Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Join writer/photographer Maaza Mengiste (author of forthcoming The Shadow King), vocalist/ songwriter Somi, and human rights advocate Clemantine Wamariya (author of The Girl Who Smiled Beads) as they discuss their work, activism, the archives, ways of telling, sharing stories and why. Moderated by Deborah Willis, photographer of In Pursuit of Beauty: Imaging Closets in Newark and Beyond. Books will be available for sale.

Time: 6:00 - 8:00 pm
Location: NYU Law School, D’Agostino Hall, Room: Lipton Hall
108 West 3rd Street (between MacDougal and Sullivan Streets)

Please RSVP: or (212) 998-IAAA(4222)
Please make sure to state the event name and date in your email.


Maaza Mengiste is the author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, selected by the Guardian as one of the 10 best contemporary African books. She is a Fulbright Scholar and a recipient of a 2018 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She was also named the 2013 Puterbaugh Fellow and a Runner-up for the 2011 Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Her fiction and nonfiction can be found in The New YorkerNew York Review of Books/NYR Daily, Granta, the GuardianNew York TimesRolling StoneBBC RadioGuernica, and Lettre International, among other places. Both her fiction and nonfiction examine the individual lives at stake during migration, war, and exile, and consider the intersections of photography and violence. She was a writer on the documentary film, Girl Rising, as well as The Invisible City: Kakuma. She currently serves on the boards of Words Without Borders and Warscapes. Her second novel, The Shadow King, is forthcoming.



Acclaimed vocalist and songwriter Somi was born in Illinois to immigrants from Uganda and Rwanda. She is known for her wide-ranging vocal technique, her original blend of modern jazz with African musics, and the innate poetry of her songwriting that often gives voice to social issues, global constructions of blackness, transnational womanhood, and matters of the heart. Her latest recording, 'Petite Afrique' (Sony/OKeh), won the 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Album. The album is a timely song cycle about the dignity of immigrants and the gentrification of Harlem’s vibrant West African quarter.  Her previous album ‘The Lagos Music Salon” (Sony/OKeh) debuted at the top of U.S. and international jazz charts. Special guests on her recordings include Common, Angelique Kidjo, Aloe Blacc, and Somi’s longtime mentor the great Hugh Masekela. Known for both her artistry and her activism, she is a 2018 Doris Duke USA Fellow, a 2018 Soros Equality Fellow, a TED Senior Fellow, an inaugural Association of Performing Arts Presenters Fellow, and former Artist-in-Residence at Park Avenue Armory, Baryshnikov Arts Center, and UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance.  In 2014, Somi was invited by United Nations’ Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to perform for the General Assembly to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance for Victims of Slavery.  Currently, Somi is developing a modern jazz play that she wrote about legendary singer-activist Miriam Makeba that will premiere in Spring 2020.  In her heart of hearts, she is an East African Midwestern girl who loves poetry, family, and freedom.


Clemantine Wamariya is an internationally renowned speaker, a New York Times bestselling author, and an accomplished human rights advocate. Her memoir The Girl Who Smiled Beads debuted with Crown Press in April 2018 and is published in five languages and dozens of countries. In  “vivid prose,” the book describes Wamariya’s journey from her idyllic childhood in Kigali, Rwanda up until 1994 to seeking refuge in eight different countries throughout Africa, to finally receiving refugee status in the USA in 2000. Wamariya received her BA in Comparative Literature from Yale University in 2014 and built her career as
“a compelling storyteller and fierce advocate" (Amy Poehler). Wamariya has appeared four times as a guest on The Oprah Show and was appointed by President Obama in 2016 to serve on the board of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. She brings her powerful perspective to various organizations, from her 2018 TED Talk to the boards of  Women for Women International and as Refugee Transitions. Wamariya currently lives in San Francisco.


Deborah Willis, Ph.D. is a University Professor, Director of the Institute of African American Affairs & Center for Black Visual Culture, and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Dr. Willis has an affiliated appointment with the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Social & Cultural, Africana Studies, where she teaches courses on Photography & Imaging, iconicity, and cultural histories visualizing the black body, women, and gender.  Her research examines photography’s multifaceted histories, visual culture, the photographic history of Slavery and Emancipation; contemporary women photographers and beauty. She received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and was a Richard D. Cohen Fellow in African and African American Art, Hutchins Center, Harvard University; a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, and an Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. Fellow. She has pursued a dual professional career as an art photographer and as one of the nation’s leading historians of African American photography and curator of African American culture. Her most recent photobook is In Pursuit of Beauty: Imaging Closets in Newark and Beyond (2018, Shine Portrait Studio Press, LLC).


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