Essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah Hosts Reading at Dartmouth

On Thursday, January 25th, 2018 at 4:30 PM, The Cleopatra Mathis Poetry & Prose Series welcomed essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah to Sanborn Library for a reading of her work. Ghansah, an essayist popularized for her skilled and tactful use of the writing craft to explore the interiority of Black life and the external reality that informs it, shared a piece of her work with a packed library full of eager listeners for a brief but intimate hour, before opening the floor for questions. 

After some deliberation, Ghansah read her piece about visiting James Baldwin’s home in Paris, Black death, and the nature of community. Ghansah, who affectionately refers to her writing as “love letters,” shared one deeply romantic and personal account of her relationship to the prolific and esteemed writer, James Baldwin, as both a man and a symbol of Black literary excellence. Her words were dreamy and reflective, yet unwavering in their assertions of her admittedly occasional resentment toward him and other complex emotions she’s harbored concerning Blackness and loss. Ghansah writes with care, and read with similar grace, crafting a transportive moment in which time, itself, seemed to stand still until the story came to a close.

My first encounter with Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah was through her article on the trial of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine people in a AME church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. Ghansah's essay, entitled "A Most American Terrorist," was a devastating engagement with the history, culture, and landscape of Charleston of which Dylan Roof was born and bred. I heard her voice for the first time when she was interviewed on the Longform podcast about the article and her journalistic processes.

To have her voice and words come together during the reading on Thursday was a merging of these two spaces in which I had engaged with her words–first, literary, then, auditory, now, both.

I had to leave abruptly after the reading, having had no time to ask or hear audience questions. But, now, in reflection, I am glad that my schedule did not allow for me to stay any longer. This way, my processing of Ghansah’s words were mine and mine alone. I left the event with the voices of Ghansah and Baldwin roaming through my mind, afforded with opportunity to refine my own.

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s essays have been published in The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review, and The Believer, and the Best American Essays series, 2017.

Her work includes “When the Lights Shut Off: Kendrick Lamar and the Decline of the Black Blues Narrative”, “The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison”, and the National Magazine Award finalist “If He Hollers Let him Go: Searching for Dave Chappelle ten years after he left his own show.” She is author of the forthcoming book, The Explainers and the Explorers, which will address the definition of Black America in the 21st century.

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