Reading Group: Christina Sharpe's 'Ordinary Notes'

Monday, February 26, 2024 15:00to17:00

The Department of English invites graduate students and faculty to a reading group on Christina Sharpe's Ordinary Notes, finalist for the National Book Award and shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Discussion will be facilitated by Dr. Amber Rose Johnson, McGill Third Century Postdoctoral Research Fellow.

The group will meet three times leading up to Prof. Sharpe's Spector Lecture in March 2024. Please forward any questions to Professor Ara Osterweil [ara.osterweil [at] mcgill.ca].

Meeting Dates: 

(1) November 16, 2023, 4-6 PM, Leacock 738

(2) January 17, 2024, 3-5 PM, Graduate Studnet Lounge (Arts B-22)

(3) February 26, 2024, 3-5 PM, Graduate Studnet Lounge (Arts B-22)

The critically acclaimed author of In the Wake, "Christina Sharpe is a brilliant thinker who attends unflinchingly to the brutality of our current arrangements . . . and yet always finds a way to beauty and possibility" (Saidiya Hartman).

A singular achievement, Ordinary Notes explores profound questions about loss and the shapes of Black life that emerge in the wake. In a series of 248 notes that gather meaning as we read them, Christina Sharpe skillfully weaves artifacts from the past—public ones alongside others that are poignantly personal—with present realities and possible futures, intricately constructing an immersive portrait of everyday Black existence. The themes and tones that echo through these pages—sometimes about language, beauty, memory; sometimes about history, art, photography, and literature—always attend, with exquisite care, to the ordinary-extraordinary dimensions of Black life.

At the heart of Ordinary Notes is the indelible presence of the author’s mother, Ida Wright Sharpe. “I learned to see in my mother’s house,” writes Sharpe. “I learned how not to see in my mother’s house . . . My mother gifted me a love of beauty, a love of words.” Using these gifts and other ways of seeing, Sharpe steadily summons a chorus of voices and experiences to the page. She practices an aesthetic of "beauty as a method,” collects entries from a community of thinkers toward a “Dictionary of Untranslatable Blackness,” and rigorously examines sites of memory and memorial. And in the process, she forges a brilliant new literary form, as multivalent as the ways of Black being it traces.

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