With Namwali Serpell, Frances Bodomo & Emily Wang
The following reading and discussion were recorded at We Are Our Own Now on October 5, 2016. Namwali Serpell read from her forthcoming Triple Canopy story, “Triptych: Texas Pool Party,” which was followed by a screening of Frances Bodomo's short film Everybody Dies!. Both works address the reality of systemic violence against black youths through experimental narrative forms. The reading and screening were succeeded by a conversation with Triple Canopy senior editor Emily Wang on how documentary works of art shape the ways in which viewers encounter recordings of police brutality. (This documentation does not include audio from Everybody Dies!)
“The condition of this story is an invisible eye,” narrates the police officer in Namwali Serpell’s story “Triptych: Pool,” to be published in Triple Canopy’s Vanitas issue, which explores contemporary meditations on mortality as well as the delights, delusions, and pressures of fleshly existence. “Triptych: Pool” draws from documentation of an incident at a pool party in 2015 in McKinney, Texas, in which a police officer tackled and restrained an unarmed African-American fifteen-year-old girl, kneeling on her while she was face-down on the ground. The episode was captured on video and subsequently uploaded to YouTube by another teenage partygoer; within a few hours, the footage had been viewed millions of times.
For We Are Our Own Now, Serpell will read selections from “Triptych: Pool,” and filmmaker Frances Bodomo will screen Everybody Dies!, a short film in the style of a public access TV show that stars Ripa the Grim Reaper, who teaches black kids about the day they'll die. Both works offer lenses through which to understand and respond to systemic violence against black people. Today, the resources for survival (and the threat of deadly force) are meted out with ever-widening disparity, even as technology promises to “save” and “extend” ourselves like never before. Self-documentation under these conditions might take on an increasingly significant role in self-protection—as testimony, as evidence, as story—in the face of erasure. Serpell and Bodomo ask: What ethical demands do the facts of systemic brutality make on us, as spectators, as artists, as citizens? How can fiction mediate in the narratives and discourses that accrue around violent events and their documentation?
The reading and screening will be followed by a discussion moderated by Triple Canopy senior editor Emily Wang.
Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. In order to ensure that events are accessible and comfortable, we’ll open the doors at 6:30 p.m. and strictly limit admittance to our legal capacity. Please check Triple Canopy’s Facebook and Twitter accounts for updates, as we’ll indicate if events are sold out.
Triple Canopy’s venue is located at 264 Canal Street 3W, near several Canal Street subway stations. Our floor is accessible by elevator (63" × 60" car, 31" door) and stairway. Due to the age and other characteristics of the building, our bathrooms are not ADA-accessible, though several such bathrooms are located nearby. If you have specific questions about access, please write at least three days before the event and we will make every effort to accommodate you.
- Frances Bodomo is a Ghanaian writer and director. She grew up in Ghana, Norway, California, and Hong Kong before moving to New York to study film at Columbia University and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her short films Boneshaker (2013) and Afronauts (2014) both premiered at Sundance Film Festival and went on to screen at festivals including the Berlinale, Telluride, SXSW, and New Directors/New Films. Afronauts received five Grand Jury Prizes and will play at the Whitney Museum in the fall as part of “Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016.” Bodomo most recently directed the short segment Everybody Dies! for the omnibus feature Collective:Unconscious (2016), which premiered at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival. It won Best Experimental Short at the 2016 BlackStar Film Festival.
- Namwali Serpell is a writer and associate professor at UC Berkeley. She received a 2011 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award. She was shortlisted twice for the Caine Prize for African Writing, and won in 2015 for her story “The Sack.” Her work has been published in the Believer, n+1, Callaloo, Tin House, McSweeney’s, the New Yorker, and several anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories 2009 and Africa39. Her first book of literary criticism, Seven Modes of Uncertainty, was published by Harvard University Press in 2014. Her first novel, The Old Drift, will be published by Hogarth Press in 2018.