Prof. Melissa F. Zeiger (Dartmouth College, New Hampshire): "Anne Spencer's Garden Politics"

Monday, January 10, 2022, 18:15-19:45 p.m., online lecture
Zoom-Call ID: 936 6530 4610 (opens at 6 p.m. sharp)

This talk focuses on the garden and garden poetry of Anne Spencer, an African American poet who has only recently been much studied.  Spencer designed and planted a spectacular garden in Lynchburg, Virginia that became a meeting place for most key figures of the New Negro Movement (or “Harlem Renaissance”). At once a space for seclusion and a community center, it provided meditative possibilities for the poet and pleasure and connection as well as a place to plan activism for many Black residents in the Jim Crow South. Spencer’s poems often concerned her own and other gardens, and for that reason have frequently been seen as apolitical, although she was a fearless activist in other fora.  Prof. Zeiger argues, however, that Spencer's relation to the garden in her life and poetry—to owning and shaping land, to aesthetic ambition, to various configurations of sociality, and to her own chosen and voluntary labor—forms part of a consciously new negotiation of personal and national identity for a black woman born in 1882 and living in the first generation after slavery.

Melissa Zeiger is Associate Professor of English at Dartmouth College.  She teaches courses and writes on: garden literature; ecocriticism; immigrant writing; Jewish women’s writing; feminist criticism and theory; queer poetry; politics of the love lyric; modern poetry; women's poetry; Elizabeth Bishop; the poetry and politics of illness; cultural memory theory.  Her first book was a feminist analysis of elegy (Beyond Consolation, 1997); she recently published an article on romance novels about heroines recovering from breast cancer and mastectomy; and she is currently writing a book on the poetics and politics of garden writing, one chapter of which appeared in 2017 as "Derek Jarman's Garden Politics" in a special issue of Humanities Journal on "Crisis." (Homepage)