rather than its exceptional strength or emotion, to create urgent social and political critiques.
Suturing critical race studies, and disability studies, Pickens turns to Du Bois’s question “how does it feel to be a problem?” since it hovers over her book project. She zeroes in on the verb “to feel,” accepting the invitation for phenomenological inquiry. In this talk, she examines Du Bois’s question as a framework that opens up new possibilities in analyzing Arab American author Rabih Alameddine. Alameddine’s fiction not only lingers on what it means to ‘feel’ like a problem but also proffers the space of the hospital as a way to orient a critique. Side-stepping the erasure of “Arab as the new Black,” Pickens proffers the conversation between Du Bois and Alameddine as a way to answer the exigencies of feeling, and being now.
Her critical work has appeared in MELUS, Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, Women & Performance, Polymath: An Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Journal, Disability Studies Quarterly, Al-Jadid, Journal of Canadian Literature, Al-Raida, the ground-breaking collection, Blackness and Disability: Critical Examinations and Cultural Interventions, and the critical volume, Defying the Global Language: Perspectives in Ethnic Studies (Teneo Ltd). She also has more upcoming critical work in the journal, Hypatia.
She is also a creative writer. Her poetry has appeared in Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire, Save the Date, and Disability Studies Quarterly. Her drama has been performed at the NJ State Theater.