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Benjamin Weber in conversation with Christopher Paul Harris

October 30, 2023 @ 6:00 pm

Benjamin Weber in conversation with Christopher Paul Harris 

City Lights, The New Press, and Princeton University Press celebrate the publication of

American Purgatory: Prison Imperialism and the Rise of Mass Incarceration – by Benjamin Weber – Published by The New Press


To Build a Black Future: The Radical Politics of Joy, Pain, and Care – by Christopher Paul Harris – published by Princeton University

About American Purgatory:

A groundbreaking look at how America exported mass incarceration around the globe, from a rising young historian

In this explosive new book, historian Benjamin Weber reveals how the story of American prisons is inextricably linked to the expansion of American power around the globe.

A vivid work of hidden history that spans the wars to subjugate Native Americans in the mid-nineteenth century, the conquest of the western territories, and the creation of an American empire in Panama, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, American Purgatory reveals how “prison imperialism”—the deliberate use of prisons to control restive, subject populations—is written into our national DNA, extending through to our modern era of mass incarceration. Weber also uncovers a surprisingly rich history of prison resistance, from the Seminole Chief Osceola to Assata Shakur—one that invites us to rethink the scope of America’s long freedom struggle.

Weber’s brilliantly documented text is supplemented by original maps highlighting the global geography of prison imperialism, as well as illustrations of key figures in this history by the celebrated artist Ayo Scott. For readers of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, here is a bold new effort to tell the full story of prisons and incarceration—at home and abroad—as well as a powerful future vision of a world without prisons.

American Purgatory will forever change how we understand the rise of mass incarceration. It will forever change how we understand this country.” —Clint Smith, bestselling author of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

About To Build a Black Future: The Radical Politics of Joy, Pain, and Care

To Build a Black Future is an incisive portrait of how the new Black politics can forge a future centered on collective action, community, and care.

When #BlackLivesMatter emerged in 2013, it animated the most consequential Black-led mobilization since the civil rights and Black power era. Today, the hashtag turned rallying cry is but one expression of a radical reorientation toward Black politics, protest, and political thought. To Build a Black Future examines the spirit and significance of this insurgency, offering a revelatory account of a new political culture—responsive to pain, suffused with joy, and premised on care—emerging from the centuries-long arc of Black rebellion, a tradition that traces back to the Black slave.

Drawing on his own experiences as an activist and organizer, Christopher Paul Harris takes readers inside the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) to chart the propulsive trajectory of Black politics and thought from the Middle Passage to the present historical moment. Carefully attending to the social forces that produce Black struggle and the contradictions that arise within it, Harris illustrates how M4BL gives voice to an abolitionist praxis that bridges the past, present, and future, outlining a political project at once directed inward to the Black community while issuing an outward challenge to the world.

Essential reading for the age of #BlackLivesMatter, this visionary and provocative book reveals how the radical politics of joy, pain, and care, in sharp contrast to liberal political thought, can build a Black future that transcends ideology and pushes the boundaries of our political imagination.

About the speakers:

Benjamin Weber is an assistant professor of African American and African Studies at the University of California, Davis. He has worked at the Vera Institute of Justice, Alternate ROOTS, the Marcus Garvey and UNIA Papers Project, and as a public high school teacher in East Los Angeles. He makes his home in Davis, California.

Christopher Paul Harris is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Global and International Studies at University of California, Irvine. His research interests range from Black political thought, culture, aesthetics, and social movements to broader questions concerning the possibility of revolutionary transformation in the 21st century. Advancing an abolitionist critique of the capitalist world-system, his work aims to understand the political lives, thought, and cultures of the Black diaspora and the underlying social forces that shape them. His first book is To Build a Black Future: The Radical Politics of Joy, Pain, and Care, which draws on his own experiences as an activist and organizer to take readers inside the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) against the backdrop of the centuries long Black freedom struggle.

This event is made possible by support from the City Lights Foundation. To learn more visit: https://citylights.com/foundation/