Interview with Poet DaMaris B. Hill on the Role of the Humanities Today

July 10, 2020

Interview between Federation President Phoebe Stein and Poet and Associate Professor DaMaris B. Hill

DaMaris B. Hill is the author of A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland (2020 NAACP Image Award nominee for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry), The Fluid Boundaries of Suffrage and Jim Crow: Staking Claims in the American Heartland, and \Vi-zə-bəl\   \Teks-chərs\(Visible Textures). She has a keen interest in the work of Toni Morrison and theories regarding “rememory” as a philosophy and aesthetic practice. Similar to her creative process, Hill’s scholarly research is interdisciplinary. Hill is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky. http://damarishill.com

What role do the humanities have in moving our country forward productively during this time?

HILL: The humanities have a central role in moving our country and society forward. In addition to promoting and contextualizing art, people that work in the humanities must contextualize what it means to be human in a time and place like this. The humanist’s job is to explain the creative and intellectual intersections of human experience within a historical era.

Considering our contemporary moment, it is immensely important that the people in the humanities investigate and translate the experiences of marginalized and disenfranchised people in our society. They must do this in an attempt to make the public aware of how democracy is no longer predicated on votes, but is deeply steeped in a perverse violence that is cultural and political. This type of violence will continue to have ripple effects for multiple generations.

Specifically, what can we read to best put today’s fight for justice in perspective?

HILL: In addition to A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing, readers should also read books like:

  • Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval and Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route by Saidiya Hartman
  • Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation by Imani Perry
  • Colored Amazons by Kali N. Gross
  • Survival Math by Mitchell D. Jackson
  • Mourner’s Bench by Sanderia Faye
  • Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
  • Honeyfish by Lauren K. Alleyne
  • Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All (2020) and Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (2018) by Martha S. Jones
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Nation’s Divide by Carol Anderson
  • Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom by Keisha N. Blain
  • Stamped by Ibram X Kendi

What are you reading?

HILL: I am currently reading the Old English Dictionary and many works by poets such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Patricia Smith, Nikki Finney, Chat’la Sebree, and Lucille Clifton. I rotate in prose works by Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Cade Bambara, and Toni Morrison. I am also reading contemporary works about Black photography and contemporary art like Deborah Willis’ Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers – 1840 to the Present and Nicole Fleetwood’s Marking Time in Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration. Other books that I am influenced by and help me to shape the world I live in include works by literary scholars. They include Geography and the Political Imaginary in the Novels of Toni Morrison by Herman Beavers, Bad Men: Creative Touchstones of Black Writers by Howard Rambsy and The Muse is the Music by Meta DuEwa Jones.

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