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Event series uses art to explore our differences

Kristen B. Morales

January 31, 2019

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Through film, poetry and on-stage readings, a variety of artists will come together in February and March to draw attention to the myriad ways our society can make people feel invisible—and move those experiences from the negative to the positive.

This series of events, called "This is (Not) What I Expected: Difference and Dignity Through Literature and the Arts," is inspired by the 2014 book "Citizen: An American Lyric" by Claudia Rankine. In it, the author recounts acts of racial aggressions she experienced through everyday encounters. For the reader, the book simultaneously coaxes and pushes us to confront these experiences.

The events in the series aim to have a similar effect in person, pushing attendees to pause, question and reflect on their own actions, both in the past and in the future.

"The purpose is to have conversations about what it means to have micro-validation," said Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, a professor in the University of Georgia College of Education who created the series. "It's about making people feel visible in positive ways, not making them feel visible in negative ones."

The kickoff event in the series takes place Feb. 20 when author and speaker Regina E. Mason presents her documentary "Gina's Story: The Search for William Grimes." Mason is the great-great-great granddaughter of William Grimes, the author of the first published American slave narrative, and the film tells the story of Grimes as well as Mason's 15-year process to authenticate his story.

The talk and screening take place 4:30-7 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Miller Learning Center Room 148 on the UGA campus. Admission is free.

Other events in the series include:

Heid Erdrich, an award-winning poet and a member of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe tribe, will read from her latest book, "Curator of Ephemera at the New Museum for Archaic Media," and other new works, 7-9 p.m. March 5 at Cine, 234 W. Hancock St. • Poet, essayist and novelist M. Nourbese Philip, who writes about race and culture. She will perform her work and connect it to "Citizen" at 7 p.m. March 21 at Ciné. • A staged reading of "Citizen: An American Lyric" by faculty and students of the UGA Theatre Department and community actors, combining poetry with commentary, visual art, slogans and scripts. This free event takes place starting at 7 p.m. March 22 and 23 at the Seney-Stovall Chapel, 200 N. Milledge Ave. • A book discussion and writing response for "Citizen," where participants can write their own reflections on past experiences with microaggression or micro-validation. This takes place noon-1 p.m. March 25 in Aderhold Hall Room 119 on the UGA campus.

In addition, a select number of attendees at the staged reading and book discussion will receive a copy of "Citizen."

The event series is produced in partnership with the UGA College of Education and the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and is supported by grants from the UGA Willson Center for the Humanities and Arts, Verse Magazine and the Georgia Humanities, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development through funding from the Georgia General Assembly.

Cahnmann-Taylor said she hopes the events can draw an even larger audience to the acclaimed book that inspired the series. For her, it's a "must-read."

"There are some books that just define the American experience, and this book is one of them. It is universal," she said. "There are moments in the book any of us can identify with."

For full event details, visit coe.uga.edu/citizen.