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Voyage Home: Robin Coste Lewis to Speak at NOMA

By Sara Slaughter for Room 220

This week, the New Orleans Museum of Art will take a long look at American identities capped by a literary treat. Poet and National Book Award winner Robin Coste Lewis will speak at NOMA (1 Collins Diboll Circle) at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 8. 


The event will include a reading from Voyage of the Sable Venus, which was awarded a 2015 National Book Award, as well as a discussion of her research regarding Western art’s use of the black female body throughout history. She will place her work into dialogue with the current NOMA exhibition, “Visions of US: American Art at NOMA.” 


Lewis’s poetry collection Voyage of the Sable Venus is a poetic meditation on the cultural depiction of the black female figure throughout history. Juxtaposing autobiography with art-historical constructs of racial identity, Lewis’s lyric poems consider the roles desire and race play in the construction of the self. The title poem, “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” is a riveting narrative made up entirely of titles of artworks from ancient times to the present—titles that feature or in some way comment on the black female figure in Western art. Bracketed by Lewis’s autobiographical poems, “Voyage” is a tender and shocking study of the fragmentary mysteries of stereotype. Offering a new understanding of biography and the self, Lewis’s poems are an aesthetic anthem to the complexity of race in Western culture.


Robin Coste Lewis is a Provost’s Fellow in Poetry and Visual Studies at the University of Southern California. Lewis is also a Cave Canem fellow and a fellow of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities. She received her BA from Hampshire College, her MFA in poetry from NYU, and an MTS in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from the Divinity School at Harvard University. A finalist for the Rita Dove Poetry Award, she has published her work in various journals and anthologies, including The Massachusetts Review, Callaloo, The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, Transition: Women in Literary Arts, VIDA, Phantom Limb, and Lambda Literary Review, among others. She has taught at Wheaton College, Hunter College, Hampshire College, and the NYU Low-Residency MFA in Paris. Lewis was born in Compton, California; her family is from New Orleans.


“Visions of US: American Art at NOMA” is not only the first exhibition in the museum’s history to highlight the full breadth of its extraordinary American Art collection, but it explores evolving ideas about American cultural identity from the eighteenth through the twentieth century to tell a rich and inclusive story about how we imagine and represent the United States.


“For the last two centuries,” said Katie Pfohl, NOMA’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, “American artists have captured many different conceptions of the country and its people, from colonial American portraits that showcase the country’s early diversity, to the broad range of materials and forms to be found in 20th century American art. This exhibition celebrates the multitude of people and perspectives that make up our vision of the United States.”


The talk is included with general admission. Lewis will sign books in the Museum Shop from 7:30 to 8 p.m.

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt

B. E. Mintz

Stephen Babcock

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