Skip to content
Public Book Circle

Just Environments: Rivers and Waterways

March 10, 2022, 9:00am-4:00 pm EST

Today sociologists, political scientists, artists, and humanists are examining how rivers and waterways are conduits of social values and political power, as they carry life-sustaining water but also historical memory — as well as industrial pollution, often to poor communities of color. Black epistemologies, Black aesthetics, and Black diaspora studies are exploring the historical, material, metaphorical, and theoretical potentiality of waterways—from tidalectics to liquid blackness, in critical fabulation and speculative diasporic return. Intersectional studies examine how Black ecologies centered in environmental justice intersect and dialogue with Indigenous epistemologies and other theoretical discourses. In these rich and evolving discussions, rivers and waterways emerge as more than material things, but something other than “mythic”: they become a meeting ground for imaginative reconceptualizations of self, community, history, and world.

“Just Environments: Rivers and Waterways” is a one-day symposium that brings together artists and scholars from different fields for a conversation about rivers and waterways through a lens of Black Ecologies. All of the talks will be free and open to the public via webinar; the links are below. In conjunction with this symposium, there will be film screenings of River Lines by Natalie Diaz and Saretta Morgan and a series of film shorts, times to be announced. 

We look forward to talking with you!

  – Amy J. Elias, Director, UT Humanities Center


“Just Environments: Rivers and Waterways”

A symposium hosted by the UT Humanities Center during “Black Ecologies Week” at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

9:00 am Session 1 Kevin Dawson, Associate Professor of History, University of California, Merced “Buried Beneath the Sea: Life and Death in the Slave Ship’s Wake”
Webinar link

11:00 am Session 2 J.T. Roane, Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies, Arizona State University “Black Ecologies, Subaquatic Life, and the Jim Crow Enclosure of the Tidewater” 
Webinar Link 

1:00 pm Session 3 Cornelius Eady, Interim Director of Poets House and the Chair of Excellence in English at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville “A Reading of Poetry”
Webinar Link

3:00 pm Natalie Diaz, Director, Center for Imagination in the Borderlands and Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry, Arizona State University and Saretta Morgan, Poet and Artist, Creative Writing instructor, Arizona State University “A Talk with Natalie Diaz and Saretta Morgan”
Webinar Link 


Kevin Dawson
Kevin Dawson is associate professor in the Department of History & Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Merced and is the author of several award-winning articles. His book Undercurrents of Power: Aquatic Culture in the African Diaspora (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018) received the Harriet Tubman Prize from the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery, part of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in NYC. The award recognizes the best U.S.-published, nonfiction book on the slave trade, slavery, and anti-slavery in the Atlantic World.

J.T. Roane
J.T. Roane is an assistant professor of African and African American Studies in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. He received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and he is a 2008 graduate of the Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia. He currently serves as the lead of the Black Ecologies Initiative at ASU's Institute for Humanities Research. He is the former co-senior editor of Black Perspectives, the digital platform of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). Roane's scholarly essays have appeared in Souls Journal, The Review of Black Political Economy, Current Research in Digital History, and Signs. His work has also appeared in venues such as Washington Post, The Brooklyn Rail, Pacific Standard, and The Immanent Frame.

Cornelius Eady
Cornelius Eady is a poet, musician, and cofounder of Cave Canem, a nonprofit organization that supports emerging African American poets. Professor Eady has published more than half a dozen volumes of poetry, among them Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (1985), winner of the Lamont Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets; The Gathering of My Name (1991), nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; and Brutal Imagination (2001), a National Book Award finalist. Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems appeared in 2008 and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. He has collaborated with jazz composer Deidre Murray in the production of several works of musical theater, including You Don’t Miss Your Water; Running Man, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999; Fangs; and Brutal Imagination, which received Newsday’s Oppenheimer Award in 2002. Professor Eady has taught at numerous universities and institutes and held the Miller Chair in Poetry at the University of Missouri. He is currently Interim Director of Poets House and the Chair of Excellence in English at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Natalie Diaz
Natalie Diaz is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. Her first poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, was published by Copper Canyon Press, and her second book, Postcolonial Love Poem,  was published by Graywolf Press in March 2020 for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2021. She is a MacArthur Fellow, a Lannan Literary Fellow, a United States Artists Ford Fellow, and a Native Arts Council Foundation Artist Fellow. Diaz is Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands and is the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University. 

Saretta Morgan
Saretta Morgan’s current work uses text, etching, sculpture, and video to engage relationships between ecology, Black diaspora and migration in the United States Southwest. She is based between Phoenix and Mohave Valley, Arizona where she teaches creative writing at Arizona State University and is an active member of the grassroots humanitarian aid organization, No More Deaths Phoenix, which supports the safe passage of migrants in the U.S. Mexico borderlands. Prof. Morgan is author of the chapbooks, Feeling Upon Arrival (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2018) and room for a counter interior (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2017). She has received support from the Jerome Foundation, Arizona Commission on the Arts, Headlands Center for the Arts, the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, Virginia Piper Foundation, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, among others.


This symposium was made possible with support from the UT Humanities Center, the Haines Morris Endowment of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Hodges Better English Fund, and ORIED at the University of Tennessee. Special thanks is given to Jeffrey Amos, who served as the UTHC graduate research assistant for this Humanities Center project.

“Black Ecologies Week” has been organized by the UT Humanities Center in partnership with numerous UT departments and regional public partners; see here for more information.


The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.