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Writers who read, interpret, and respond to Dante Alighieri’s works often seek to benefit from their association with his ideas on radical reform as well as his role in setting a precedent for modernist literary techniques and values. Yet not all writers’ voices are heard in such dialogues; in particular, these responses tend to overlook the unique ways in which Black writers reflect on Dante.

Join Maryemma Graham, Distinguished Professor of Black Literature and Literary History, as she explores the influence of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” on Black literature through two different works from writers of the Black diaspora. These classics—“System of Dante’s Hell” (1965) by LeRoi Jones (later known as Amiri Baraka) and “Omeros” (1990) by Derek Walcott—are often seen as examples of a “vernacular counterpoint” to Dante’s use of classical traditions. Dr. Graham suggests a more expansive view by examining the relationship between Dante and these works in terms of continuity or intertextuality then expanding it by considering juxtaposition, reinvention, and innovation. Finally, Dr. Graham will delve into the narrative traditions that define Black writing in the second half of the 20th century, confronting the very idea of “vernacular counterpoint.”

This is the fourth and final talk in Cornell’s “Visions of Dante” symposium held in conjunction with the Johnson Museum of Art’s “Visions of Dante” exhibition, timed to mark the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death.