Saturday, November 8, 2008

Gina Athena Ulysse

Gina Athena Ulysse was born in Petion-Ville, Haiti. Trained as an anthropologist, she is also a poet/performer and multi-media artist.

Ulysse is also a professor of Anthropology and African American Studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Her first book, Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, a Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica, was published by the University of Chicago Press.

Earlier this week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
During the semester, my reading is almost always determined by my courses. This term, I am teaching a first year seminar "Haiti: Myths and Realities." So the last couple of weeks, I have been simultaneously re-reading The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat and Massacre River by René Philoctète-- two fictionalized accounts of the 1937 Trujillo ordered massacre of thousands of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. I am kicking myself for not having assigned either this time, choosing instead to use a significant social science text, Race and Politics in the Dominican Republic by Ernesto Sagas. That book offers a much more in-depth look at the historical development of what Sagas aptly calls Anti-Haitianism in the DR. My regret is that the visceral in the novels add a dimension to the tragedy that most structural analyses often miss. Next time, I will assign selections from all three.

For the junior seminar on contemporary anthropological theory, I am reading an epic ethnographic poem "The Coolie" by E. Valentine Daniel in the journal Cultural Anthropology. I am fighting with this poem because of its structure, terza rima, though I am enjoying it for its craft, rich references and secretly loving the fact that Daniel (one of my former profs at UM) is actually blurring genres.

A couple years ago, I made it a rule to not read anything work related before sleep or when I awake. On my bedside table, I have a stack of memoirs that I plan to get to (I am currently revising my own, Loving Haiti, Loving Vodou, Loving Myself), and lots of poetry that tend to rotate. Poetry for me is meditation. Right now, I am savoring Nikky Finney's Rice that a friend recommended and Michael Palmer's Company of Moths. I attended his reading at Wesleyan weeks ago. There are two staples, The Black Poets anthology edited by Dudley Randall and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, that never go back on the shelf. I often get a daily fix, reading random bits from both. I imagine the poets in conversation with each other. I might begin with James A. Randall's "Don't Ask Me Who I Am" or June Jordan's "Poem for My Family" and always end with a selection from Whitman's "Song of Myself." One of my favorite lines of all time, "I exist as I am and that is enough." After reading these, I usually feel like I can rule the world until the next day or night.
Read more about Downtown Ladies.

Visit Gina Athena Ulysse's website to learn more about her poetry and other projects.

--Marshal Zeringue