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Writer as Reader Workshops

Hearing God’s Trombones: Weldon Johnson’s Seven Negro Sermons in Verse

November 1, 2013

During his work for the NAACP in the American South of the 1920s, activist and poet James Weldon Johnson reluctantly attended a church service and listened to a sermon by (in his words) an “old-time Negro preacher.” Though not a religious man, Johnson was moved by the preacher’s performance, and it reshaped his thinking about African American art and his own writing practices. The book that came from his experience, God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, is generally regarded as one of the great works of literary modernism, the Harlem Renaissance, and book art. Engaging in its own right, God’s Trombones also asks us to think about the relationship between performed and written text, poetic imagery and modernist illustration, Biblical traditions and modern sensibilities, modernism and race. In this workshop, we will use a variety of writing and close-listening strategies to engage not only with Johnson’s important volume of poetry, but also with several audio and print texts that complicate and extend it, including period recordings by Johnson, Vachel Lindsay, and African American preachers, biblical excerpts from Genesis and Revelations, and selections from Johnson’s essays about racial politics and the value of folk art.

 Texts: James Weldon Johnson God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse (Penguin Classics, 2008)

Workshop fee: $200 (includes morning coffee, lunch, and 
workshop materials)