The Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, in partnership with the UGA Graduate School, UGA Arts Council, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Flagpole magazine, has awarded 34 micro-fellowships in its Shelter Projects program. The $500 fellowships support graduate students and community-based artists and practitioners in the creation of shareable reflections on their experience of the current pandemic through the arts and humanities.
Shelter Project Statement: Hannah V Warren is a doctoral student at the University of Georgia where she studies poetry and speculative narratives. Her short poetry collection [re]construction of the necromancer won Sundress Publications’ 2019 chapbook contest, and her works have haunted or will soon appear in Mid-American Review, Fairy Tale Review, Passages North, and Redivider.
Warren’s Estranged City considers the intersections of fear and changing seasons in Georgia, of isolation and the steady influx of news. Warren began this project on a larger scale before the pandemic, intending to analyze how individual towns in Georgia present or hide their histories from the public eye and to reflect on what an outsider would learn about the towns when visiting. Considering the same questions on a microscopic scale while keeping in mind larger implications, Warren centralized her research and writing on Athens to assess her participation in movement and observation with strictly limited physical presence.
Flagpole: These poems belong to a larger body of work, Estranged Georgia, that addresses how Southern towns often erase, emphasize or fictionalize aspects of their own history. Can you elaborate on your ideas behind this series?
Hannah V Warren: One of my areas of study involves reinventions of fairy tales and local legends. The joy of retellings is the reclamation of marginalized voices: in Nalo Hopkinson’s “Glass Bottle Trick,” Perrault’s “Bluebeard” becomes a story about colorism. The possible danger of retellings lies in cultural erasure: in altering tales to fit their own purposes, some writers strip stories of their original purposes, which may center on the horrors of colonialism or the dangers in trusting people in power.
Georgia isn’t just reinventing stories; so very often, it attempts to rewrite history, itself, ignoring all the parts that led to the problems that plague the state today. Georgia’s revision is cultivated carefully, though, hidden among the natural and unnatural landscapes that draw in tourists. This surreal combination of state-endorsed erasure and refined tourism is the crux of my project. What happens in this clash? Where are the structural cracks that Georgia can’t hide, no matter how hard it tries?
When I first moved to Georgia, I stumbled upon surprising testaments to this state’s histories, neatly hidden by the flashes of gardenia and crepe myrtle. Towns that tried to expel all traces of indigenous life and cities that once thrived on slavery now overlay their histories with a patina of tourism. Monuments in town squares celebrate confederate leaders. They stand on pedestals among well-tended lawns and carefully trimmed hedges, bright spring petals layering the grass around them. Often, unless the monument entails a large and recognizable symbol, a tourist must walk close and read the inscription to understand the statue’s purpose. The Chieftains Trail is a 200-mile driving tour across Northwest Georgia that highlights the history of indigenous tribes in the area, much of which is owned by the state. Alongside devastating accounts of death along the Trail of Tears are kid-friendly nature hikes, clouted as some of the best nature-viewing available in Georgia. Milledgeville, once the home to the largest mental asylum in the country, contains a dark history of experimentation without patient consent, but their Japanese Magnolia-lined streets say nothing of the bodies that were broken and bruised, laid to rest in unmarked graves.
Across Georgia, this suppression of knowledge, this emitting of the historical truth, is clear: within nearly every beautiful landscape lies something hidden. Black feminist scholar Patricia Hill Collins writes, “Suppressing the knowledge produced by any oppressed group makes it easier for dominant groups to rule because the seeming absence of dissent suggests that subordinate groups willingly collaborate in their own victimization.” It is here in the gently overlaid history where Georgia suppresses knowledge, attempting to quietly swallow marginalized voices and histories, replacing these stories with something the state, as an institution, considers more palatable. The tourism industry in Georgia highlights both hiking trails and slave quarters as sightseeing sites on plantations. A visitor can find ghost tours that include the hauntings of murdered indigenous and enslaved peoples; on the next street over are gardens so well-manicured, someone can measure the grass every day and find it no taller or shorter. Again and again, Georgia juxtaposes beautiful and consuming natural imagery with institutionally supported brutality. Estranged Georgia is my attempt to make sense of these juxtapositions as an outside observer, a position I’m continuously reflecting on as I move through these spaces.
Flagpole: When it comes to Athens specifically, have there been any historical events or cultural narratives that you’ve found to be hidden or unfairly represented?
HVW: Though I’m from the South, I’ve only been in Athens for a little over a year. Scholars and community leaders in Athens are investigating this town’s violent history as we speak, especially as it relates to the University of Georgia’s active decisions to harm marginalized people who live in Athens, particularly in Black and poor communities. This work has been underway for years, and I’d like to answer this question by providing a couple of resources from people who know much more about this town and its history than I do:
• The Willson Center Digital Humanities Lab hosts an online exhibit on “Death and Human History in Athens,” which outlines the Baldwin Hall excavation where unmarked human remains from enslaved people were found.
• Danielle Beverly’s documentary Old South focuses on Athens’ own Hope Iglehart and her goal to protect her Black neighborhood from Kappa Alpha, a fraternity known for its antebellum parade.
Flagpole: Your website mentions that your research interests include non-mimetic narratives, fairy tales, apocalypse and monster theory. Have you come across any works from under this umbrella that specifically relate to a pandemic? Any thoughts on whether some of these story forms may become tools for us to one day reflect on this shared pandemic experience?
HVW: The important thing to know about any apocalyptic situation is that one person’s dystopia is another person’s utopia. One cannot exist without the other, and every community is affected differently. While so many people are suffering as they and their loved ones grow ill, there are others benefiting from the capitalism of disaster. It’s hard for me to nail down what it means to have a shared pandemic experience when it’s obvious to me that many people believe we’re not in a pandemic at all.
Although the following list isn’t fully comprised of pandemic narratives, they each explore the dichotomy of dystopia/utopia, which is critical for understanding the disparate community experiences during this pandemic and for understanding why it’s important to analyze what history Georgia (and the United States, overall) chooses to display or hide.
Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and “Bloodchild”
S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass
N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season
Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest
Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette
Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts
Dorothy Roberts’ Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Recreate Race in the Twenty-First Century
Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
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