On October 27th, CRRES affiliate Dr. Maria Hamilton Abegunde moderated a conversation entitled “Courage, Commitment & Change: Environmental Justice through Literature” with authors Imbolo Mbue and IU alumnus Kiese Laymon. The conversation was a part of the College of Arts and Sciences' Themester, which explored the theme of "Resilience," and was co-sponsored by CRRES.
Imbolo Mbue read from her second book How Beautiful We Were, a fictional piece that entails what happens when the reckless pursuit of wealth, along with the specter of colonialism, collides with one community's resolve to protect its ancestral land, and a young woman's commitment to give up everything for the sake of her people's independence. Kiese Laymon read from his book Heavy, a reflective piece about him growing up as a black boy in Mississippi.
A plethora of literature explores black struggles as they relate to the emotional and physical affects they have on black bodies. While both authors reflect upon this, they also welcome environmentally thoughtful work that calls on the intergenerational trauma associated with the devaluing of black life. With a plot set in an African village being poisoned by an American oil firm, Imbolo Mbue’s novel takes on environmental destruction, corporate colonialism, and activism through a literary lens. Laymon contemplates climate justice and how environmental degradation, corporate interests, and the heritage of slavery have all impacted communities of color in the United States. Their powerful words, imagery, and reflection of their written work made for a fascinating and insightful conversation drawing attention to the need for environmental justice around the world and in black communities.