Realism, Representation, and Blackness: a Conversation with Joseph Earl Thomas

Liz’s Book Bar
315 Smith Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Literary realism may be the dominant mode of literary representation; but does it still have teeth? Does its very ubiquity sap it of its potency as a mode of social critique? In his debut novel God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer (Hachette), BISR faculty Joseph Earl Thomas “plays with and departs from” the conventions of literary realism to tell the story of Joseph Thomas, Iraq War vet, doctoral student, and EMS worker, whose employment in a North Philadelphia hospital brings him closely into touch with the everyday brutalities of urban Black life. Blending realism, surrealism, and autofiction, God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer charts a new attempt in to articulate “vernacular understandings” of the sociopolitical structures that shape the lives of its fictional characters. But what does it mean to represent social reality in the 21st-century United States? Can realism—or any literary form—still be wielded to confront, rather than comfort, power and the status quo?

Join us, Thursday, July 18th, at Liz’s Book Bar (315 Smith Street, Brooklyn), as we take the occasion of the publication of God Bless You, Otis Spunkmeyer to examine how and why we represent social reality now. With Joseph Earl Thomas, fellow faculty Paige Sweet, and novelists Vinson Cunningham (Great Expectations) and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (Chain Gang All Stars), we will ask: What does literary realism look like in the 21st century? How do pressing social and political concerns shape and motivate our forms of aesthetic representation? How does Blackness operate as both a space of imagination and subjection? What does realism look like, written from the margins? Under capitalism, can difference and dissent ever go un-commodified?

The event is ticketed. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit Liz’s Book Bar’s event page. Copies of God Bless You, Otis SpunkmeyerGreat Expectations, and Chain Gang All Stars will be available for purchase at Liz’s Book Bar before and after the event.

Realism, Representation, and Blackness: a Conversation with Joseph Earl Thomas is being held in partnership with Liz’s Book Bar, a Black-owned bookstore and winebar located in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. For more information, please visit Liz’s Book Bar’s website.

Event Schedule

Thursday, 7:00pm ET
July 18, 2024

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