Performing Texts


English 370 Special Topics: “Performing Texts”

The focus of this course will be two-fold: on the ways in which texts can be performed and on the ways in which texts themselves perform. We will look at performance-oriented work (stand-up comedy, performance art, performative poetry) as well as traditional literary work (fiction and poetry) that performs on the page. We will examine texts written, composed, and/or improvised for both the page and live performance while analyzing how text itself can perform via heteroglossia, homophones, skaz, wordplay, language games, etc. The course will be enriched by performances and readings by many of the artists and writers on the syllabus: Sherman Alexie, Amiri Baraka, Mike Birbiglia (via Skype), Junot Diaz, Holly Hughes, Sharon Olds, and Anne Waldman. We also will read theory and critical work by Erving Goffman, Julia Kristeva, and Philip Auslander, among others, and consider the work of comedians Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman, and Louis C.K. through films and film clips.

Speaker Series

Performing Texts is a special series sponsored by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that focuses not only on the way in which authors perform their texts, but also on the way in which texts themselves perform.

The readings and talks listed below are free and open to the general public. Most writers will make themselves available, following their appearance, to answer questions from the audience and sign copies of their books.

Amiri Baraka and Anne Waldman

Feb. 5, 7 p.m.
Keller Hall

Amiri Baraka was born Everett LeRoi Jones in 1934 in Newark, N.J. He published his first volume of poetry, Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note, in 1961. His Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963) is still regarded as the seminal work on Afro-American music and culture. His reputation as a playwright was established with the production of Dutchman at Cherry Lane Theatre in New York in 1964; it subsequently won an Obie Award for Best Off-Broadway Play and was made into a film. Baraka’s numerous literary honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN/Faulkner Award, the Rockefeller Foundation for Drama, and Poet Laureate of New Jersey. His book Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music was released in 2009 and was selected by the Before Columbus Foundation as the winner of the American Book Award for 2010.

Internationally recognized and acclaimed poet Anne Waldman has been an active member of the “Outrider” experimental poetry community, a culture she has helped create and nurture for over four decades, as a writer, editor, master teacher, performer, scholar, curator, and activist. She is the author of more than 40 books including the mini-classic Fast Speaking Woman, a collection of essays entitled Vow to Poetry, and the monumental anti-war feminist epic, The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment, a 25-year project in three volumes. Waldman is the recipient of the prestigious Shelley Memorial Award, and The Iovis Trilogy has been awarded the 2012 PEN Center USA Award for Poetry. She was one of the founders and directors of The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery, and cofounded with Allen Ginsberg the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University, the first Buddhist-inspired university in the western hemisphere.

Anne Waldman

The Voice's Daughter: Poet as Performer
Feb. 6, 4:30 p.m.
Brown-Alley Room, Weinstein Hall

Junot Diaz

February 19, 7 p.m.
Jepson Alumni Center

Junot Díaz was born and raised in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Time Out, Glimmer Train, Story, and African Voices. Díaz’s story collection Drown was published in 1996 and is in its 23rd printing and was sold in 15 countries. His first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, won the Pulitzer Prize and remained on The New York Times and independent bookstore bestseller lists for two years. Díaz’s next story collection, This Is How You Lose Her, was published in September 2012 and was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. A recent MacArthur Fellow, he is a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Holly Hughes
Feb. 26, 7 p.m.
Modlin Center, Cousins Studio Theater
Holly Hughes is a performance artist and writer. She is the author of more than a dozen plays and performance pieces, five of which were collected in Clit Notes: A Sapphic Sampler published by Grove Press. She is also the co-editor of three other books, O Solo Homo: The New Queer Performance (with David Roman), Animal Acts: Performing Species Today (with Una Chadhuri), and Memories of the Revolution: The First Ten Years of the WOW Café (with Alina Troyano). She is the winner of numerous awards including a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lambda Book Award, a GLAAD Media Award, as well as funding from the NEA, NYSCA, and other sources. Currently she is professor of art and design, women’s studies, and theatre and drama at the University of Michigan, and director of the BFA Program in Interarts Performance.

Sherman Alexie
March 5, 7 p.m.
Jepson Alumni Center
Author, poet, and screenwriter Sherman Alexie was named one of The New Yorker’s top 20 writers for the 21st century. After growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington, Alexie tells tales of contemporary American Indian life laced with razor-sharp humor, unsettling candor, and biting wit. Alexie’s first novel, Reservation Blues, won Booklist’s Editor’s Choice Award for Fiction. His second book, Indian Killer, was a New York Times Notable Book. His 2009 book of short stories, War Dances, won the PEN/Faulkner Award. Alexie wrote and produced the film Smoke Signals based on his book, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, which won the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. He released Blasphemy, an anthology of new stories and beloved classics, in October 2012.

Philip Auslander
March 19, 4:30 p.m.
Keller Hall
Philip Auslander’s primary research interest is in performance, especially in relation to music, media, and technology. He has written on aesthetic and cultural performances as diverse as theatre, performance art, music, stand-up comedy, robotic performance, and courtroom procedures. He is the author of five books and editor or co-editor of two collections. His most recent books are Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music (2006) and the second edition of Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture (2008). In addition to his work on performance, Auslander contributes art criticism regularly to ArtForum and other publications. He has written catalogue essays for museums and galleries in Austria, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He is the founding editor of The Art Section: An Online Journal of Art and Cultural Commentary, published online ten times a year at

Sharon Olds
April 9, 7 p.m.
Keller Hall
Sharon Olds is the author of eight volumes of poetry. With sensuality, humor, and remarkable imagery, she expresses truths about domestic and political violence, sexuality, family relationships, love, and the body. Her numerous honors include an NEA grant, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and being named New York State Poet Laureate from 1998–2000. She won the San Francisco Poetry Center award for her collection Satan Says, and received the Lamont Poetry Selection and the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Dead and the Living. Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times. Olds teaches graduate poetry workshops at New York University and helped found a writing workshop at a 900-bed state hospital for the severely disabled. Her most recent collection, Stag’s Leap, was published in September 2012 and recently won Britain's TS Eliot Poetry Prize.