It’s February. What do Do?

So you’re wondering what to do before the English Department’s BIG READ on February 11 at 4 p.m. in Rome 771? (That event, as you recall, will give you an exclusive audience with the fabulously witty and talented Howard Jacobson, known to Brits as a novelist, newspaper columnist, broadcaster, and all-around public intellectual, and yet curiously underappreciated on this side of the pond.)

Well, we have a suggestion. February will see GWU playing host to a number of events for its Black Heritage Celebration. The impressive line-up features talks, a step show (go if you’ve never seen one), and an opening event exploring Afro-Latino connections in the Americas (of special interest to students who have taken ENGL 40: Literature of the Americas, or studied with English Professors H.G. Carrillo or Tony López).

If you can only attend one event, this blogger’s personal recommendation would be GWU History Prof. Adele Alexander‘s talk based on her book Parallel Worlds: The Remarkable Gibbs-Hunts and the Enduring (In)significance of Melanin. (Melanin is the chemical compound found in humans that largely determines skin pigmentation.) This dual biography traces the story of Ida Alexander Gibbs and William Henry Hunt, a talented couple who traveled the world and knew many of the most significant figures of the 20th century. But since the Hunts were, by U.S. racial definition, black–William had been born into slavery–their opportunities were severely limited. The book narrates their remarkable lives and the difficulties that they confronted because of “race.”

Prof. Alexander, an acclaimed historian and a graceful writer, was recently nominated to serve on the National Council of the Humanities, the body that advises the National Endowment of the Humanities. (In short: a very senior position in the most prestigious national humanities organization.) She is also, not incidentally, the mother of Elizabeth Alexander, the poet who read her poem “Praise Song for the Day” at Pres. Obama’s inauguration.

Prof. Alexander will read from and discuss Parallel Lives on Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. in Marvin 405. If you’re curious about how race operated in the era of Jim Crow–and how the history of the “color line” infiltrates our lives in the age of Obama, this is the talk for you.

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