Presidential Lecture Series: Poems and Music by Aleshea Harris

On Tuesday Nov. 7, Aleshea Harris performed “We Do Not Beg the Rope” in St. Mary’s Hall as a chapter of The Presidential Lecture Series. President  Tuajuanda C. Jordan explains she established the Presidential Lecture Series in 2016 to bring influential speakers to campus. Harris’s lecture drew on the drew on themes of gender and race. She portrayed a message of not being silenced, not allowing one’s voice to be suppressed by society. 

President Jordan opened the performance with remarks concerning Harris’ background and numerous accomplishments.  Harris won the 2016 Relentless Award, an Off-Broadway Theatre Award (OBIE) for playwriting in 2018, was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and made The Kilroys’ List of “the most recommended and underproduced plays by trans and female authors of color” for 2017.

 Harris began by explaining how she fell into performance when she studied acting in college. Instead of waiting for an “army of performers,” Harris boldly made the decision to perform on her own, driven by a culmination of her passion for writing and performance. 

Harris then read aloud from her opening piece, in which she spoke to racism and the corporate world. In a monologue, she details an interaction with a white man and explains how the main character was treated, “ you took it but would not let our fingers touch.” Harris did not shy away from the harsh truths of racism, rather she confronted them with enthusiasm and empowerment. In this enthusiasm, Harris channels anger as an expressive performance method to show the ways in which society has oppressed the African American culture. 

After reading poems and singing her lyrics to the audience members there was a question and answer session. One student asked about the advice Harris has for students, to which she replied, “do it a lot and challenge yourself.” A student inquired about her writing process and how she crafted these pieces of art. “Use all the tools in the toolbox,” Harris says. She challenges the audience to dig deep when they write; she urges them to write with a passion and to find those spaces that are going to make you uncomfortable. 

Throughout the event, it is clear from audience reactions and engagements that Harris’s performance was very lasting and incredibly impactful. In her ending remarks, Jordan said she was “engaged the entire time.” 

Harris’s performance left audience members in awe after the delivery of each piece. In fact, before audience members broke into applause a lingering stillness and quiet sweep through the auditorium as the people digested the great works of Harris. The majestic and artistry of her words show her talent and ability to hold the attention of all. 

Through her articulated themes, Harris urges audience members to get out into the literary world and inflict change. She encourages writers to not allow their voices to be obscured by society. The St. Mary’s College Community was fortunate enough to host Aleshea Harris, a critically acclaimed playwright, and songwriter. 

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