Spahr discusses her book, Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment, published by Harvard University Press.
In 1956 W. E. B. Du Bois was denied a passport to attend the Présence Africaine Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris. So he sent the assembled a telegram. “Any Negro-American who travels abroad today must either not discuss race conditions in the United States or say the sort of thing which our State Department wishes the world to believe.” Taking seriously Du Bois’s allegation, Juliana Spahr breathes new life into age-old questions as she explores how state interests have shaped U.S. literature. What is the relationship between literature and politics? Can writing be revolutionary? Can art be autonomous, or is escape from nations and nationalisms impossible?
Spahr does not deny the exhilaration of politically engaged art. But her study affirms a sobering reality: aesthetic resistance is easily domesticated.
Juliana Spahr is Professor of English at Mills College. She is the author of eight volumes of poetry, including The Winter the Wolf Came, Well Then There Now, and Response, winner of the National Poetry Series Award. She is also the editor, with Claudia Rankine, of American Women Poets in the 21st Century and received the O. B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize from the Folger Shakespeare Library.