June 15, 2022

EP. 269 — What Stories Do America’s Monuments Tell? with Dr. Elizabeth Alexander

You’re planning an afternoon with friends, just east of Atlanta, Georgia. A picnic, maybe a scenic walk, some fireworks as the sun goes down. You find a park that seems to have it all: Stone Mountain. Then you do some research on it—and learn that it holds significance for the Confederacy AND the modern Ku Klux Klan. WTF?! In the lead-up to Juneteenth, Dr. Elizabeth Alexander joins Jonathan to explore the history and contemporary significance of America’s monuments—who’s represented, in what ways, and what it’ll take to change these narratives.

Elizabeth Alexander – decorated poet, educator, memoirist, scholar, and cultural advocate – is president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  She has held distinguished professorships at Smith College, Columbia University, and Yale University, is Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and serves on the Pulitzer Prize Board.

Dr. Alexander composed and delivered “Praise Song for the Day” for the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, and is author or co-author of fifteen books, including American Sublime (Pulitzer finalist, Poetry, 2006), The Light of the World (Pulitzer finalist, Biography, 2015), and The Trayvon Generation (2022).

You can follow Dr. Alexander on Twitter @ProfessorEA and Instagram @alexanderlizzy, and at elizabethalexander.net.

Want to know what the Mellon Foundation is up to? You can follow their work on Twitter and Instagram @mellonfdn.

Want to learn more about monuments? Check out the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project, and the work of Monument Lab.

A special thank you to all of our listeners who submitted questions for Dr. Alexander, they very much guided this episode!

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Jonathan is on Instagram and Twitter @JVN and @Jonathan.Vanness on Facebook.

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Headshot Credit for Dr. Alexander: Djeneba Aduayom


Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness & Dr. Elizabeth Alexander JVN [00:00:00] Welcome to Getting Curious. I’m Jonathan Van Ness and every week I sit down for a gorgeous conversation with a brilliant expert to learn all about something that makes me curious. On today’s episode, I’m joined by Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, where I ask her, What should we make of America’s monuments? Welcome to Getting Curious. This is Jonathan Van Ness, as it always is. We have an incredible guest this week, so let’s dive in. Welcome to the show Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, a prize winning and New York Times bestselling author, renowned poet, educator, scholar and cultural advocate. She is president of the Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest funder in the arts, culture, and humanities. Her new book The Trayvon Generation explores the power of art and culture to illuminate America’s unresolved problem with race and the challenges facing young Black America. WeR

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