The American Writers Museum (AWM) today unveiled its latest special exhibit and education initiative Dark Testament: A Century of Black Writers on Justice. This immersive exhibit, running through September 17, 2023, explores racial injustice in America through the work of Black American writers from the end of the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement. Dark Testament explores signal movements in Black literature across these decades through original artwork, augmented reality and other interactive elements to enliven and enrich the visitor experience.
Spanning three gallery spaces at the AWM, as well as online exhibit extensions, Dark Testament is the AWM’s most ambitious exhibit to date. Dark Testament includes deep dives into the work of prominent writers such as Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and more, as well as lesser-known writers like Pauli Murray, whose poetry collection titled Dark Testament inspired the name of the exhibit. Their life and work exemplify the impact Black writers have had from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era. Murray faced violence, struggled with belonging, fought tirelessly for justice, and preached about joy. In the exhibit, these four profound themes weave throughout the centuries, connecting generations of writers.
“We hope museumgoers will be inspired by Murray’s extraordinary life and work, which has animated our creative approach to Dark Testament. We will invite audiences to consider the meaning of “testament,” “testimony,” “telling their story,” “truth telling,” and other resonances Murray’s provocative title holds for contemporary conversations,” said lead curator Dr. Keidrick Roy of Harvard University. “Altogether, this exhibition recognizes the testaments of Murray’s life and the lives of numerous others who have remained unseen or unrecorded because of their race, class, gender, or sexual orientation.”
The Meijer Gallery provides a visual, audio, and interactive exploration of major writers during important historical eras. This gallery includes commissioned works of art by local artists Dorothy Burge, Damon Reed, Dorian Sylvain, and Bernard Williams and a variety of musical selections from the past that help to further contextualize the literature of each era, from spirituals, to Blues, to Jazz, and funk. In the Roberta Rubin Writers Room, visitors can experience a reflective and thought-provoking multimedia exploration of contemporary writers discussing the work of their predecessors and how that work still resonates today. Additional content has been added to the S. Leigh Pierson Conant and Douglas R. Conant Readers Hall that delves into the role and significance of the Black Press. It specifically looks at Black publishers, newspapers, and bookstores and how they made it possible for so many of the voices of those eras to be heard.
Readers Hall is also where the Dark Testament program series will be held, a series of live in-person author events with writers whose work relates to themes and elements of the exhibit. First, on October 13, 2022, groundbreaking photographer Carell Augustus chats with reporter Arionne Nettles about his new book Black Hollywood: Reimagining Iconic Movie Moments. Then, on November 1, 2022, award-winning poet and writer Ross Gay discusses his new essay collection Inciting Joy. Both of these programs will also be livestreamed. More Dark Testament programs will be held throughout the duration of the exhibit. For more information and to register for a program, visit AmericanWritersMuseum.org/calendar/.
The other members of the curating team led by Roy include Ivy Wilson, PhD, Northwestern University; Megan Finch, PhD, University of Minnesota; Michael Sawyer, University of Pittsburgh; Col. Candice Pipes, United States Air Force; Natalie Y. Moore, journalist; Nate Marshall, poet; and Glory Edim, writer and editor.
Dark Testament is supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and contributions from several corporations, foundations, and individuals.