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conference image by Vi Khi Nao & conference design by Ethan Widlansky

Thinking Its Presence: Racial Vertigo, BlackBrown Feelings, and Significantly Problematic Objects

Pomona College


An interdisciplinary conference on race, creative writing, and artistic and aesthetic practices

March 30, 2023- April 2nd, 2023


In Pedagogies of Woundedness: Illness, Memoir, and The Ends of the Model Minority, Dr. James Lee employs the condition of “cruel optimism” theorized by the late Lauren Berlant to scrutinize the ambivalent feelings Pauline Chen narrates in her memoir Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality. Lee further frames Berlant’s point by saying that “Cruel optimism is the condition of maintaining an attachment to a significantly problematic object…the fear is that the loss of the promising object/scene itself will defeat the capacity to have any hope about anything.” At the Thinking Its Presence conference this year, we have invited Dr. Lee to present his work and to turn his discussion to questions of how BIPOC scholars, writers, activists, historians, and artists manage both hope and its opposite affective feelings in their works, and how attachment to “problematic objects,” systems, and institutions produce and perpetuate difficult and violent conditions for the psyche and the body. Concerning the ‘body,” Dr. Valorie Thomas’s work on racial and diasporic vertigo is of particular importance here: specifically how the body “incorporat[es] the idea of trauma, displacement and dispersal that the African diaspora has experienced through the slave trade. . . . being uprooted and dislocated—and culturally disrupted and traumatized—that’s one version of vertigo.” 

We are celebrating the Claremont Colleges, California communities, and the Thinking Its Presence communities of past participants to present on these themes related to their areas of expertise (which include creative writing, scholarly, theoretical, and interdisciplinary work) and to invite their colleagues to present a set of panels related to these themes of racial and diasporic vertigo, necessary keywords in our fields, and problematic objects, through creative writing, literature, aesthetic practices, social justice, and performance studies.

Back To Schedule
Thursday, March 30 • 11:00am - 12:30pm
Poets Together Reading: Chloe Martinez, Diana Khoi Nguyen, Vivek Narayanan, and Ali Raz

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Poet and multimedia artist Diana Khoi Nguyen was born and raised in California. She earned a BA in English and Communication Studies from UCLA, an MFA from Columbia University, and a PhD from the University of Denver. She is the author of the chaplet Unless (Belladonna*, 2019) and debut poetry collection, Ghost Of (Omnidawn Publishing, 2018). Currently, she teaches creative writing at Randolph College Low-Residency MFA and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Vivek Narayanan is one of the best-known Indian poets writing in English. His books of poetry include Universal Beach and Life and Times of Mr S. He has been a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University and a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library. A full-length collection of his poems in Swedish translation was published in 2015 by the legendary Stockholm-based Wahlström & Widstrand. He currently teaches creative writing at George Mason University and is a member of the editorial board at Poetry Daily, where he helps to select poems and writes short essays about world poetry.

Ali Raz is the co-author of Human Tetris (11:11 Press, 2019), a kooky collection of sex ads, and Alien (11:Press, 2022), a novella about an alien hunter in a paranoid city. Her work has appeared in The Believer, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 3:am Magazine, and elsewhere. She co-edits the literary journal Hush.

This event is sponsored by the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College

Registration, Moderator, Intro...
avatar for Diana Khoi Nguyen

Diana Khoi Nguyen

Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh
A poet and multimedia artist, Diana Khoi Nguyen is the author of Ghost Of (Omnidawn 2018) which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and forthcoming collection, Root Fractures (Scribner 2024). Nguyen is a Kundiman fellow, recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment... Read More →
avatar for Chloe Martinez

Chloe Martinez

Program Coordinator of the Center for Writing and Public Discourse and Lecturer, Religious Studies, Claremont McKenna College
Chloe Martinez is a poet and a scholar of South Asian religions. She is the author of the collection Ten Thousand Selves (The Word Works) and the chapbook Corner Shrine (Backbone Press). Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, Beloit Poetry... Read More →

Vivek Narayanan

Assistant Professor, George Mason University
Vivek Narayanan’s books of poems include Universal Beach, Life and Times of Mr S and the forthcoming After (NYRB Poets, 2022).  A full-length collection of his selected poems in Swedish translation was published by the Stockholm-based Wahlström & Widstrand in 2015. He has been a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University (2013-14) and a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public... Read More →

Ali Raz

Ali Raz is the co-author of Human Tetris (11:11 Press, 2019), a kooky collection of sex ads, and Alien (11:Press, 2022), a novella about an alien hunter in a paranoid city. Her work has appeared in The Believer, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 3:am Magazine, and elsewhere... Read More →

Thursday March 30, 2023 11:00am - 12:30pm PDT
Smith Campus Center: Rose Hill Theatre