Public Writing: How to Write about Crisis
Professor Leah Mirakhor
This course focuses on the way public writers intervene into and interrogate the intersections of racial capitalism, state violence, the pandemic, and protests. The writers we focus on have been drawing connections alongside these histories and genealogies in various ways, historicizing this current moment and helping us think about the overlapping relationships between past and present as well as provides us with forms of building a more just and ethical future. Our class provides an intellectual and social space to engage with how these writers can help us navigate the crises we face individually and collectively.
Our current historical moment asks us to craft broader and deeper connections between personal, local, national, and international issues and to think about cultivating and sustaining broader intellectual and social communities. What is the role of the writer in crafting these connections, in expanding ways of thinking and troubling ways of seeing the world? The course readings and themes have been selected as a way think about and examine our present conditions—as notions of the public have become increasingly eroded and contested against the backdrop of the pandemic, state violence, and protests.
Over the course of the semester, we will examine how writers as well as artists, curators, and public intellectuals who posit themselves as disturbers of the peace and who have been articulating the intersections of the political, personal, social, and environmental. And, we will consider the overlapping relationships between genre, politics, and aesthetics in writing about the most pressing contemporary political issues. Some of our question are: How we conceive of the publics? What does it mean to write for public audiences? What does engaging in public discourse look like? How do we maintain analytic rigor and articulate major social issues to an audience beyond our disciplinary homes and to people with varying educational, political, and social circumstances? What are the relationships between aesthetics, politics, and form? How do constructions of audience, language, jargon, and expertise function in such writing? What debates do the pieces enter, and what sorts of cultural, social, and aesthetic interventions do they attempt to make? Our goals in this class are to examine the relationship between aesthetics and politics in these works, interrogate our understanding of the publics, and cultivate collectively shared forms of writing, knowledge making, and public facing work. We will foster this vision in our work by contributing to final projects that are public facing, collaborative, and committed to advancing interdisciplinary knowledge.
For their final project, students collaborated to create a zine that traces racialized state violence, inequity, and misinformation’s impact on our present—and charts a way forward.
Student Blog Posts
Organized by the 100 Black Men of West Texas, a Silent Solidarity Walk took place in downtown Lubbock on the evening of June 1st. By then, thousands of people were coming together across the nation to protest police brutality and systemic racism, so I eagerly attended the solidarity walk because I wanted the Movement for Black Lives to find a place in my West Texas town.
One of the key driving factors in Rankine’s conversations throughout Just Us is the idea of making space in conversations: for herself, for her conversational partner, as well as for the reader.
The world I inhabit is one that first existed in imagination. Even though Jim Crow policed their bodies and their lives, activists protested and endured violence so that in a sea of raised white hands in a classroom, I could raise my own. Perhaps arriving at black liberation isn’t the point. The project of liberation will always be an unfinished one, a symphony amid composition.
One essential task of writers accompanying movements for social change is to make visible that which is hidden. Counternarratives are a practice in that visibility. They acknowledge that abolishing structures of domination must go hand in hand with eliminating ideologies of harm. When this concert between analyses of structural and ideological conditions is achieved, new visions of freedom are possible.
The curators of “Material Intimacies” have successfully created an exhibition that “examines intimacy as an encounter shaped by colonialism’s globalizing force.” Each artist uses the materials commodified for the colonial project in order to create art that is elevated in a white wall gallery space while forging new relationships and bonds in the face of violence, exploitation, and displacement.