Lorwin Lecture to examine black motherhood and grief

Rhaisa Kameela Williams

A Washington University theater professor will visit the UO this month to discuss the first play by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison.

Rhaisa Kameela Williams will speak on Friday, Oct. 25, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Gerlinger Alumni Lounge. Her talk, “Screaming to Dream: Toni Morrison, Emmett Till, and Black Maternal Grief,” examines themes in the novelist’s first play, “Dreaming Emmett,” derived from the notorious 1955 lynching of a 14-year-old black boy in Mississippi.

Williams is an assistant professor of theater and performance studies in the performing arts at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research uses mixed-archive methods — spanning across literature, family history, archives and public policy — to focus on the intersections of blackness, motherhood, affect and disquieting modes of freedom.

Currently, Williams is writing a manuscript, “Mama, Don’t You Weep: Motherhood, Blackness, and Performances of Grief,” that traces the intimate relationship between grief and black motherhood from the civil rights movement to the present. The book asserts that black women, no matter their personal relationship to offspring or “othermothering,” have specifically mobilized grief inherent to black motherhood as a tactic to perform, remake and critique forms of citizenship.

Williams’ talk is the first event in the 2019-20 Lorwin Lectureship on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, presented by the Center for the Study of Women in Society. Six speakers, ranging from scholars of theater and performance arts to the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, will deliver talks on the theme of “Gender, Power and Grief.”

“On a daily basis, we bear witness to the state-sponsored violence that renders the loss of certain lives and communities unworthy of grief,” said center director Michelle McKinley, the Bernard B. Kliks Professor in the UO School of Law.

McKinley said the roster of speakers for this year’s Lorwin Lectureship seeks both to honor the process of grief and the cultural practices of bereavement.

“They show us that in a time where much of the state apparatus is structured to demean poor people, loving, honoring and grieving those bodies, and acknowledging what we have lost, is a radical emotional act,” she said.

Lorwin Lectureship events will run through June 4. Event details, including cosponsors, can be found on the center’s website. The Lorwin Lectureship on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is funded by a gift from Val and Madge Lorwin to the UO College of Arts and Sciences and School of Law.