Unbound Reading celebrates black female writers through roundtable reads

The “Unbound Reading: Women’s Voices” event provided undergraduate students with opportunities to read books written by black writers in a roundtable style.


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The “Unbound Reading: Women’s Voices” event was held at 3 p.m. on April 17 in MU’s Tate Hall, where female undergraduate students read books written by black writers out loud. This event served as a precursor to the Unbound Book Festival, offering students a taste of the work done by writers involved in the festival and free tickets to the keynote address by George Saunders.

According to its website, the Unbound Book Festival is an annual event in Columbia, Missouri, which celebrates literature of all kinds. Nationally-recognized and best-selling authors across many different genres come to mid-Missouri to discuss their work and participate in a variety of stimulating events and environments.

Alexandra Socarides, MU’s English Department chair, April Langley, Black Studies Department chair, along with Linda Reeder, Women’s and Gender Studies Department chair, collaborated to make this Unbound reading event happen.

“Four female students were asked by their professors to pick any book written by a woman of color,” Socarides said. “This is in an attempt to increase visibility of black writers and also women empowerment.”

Kelsey Meyerkord, a junior from the Department of Women's and Gender Studies, did the first reading and she chose the introductory section of “The South Side,” written by Natalie Moore. “This book relates to so many cities across the U.S. explaining racial divide ... separate and unequal,” Meyerkord said.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Moore examines the myriad ways in which the lives of African Americans in the Chicago region are limited, constrained, stifled and lessened by segregation.

Moore focuses on her home territory of the city's South Side where she grew up, went to school and now lives, but her analysis fits the West Side as well. It's also relevant for the other portions of the seven-county metropolitan area where blacks live concentrated together and set apart, particularly many near western and southern suburbs.

The second reader of the series, Madeline Hills, a junior women’s and gender studies student, read poetry from “You Darling Thing,” written by Monica Ferrell.

“I have always liked poetry, I think it’s healing,” Hills said. “I chose this specific anthology because I loved the way themes of gender, sexuality, age and race shaped the body of work in a very unique and slightly dark tone.”

The Poetry Foundation’s website describes Ferrell as a poet and novelist whose allusive poems often seem to molt, revealing vulnerable, raw skin caught mid-transformation. Ferrell skillfully manipulates and revises form to explore the rapidly changing social and artistic landscape that she inhabits.

Third reader of the series, Lexi Wilkinson, a senior studying psychology and English, read “The Birds of Opulence,” written by Crystal Wilkinson. “I chose this book because we share the name and I am also an aspiring writer,” Wilkinson said. “This novel is divided by years and follows two families that are related through marriage, exploring generational black southern life.”

Crystal Wilkinson is an associate professor at the University of Kentucky College of Art and Sciences and was awarded the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence for “The Birds of Opulence.”

Nominated for both the Orange Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Wilkinson has received recognition from The Kentucky Foundation for Women, The Kentucky Arts Council, The Mary Anderson Center for the Arts, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and is a recipient of the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature.

Olivia Flagg-Bourke, the fourth reader in the series, is an undergraduate student majoring in civil engineering with a minor in architecture. Flagg-Bourke chose to read “Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.”

“This book is interesting. It highlights the narrative that new people coming to a city is not always the best for that city,” Flagg-Bourke said. “Even the bonding over ruining people’s lives is such an interesting concept.”

Listeners at the event had follow-up questions for each reader and said that they enjoyed being read to and that the pieces chosen were very interesting.

Like the festival’s mission, this reading event was “innovative, different, stimulating and – above all – fun.”

Edited by Janae McKenzie | jmckenzie@themaneater.com

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