Collage of MTW speakers

Marion Thompson Wright Conference Explores the Power of the Erotic in the Black Experience

The erotic is often seen as a realm of oppression and danger. But, as Audre Lorde argued forty years ago, it also contains the potential for empowerment and struggle. This tension will be explored as the 39th annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series (MTW) brings together eminent scholars and performers to examine the political and social lives of the erotic in the African American experience.

The annual Black History Month conference will be held on Saturday, February 16, 2019, beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the Paul Robeson Campus Center, 350 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., at Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N). The conference is organized annually by the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience.

At a time in which the pursuit of sexual justice occupies such a prominent place in our city’s and nation’s political consciousness – in ugly national headlines, for sure, but also in the fearless work of local institutions like the Shani Baraka Women’s Resource Center, the Newark LGBTQ Community Center, and Rutgers-Newark’s own Queer Newark Oral History Project – The Erotic as Power: Sexuality in the Black Experience seeks a broad public reflection on these dynamics, guided by cutting-edge scholarship and artistic practice, and dedicated to a more inclusive and just city, nation, and world.

This year, the Price Institute brings to Newark renowned scholars and performers whose pioneering and award-winning work has powerfully shaped America’s understanding of sexuality’s history and its role in contemporary life. The first is E. Patrick Johnson, a scholar/artist who has published and performed widely on race, gender, and sexuality. His long list of publications includes two ethnographies of black queer life in the South entitled Sweet Tea (2011) and Black. Queer. Southern. Women. (2018) and several landmark volumes on performance, race, and queer studies. Chair of African American Studies and Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African American Studies at Northwestern University, Johnson regularly performs dramatic readings and plays based on his ethnographic research. He will open the MTW conference with an innovative lecture/performance.

The day’s other speakers and performers will be:

  • Cheryl Dunye, pioneering filmmaker, producer, and actor who emerged during the 1990s “Queer New Wave” with her landmark Watermelon Woman (1996), a deconstruction of documentary film, black performance history and its archives, and queer politics. A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Dunye’s has garnered numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best director. The Watermelon Woman was restored by Outfest’s UCLA Legacy Project for the film’s 20th anniversary.
  • Marcus Hunter, Associate Professor and chair of African American Studies at UCLA has written extensively on urban development and the role played in it by race and sexuality. His first book, Black Citymakers: How the Philadelphia Negro Changed Urban America (2013), revisits the neighborhood immortalized in W.E.B. DuBois’s The Philadelphia Negro as it faces dramatic transformations at the end of the twentieth century. He continues this remapping of black urban America with Zandria F. Robinson in their recent Chocolate Cities (2018), which reflects the diversity of the lived experiences and future of Black life in America.
  • Alexis Pauline Gumbs, named one of UTNE Reader’s 50 Visionaries, is a poet and educator currently teaching at the University of Minnesota and the author of Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity and M Archive: After the End of the World. Working in the black feminist tradition of intersectional analysis and creative community-building, she is a mixed-media visual artist whose Black Feminist Breathing Collages toured the nation and an experimental poet who has been a Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize Honoree and who was featured in Best American Experimental Writing 2015.

Following the conference, MTW attendees are invited to a reception in the Engelhard Court of the Newark Museum, 49 Washington Street. The reception will feature food and live musical entertainment by The Bradford Hayes Trio.

All events are free and open to the public.

About the MTW Lecture Series

The MTW lecture series was co-founded in 1981 by the late Dr. Clement A. Price, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History at Rutgers University, and the late Giles R. Wright, director of the Afro-American History Program at the New Jersey Historical Commission. Over the past 38 years, the conference has drawn thousands of people to Rutgers University-Newark and has attracted some of the nation’s foremost scholars, artists, and humanists in the field of African and African American history and culture. It has become one of the nation's leading scholarly programs specifically devoted to enhancing the historical literacy of an intercultural community.

The annual conference was named for East Orange native Dr. Marion Thompson Wright, a pioneer in African-American historiography and race relations in New Jersey, a pioneering historian of race and education, and among the earliest professionally trained women historians in the nation.

The Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series is presented by the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience; the Federated Department of History, Rutgers University-Newark/New Jersey Institute of Technology; and the Department of African American and African Studies. The 2019 conference is made possible by funds and support from: Prudential, the New Jersey Historical Commission/Department of State, and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

For additional information about the program, please visit the Price Institute’s Facebook page.


Please register for free parking:

Lunch will be available to purchase for $12