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caption: Elizabeth Alexander and The Trayvon Generation
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Elizabeth Alexander and The Trayvon Generation
Credit: Courtesy of Elizabeth Alexander and Grand Central Publishing

Poet reflects on the intersection of Black art and a new generation of racial trauma

The poet Elizabeth Alexander came to national attention in 2009 when she recited her poem "Praise Song for the Day" at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Alexander’s new book, The Trayvon Generation, is an expansion on an essay she wrote for The New Yorker in 2020. The work reflects on the ways Black art — visual art, poetry, prose, and music — speaks to and reckons with historical and present-day racism. It explores how the generation of Black Americans who grew up in the last 25 years navigates that reality. It fathoms how they experience racial violence in general and the killings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others in particular. It contemplates the legacy of trauma in a culture that in some respects still marginalizes the humanity of Black people.

Joined here by the poet Mahogany L. Browne, Alexander talks about the artists who inspire her. She speaks to a new generation, and to our responsibility as a people to come to grips with the past, and guide and protect the path forward.

Elizabeth Alexander is an acclaimed poet, memoirist, scholar and the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Her other works include The Light of the World, American Sublime, Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010, and The Black Interior: Essays. Mahogany L. Browne is the author of Chlorine Sky, Woke: A Young Poets Call to Justice, Woke Baby, and Black Girl Magic. She serves as the executive director of the media literacy initiative JustMedia.

This virtual event was presented on April 4, 2022, by Books & Books, the Miami Book Fair, and other independent bookstores around the country, including the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle and Village Books in Bellingham. Christina Nosti of Books & Books introduced the program.