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Jabari Asim Talks Writing, Resistance at Emerson LA

jabari asim with mic
Associate Professor Jabari Asim spoke about art as resistance at Emerson Los Angeles on February 22. Photo/Luis Paz ’20

By Brittany Adames ’20

Writing, Literature and Publishing Associate Professor Jabari Asim shared his career trajectory, writing tips, and his thoughts on the culture of authorship in a wide-ranging conversation with EBONI Alumni Association President Charvelle Holder ’13 on February 22.

“Speaking for the Lions: Writing and the Art of Survival,” hosted by the EBONI Alumni Association for Black History Month, was held at Emerson Los Angeles.

Following the discussion, Asim, an Elma Lewis Distinguished Fellow, read an excerpt from his 2018 book, We Can’t Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival, which includes a collection of eight essays reflecting on the African American experience. His reading was pulled from “The Elements of Strut,” wherein he interrogates the way history complicates the Black “strut” and further disenfranchises the community.

“We know the trauma. I remember seeing those brothers in The Wiz, how they were moving, and to me it meant resistance,” Asim said when discussing laughter in Black communities. “Sterling Brown and some other writers have written really eloquently about Black laughter as a form of resistance. … I do see it as something more than just an idle chuckle. It’s doing something that the system actually doesn’t want us to do.”

Asim writes these essays from the personal narrative of a husband, son, and a Black man. His work takes on a historical context, too, and includes many musical allusions and perspectives.

Holder viewed the event as an opportunity to foster more inclusive dialogue.

asim, holder, and isaacs pose in Bordy Media Center
EBONI Alumni Association President Charvelle Holder ’13, center, moderated a conversation with Associate Professor Jabari Asim, left, at Emerson Los Angeles. Nanci Isaacs ’79 joins them. Photo/Luis Paz ’20

“This is a good chance to celebrate how to use art to combat racism,” she said. “There’s always something to learn about and there’s always something for everybody.”

Asim also discussed his forthcoming projects this year, which include a book of poems called Stop and Frisk that is slated for release in June, a children’s book titled My Baby Loves Halloween, and a novel called Yonder. These are in addition to the six books he’s written for adults and nine books for children.

Asim cited many influences, including Gwendolyn Brooks and Richard Wright. When asked about what he wants readers to take away from reading his work, Asim said he hopes audiences recognize various forms of survival for Black people.

“White supremacy doesn’t want us to laugh or dance, so this gives ourselves a little bit more credit for our responses to oppression,” he said.

Among the attendees at the event was Sahil Nisha ’20, a former student of Asim’s.

“[Asim] is a great writer,” said Nisha. “Seeing what he can do with a single medium is brilliant.”

For more information about Jabari Asim’s essays, novels, poems, and other works, visit his website.

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