English lecture discusses race

William Turkington, Courier Staff

The department of English hosted its 11th annual Magliocco Lecture with speaker Professor Adrienne Brown on Friday in Morgan 109.

The Maurine Magliocco Lecture Series began in October 2006. The department works with a $30,000 endowment commitment to support an annual lecture in literature, film, theory or the state of the discipline. Dr. Maurine Magliocco, a retired member of the department, is responsible for the substantial gift that allows the department to bring in people like Dr. Brown.

Professor David Banash of the English Department explained the speaker selection process. The department takes nominations for speakers from the faculty in English, has the coordinating committee review those nominations, ranks them and make invitations to the speakers.

“We chose Dr. Adrienne Brown because she is developing cutting-edge interdisciplinary work,” Banash said. “She looks at how the built environment of the city affects how we experience ourselves, particularly in terms of race, and this gives her a new way to read the history of literature and the history of our cities.”

Dr. Brown began the lecture by joking about how she was surprised to see so many college students in attendance on Friday night. The crowd of around 50 responded with a chuckle before Dr. Brown started getting into the meat and potatoes of her book, “The Black Skyscraper.”

She then explained the time in which skyscrapers really started to become a phenomenon, from the 1880s to the 1910s, and how the country was still very much dealing with the issue of race at that time.

“We need to pay more attention to the ways architecture shapes and affects the way we see and read race,” Brown said. “Architecture is always shaping our encounter with race and that encounter changes over time; not just in relation to law or science, but in relationship to the material world.”

Brown contends that city architecture distorts the ways we interact with race. In a non-densely populated setting, life tends to slow with one being more prone to interacting with those around oneself. In the hustle and bustle of the big city, one’s interactions and perceptions of people change drastically.

In the question and answer portion of the talk, a woman from the audience asked Brown about how she started thinking about the connection between skyscrapers and race.

“For me the first thing was really this question of vantage points,” Brown said. “In a book that’s trying to dramatize the view from the top of the skyscraper, you’ve got usually three versions of that description: dark specs, darkants, or dots, and I was very interested in that language.”