On Friendship and Black Study

WED, APR 5, 2023 (1:20:11)

Join us for this celebration of two new books on education, poetry, and black life.

In a public discussion centering their two newest books, School Clothes and Spoken Word, Dr. Jarvis Givens and Dr. Joshua Bennett explore a theme that structures not only these two works of nonfiction, but their careers as writers and educators to this point: the long-standing bond between black study and the pursuit of human freedom.

This conversation will be moderated by Christian Walkes, Director of Education and Interpretation, Museum of African American History.

This is a hybrid event. There is no registration requirement for virtual attendance. The link for virtual attendance can be found at maah.org/events (coming soon!).


A chorus of Black student voices that renders a new story of US education—one where racial barriers and violence are confronted by freedom dreaming and resistance

Black students were forced to live and learn on the Black side of the color line for centuries, through the time of slavery, Emancipation, and the Jim Crow era. And for just as long—even through to today—Black students have been seen as a problem and a seemingly troubled population in America’s public imagination.

Through over one hundred firsthand accounts from the 19th and 20th centuries, Professor Jarvis Givens offers a powerful counter-narrative in School Clothes to challenge such dated and prejudiced storylines. He details the educational lives of writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison; political leaders like Mary McLeod Bethune, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis; and Black students whose names are largely unknown but who left their marks nonetheless. Givens blends this multitude of individual voices into a single narrative, a collective memoir, to reveal a through line shared across time and circumstance: a story of African American youth learning to battle the violent condemnation of Black life and imposed miseducation meant to quell their resistance.

School Clothes elevates a legacy in which Black students are more than the sum of their suffering. By peeling back the layers of history, Givens unveils in high relief a distinct student body: Black learners shaped not only by their shared vulnerability but also their triumphs, fortitude, and collective strivings.


A fascinating history of the art form that has transformed the cultural landscape, by one of its influential practitioners, an award-winning poet, professor, and slam champion

In 2009, when he was twenty years old, Joshua Bennett was invited to perform a spoken word poem for Barack and Michelle Obama, at the same White House “Poetry Jam” where Lin-Manuel Miranda declaimed the opening bars of a work-in-progress that would soon revolutionize American theater. That meeting is but one among many in the trajectory of Bennett’s young life, as he rode the cresting wave of spoken word through the 2010s. In this book, he goes back to its roots, considering the Black Arts movement and the prominence of poetry and song in Black education; the origins of the famed Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side living room of the visionary Miguel Algarín, who hosted verse gatherings with legendary figures like Ntozake Shange and Miguel Piñero; the rapid growth of the “slam” format that was pioneered at the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago; the perfect storm of spoken word’s rise during the explosion of social media; and Bennett’s own journey alongside his older sister, whose work to promote the form helped shape spaces online and elsewhere dedicated to literature and the pursuit of human freedom.

Book sales will be offered in-person at the Museum of African American History.

This program is presented in partnership with the Museum of African American History, The Teachers’ Lounge, the Black Student Union at HGSE, and the GBH Forum Network.

+ BIO: Joshua Bennett

Joshua Bennett is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth. He is the author of five books of poetry, criticism, and narrative nonfiction: The Sobbing School (Penguin, 2016)—winner of the National Poetry Series and a finalist for an NAACP Image Award—Owed (Penguin, 2020), a finalist for the New England Book Award; Being Property Once Myself (Harvard University Press, 2020), winner of the MLA’s William Sanders Scarborough Prize; The Study of Human Life (Penguin, 2022), which is currently being adapted for television in partnership with Warner Brothers Studios, and Spoken Word: A Cultural History (Knopf, 2023).

Bennett earned his Ph.D. in English from Princeton University, and an M.A. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Warwick, where he was a Marshall Scholar. He has recited his original works at the Sundance Film Festival, the NAACP Image Awards, and President Obama’s Evening of Poetry and Music at the White House. He has also performed and taught creative writing workshops at hundreds of middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities across the United States, as well as in the U.K. and South Africa.

For his creative writing and scholarship, Joshua has received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, MIT, and the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. Alongside his friend and colleague, Jesse McCarthy, he is the founding editor of Minor Notes, a Penguin Classics book series dedicated to minor poets within the black expressive tradition. He lives in Massachusetts.

+ BIO: Jarvis Givens

Jarvis R. Givens is an Associate Professor of Education and African & African American Studies at Harvard University. He is the author of two books: School Clothes: A Collective Memoir of Black Student Witness (Beacon Press, February 2023) and Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching (Harvard University Press, 2021), which won several book awards, including the History of Education Society’s 2022 Outstanding Book Award, the American Educational Research Association’s 2022 Outstanding Book Award, and the 2022 Book Award from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Professor Givens recently prepared new editions of two African American classics: Carter G. Woodson’s The Mis-education of the Negro, published by Penguin Classics, and Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, to be published by the Norton Library. In partnership with Imani Perry of Princeton University, he is also the principal investigator of The Black Teacher Archive, a digital humanities project sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and focused on preserving the political and intellectual legacy of black schoolteachers before 1970. His research has been published in journals and magazines including: The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, American Educational Research Journal, Souls, and Harvard Educational Review. Professor Givens earned his PhD in African American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. He is a native of Compton, California, and currently resides in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Museum of African American History