Comic artist will explore his work on Black life in UO talk

Keith Knight, one of the most highly regarded cartoonists in the United States, will take a deep dive on 20 artists who inspired him to use his art to address social issues when he delivers the annual O’Fallon Lecture at the UO.

Knight is part of a generation of African American artists who were raised on hip-hop, infusing their work with urgency, edge, humor, satire, politics and themes of racial justice and equality. His talk, “The Intersection of Art and Social Justice,” will be Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 5:30 p.m. in the Redwood Auditorium in the Erb Memorial Union.

The event is free and open to the public. It will be livestreamed and American Sign Language interpreted. Register on the center’s website. 

Knight has been creating comics and cartoons since grade school, and has been drawing his social and personal commentaries since the 1990s.

“My first Black teacher was my American lit teacher in college,” he said. “He assigned us James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison to read. When someone asked why he was giving us all Black writers, he answered, ‘I’m giving you all American writers.’ That revelation changed me.”

Knight said the teacher was making the point that what most people know as American literature, such as work by Mark Twain, is limited at best.

“And I loved that he was working within the system to subvert the system,” he said. “My comics went from being about keg parties to being about growing up a Black man in America.” 

Knight is the author of the comic strips “The K Chronicles,” “(Th)ink” and “The Knight Life.” His art has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Daily KOS, San Francisco Chronicle,, Ebony, ESPN The Magazine, L.A. Weekly, MAD Magazine and Funny Times. He is a co-creator and co-writer of Hulu’s streaming series “Woke” based on “The K Chronicles” and his life, now in its second season.

Knight is this year’s Colin Ruagh Thomas O’Fallon Memorial Lecturer in Art and American Culture at the Oregon Humanities Center. His slideshow lecture is the second event in the center’s 2022-23 “Belonging” series.

The O’Fallon Lecture was established by a gift from Henry and Betsy Mayer, named in memory of their nephew, son of the late UO law professor James O’Fallon and his wife, artist Ellen Thomas. The subject of the lecture alternates between law and art in American culture.