An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

"When I Say 'Steal,' Who Do You Think Of?"

Minnie Bruce Pratt, The Union Institute and University

Published: 
21 July 2004
Overview: 

Poet, author, and activist, Minnie Bruce Pratt delivers the first Rose Gladney Lecture "When I Say 'Steal,' Who Do You Think Of?" in her hometown of Centreville, Alabama.

This inaugural Rose Gladney Lecture was originally presented at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa on March 18, 2004. Dr. Gladney is a former University of Alabama associate professor of American Studies who has devoted herself to issues of social justice and change. The Rose Gladney Lecture is hosted by the University of Alabama's American Studies Department. For more information contact Dr. Lynne Adrian.

Also on Southern Spaces, Pratt reads her poem "No Place."

Introduction: (Given by Margaret Rose Gladney)

Minnie Bruce Pratt was born September 12, 1946, in Selma, Alabama, in the hospital closest to her hometown of Centreville. She graduated from Bibb County High School when it was racially segregated and entered the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa a year after George Wallace "stood in the schoolhouse door." Here in Tuscaloosa, she earned her B.A. in English with membership in Phi Beta Kappa and Chi Omega sorority, married and gave birth to her first son. While completing her PhD in English Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she also received her education into the great liberation struggles of the 20th century through grass-roots organizing with women in the army-base town of Fayetteville, North Carolina, and through teaching at historically Black universities.

For five years she was a member of the editorial collective of Feminary: A Feminist Journal for the South, Emphasizing Lesbian Visions. Together with Elly Bulkin and Barbara Smith, she co-authored Yours In Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives On Anti-Semitism and Racism, which has been adopted for classroom use in hundreds of college courses.

She has published five books of poetry, The Sound of One Fork, We Say We Love Each Other, Crime Against Nature, Walking Back Up Depot Street, and The Dirt She Ate: Selected and New Poems, recently issued by Pitt Poetry Series.

Pratt's latest book, The Dirt She Ate is described by the New York Times Book Review as "original, startling," and by Publishers Weekly as "hard-edged and provocative," dealing "directly and explicitly with issues of anger, shame, sexuality, and injustice." Reviewer Joy Parks in Gay Content Link says, "If you read only one book of poetry this year, The Dirt She Ate should be it."

Recently Pratt served as the Jane Watson Irwin Chair in Women's Studies at Hamilton College. She is also a member of the graduate faculty of The Union Institute and University, a non-residential, alternative, PhD-granting university. Her areas of concentration there are Women's Studies, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/ Transgender Studies, and Creative Writing. She lives with her partner, transgender activist and writer Leslie Feinberg, in Jersey City, New Jersey.

For many years when I taught my "Women in the South" class at the University of Alabama, I asked students to write an essay in which they explored the question Pratt addressed in her essays, "Identity: Skin Blood Heart" and "Rebellion": What has been done in my name that I would like to challenge and/or change? Because this lecture series is the first act done in my name that I can truly celebrate, I asked that Minnie Bruce Pratt inaugurate the series. I knew the Inaugural Rose Gladney Lecture on Justice and Social Change would set the tone and the standard for subsequent lectures. In the power and beauty of her writing and in her unfailing commitment to social justice activism in her own life, Pratt exemplifies the standards which this lecture series is designed to encourage. She understands that social justice does not come simply through a change in 'attitudes'; real social justice requires changing "the underlying economic structure of capitalism that constantly re-invents prejudices and stereotypes." She is involved in fighting US imperialism at home and abroad. If you will explore all the links of her webpage—www.mbpratt.org—you will find more than I can tell you; you will find a place where you can join the action.

I first met Minnie Bruce and heard her read her poetry in the late 1970s in the conference rooms of an Atlanta hotel where we were among those laying the groundwork for the first Women's Studies conference in the Southeast. As I read her newest poems, once again I find her taking us into a new place, demanding that we look with unflinching eyes, that we see in the faces and bodies of our nearest neighbors the stories yet to be written, that we hear in their words, the voices all around us – on the streets where we live, the tongues, the hands, the backs, the language we turn from or choose not to hear; hear the beauty in it, as well as the pain, the anger; see what actions we must take in our own lives, where we live every day, to bring about social justice. In welcoming her tonight, I dare to borrow her metaphors: Come on sister, give us your words; slide the stone from the cave's mouth; take us into the darkness; help us advance toward the oracle of ourselves.

 

About Rose Gladney:

In establishing the context for the lecture series, Rose Gladney has written: "This great experiment in democratic governance which we call America draws strength from multiple human struggles to create not only a more physically comfortable life, but also a just and equitable society. I am fortunate to have grown into adulthood in the midst of the twentieth century's greatest examples of such struggle: the African-American liberation movement, the women's liberation movement, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender liberation movements—all symbols and symptoms of the larger human struggle for justice and social change.

"For thirty-five years, my teaching and research reflected my study of—as well as my participation in—these movements. In establishing this lectureship on justice and social change, my colleagues, students, family, and friends demonstrate their own commitment to the work that gives our lives purpose, meaning, and great hope. I can think of nothing more honorable to be done in my name. I am truly humbled and deeply grateful."

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Minnie Bruce Pratt Videos:

Read the transcript for the first section, the second section, and the third section.

 

About Minnie Bruce Pratt:

Pratt holds a bachelor´s degree from the University of Alabama and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has published five books of poetry, The Sound of One Fork, We Say We Love Each Other, Crime Against Nature, Walking Back Up Depot Street, and The Dirt She Ate: Selected and New Poems, recently issued by Pitt Poetry Series. In 1989, Crime Against Nature was chosen as the Lamont Poetry Selection by the Academy of American Poets in 1989, and won the American Library Association Gay and Lesbian Book Award for Literature in 1991. Dr. Pratt's 1992 book of autobiographical and political essays, Rebellion: Essays 1980–1991, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards. Her book of prose stories about gender boundary crossing, S/HE, was a finalist for the 1995 American Library Association Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Book Award, as well as a finalist for the Firecracker Award in non-fiction. Pratt has also received a Lillian Hellman-Dashiell Hammett Award from the Fund for Free Expression and a Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. 

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