Revisiting the Elegy: Mourning and Resistance

“And there is pause, a breathspace in the strife;/A spirit brave has passed beyond the mists/And vapors that obscure the sun of life./And
Ethiopia, with bosom torn,/Laments the passing of her noblest born.”

The elegy originated as a poet’s response to the dead—one of lament, praise, and consolation. Black writers historically have been working in the form, from Phillis Wheatley to Paul Laurence Dunbar, and in the case of Dunbar, as expressed above, adding a political dimension by mourning Frederick Douglass as a son of Ethiopia—the positing of a past and future black nation. For this panel, we seek papers that investigate contemporary elegy within the black diaspora. We want to explore how mourning feeds our political awareness in this seemingly “dystopian” time, as black writers attempt to see, hear, and say something to the bodies of the dead as well as readers. Perhaps one could look at the contemporary elegy as a challenge to the elegy in its past form and more so as a commemoration of diasporic challenges (including recently police brutality) and belongings (through “literary activism”). One could look to Lucille Clifton, Nikky Finney, Claudia Rankine, Jericho Brown, Danez Smith and Aracelis Girmay’s in The Black Maria, which specifically challenges the consoling aspect of elegy and contextualizes the recent police shootings of black people. Moreover, the many black poets presently writing poetry about police brutality, killings, and policies targeted at black communities offers a site for inquiry. We look for papers that discuss contemporary black writers’ responses to personal and public deaths, challenging some of the foundational components of the elegy, while still drawing on the form.

Please send 250-300 word abstracts to Tiffany Austin at and Emily Rutter at by April 15, 2017. Your abstract should include your name, rank, institutional affiliation, and email.