Race, Poetics, Empire

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The RPE graduate focal area examines how imperialism and its racial politics have shaped modern cultural forms. Developing innovative approaches to the study of literary traditions, race, diaspora, and geopolitics, RPE investigates relationships between aesthetics and power. While the concerns central to RPE extend back to the eighteenth, if not further, twentieth and twenty-first century conditions and productions guide RPE’s attention to earlier periods.  RPE supports comparative research in literatures across nations and languages, from the Americas and the Caribbean to continental Africa, South and East Asia, Europe, and the Global South.

Graduate students in the area benefit from:


To learn more about which members of the graduate faculty work in RPE and related areas, see the Graduate Faculty Areas page.

Read about the Faculty Cluster in African American Literary and Cultural Studies in the English Department, including faculty profiles and a description of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics (CAAPP) at the University of Pittsburgh.

Upcoming and Ongoing Programming

  • September 12 @ 7:00pm, In Search of Lost Homes: Mixed Media, Migration, and Memory

    An artist talk and discussion with composer Mathew Rosenblum and digital media artist Sharlene Bamboat. Working within different genres, these two artists share the same pursuit in their developing projects: to represent diasporas that are personal, yet elusive. Their work takes us to the Ukraine, Pakistan, Canada, and New York, but remains present in the production of their art. Rosenblum and Bamboat will talk us through the process of working against the consequence of memory, which is always fading and fictionalizing. This event is open to public with support from Global Studies.  
  • September 14 @ 5:00pm, Welcome Reception

  •  September 14 @ 6:30pm Blues and Verse
    Blues and Verse focuses on the legacy of the blues in African American poetics. Two poet-scholars, Chiyuma Elliott (Berkeley) and Derrick Harriell (University of Mississippi) will open conversation about blues that explores how this musical tradition challenges the boundaries between scholarship and art, text and sound. With additional responses from Michael Heller of the Music Department and Lauren Russell from the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, Blues and Verse asks us to consider what is possible if we openly discuss how history and critical reading inspires artistic creation. This event is open to the public. 

Recent Programming

  • On November 10, 2016, Priya Joshi, Professor of English at Temple University and prize-winning author of a book history of Indian writing, and one on Indian cinema, will visit to discuss her current research on “non-literary forms.” Her talk, “Retrofitting the Theory of the Novel,” will be held at 4:00 PM in the Humanities Center, 602 Cathedral of Learning. Contact Nancy Glazener (glazener@pitt.edu) for more information. This event is sponsored by The Cultural Studies Program, The Department of English, The Global Studies Center, The Humanities Center, and the Literature Program.
  • Richard Purcell, Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, will lead a discussion of Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me in preparation for Coates’s March visit. Purcell is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s PhD program, and his presentation, scheduled for the first week in March, will precede a visit by Ta-Nehisi Coates himself. Exact date, time, and location to be determined.
  • In the Spring, the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series will sponsor two exciting visitors:

-First, on March 20, 2017, celebrated author Ta-Nahisi Coates will visit Pittsburgh and will discuss with our own Yona Harvey their collective work on the black superhero, Black Panther, and the Black Panther series, published by Marvel Comics.  The event will begin at 8:30 PM, and it will be held in the William Pitt Ballroom.
-Then, on April 13, 2017, Edwidge Danticat will visit campus for a reading, also sponsored through the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series. Imani Owens, Associate Professor of English, will run a discussion group around one of Danticat’s books prior to the visit.   The event will be held at 8:30 PM, and it will be located in room 125 of the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium. 

  • Lectures and forums such as:

- Sponsored by boundary 2 and The Humanities Center, Professors Jonathan Arac and Paul A. Bové presented Somali novelist and essayist Nuruddin Farah, Distinguished Professor of Literature, Bard College, and his “Readings from New Fiction / Questions and Discussion.” Farah has authored fiction and essays with the topics of feminism, colonialism, dictatorship, civil war, and terrorism in his native country, Somalia. October, 2016.

Anna Mae Duane, Associate Professor of English at the University of Connecticut, presented “Reading Black Children in the 19C: A New Origin Story,” an investigation into race and childhood literature within the United States during the 19th Century. This event was sponsored by the Children’s Literature and Childhood Studies program. September, 2016.

- Hosted at Penn State, State College, the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) held its experimental conference, “ACL(x): Extra-Disciplinarity.” Through the support of the ACLA and Penn State University, its Department of Comparative Literature, the School of Languages and Literatures, and the College of Liberal Arts, the ACL(x) and the African Feminist Initiative have combined efforts to feature panels such as “Alternative Literacies at the Nexus of African Literary Studies and African Feminisms,” where speakers such as Pittsburgh’s own Susan Andrade, Associate Professor of English, presented as well as others such as Gabeba Baderoon, Rosemary Jolly, Eric Hayot and Alex Beecroft.  September, 2016.

- “What is a Black Poetics and Why Does it Matter?” This event was highlighted by speakers Annie Seaton and Erica Hunt, and it was moderated by Dawn Lundy Martin, Associate Professor of Writing. March, 2016.

- “Jazz Across the Disciplines: A Lecture with Brent Hayes Edwards.” Brent Hayes Edwards is currently a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in the City of New York. February, 2016.

- Working in the Archives, with presentations by: Julian Gill-Peterson (Assistant Professor, Literature): "The Doctor’s Papers: The Transgender Child as a Biological and Discursive Body"; Shalini Puri (Associate Professor, Literature): "From the Edges of Archives: Grenada, Endangered Pasts, and Fragments of Memory"; and Kuhu Tanvir (PhD Student, Film): "Pirate Archive and Pirate Histories of Indian Cinema.” December, 2015

 - The Graduate Student Works-in-Progress forum, which featured the works of graduate students Sreemoyee Dasgupta and since graduated Hyo Kyung Woo. November, 2015