Poetry News

Poets set the tone for "Natural Events to Social Disasters" conference in Austin

By Harriet Staff

Natasha Trethewey and Evelyne Trouillot will keynote this week's conference From Natural Events to Social Disasters in the Circum-Caribbean hosted by the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies at University of Texas, Austin. The conference will discuss the long-running injustices across the region that natural disasters of the past few years have suddenly exposed to a much wider audience. With a particular focus on cultural production, the conference asks not only about the consequences, but how one communicates them now that so much (often ill-informed) attention has resulted from these disasters.

From hurricanes to earthquakes to landslides, natural disasters have profoundly shaped the relationship between humans and the environment in the region. Not unlike the earthquakes that struck Nicaragua and Guatemala in the 1970s, the destruction brought to New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 revealed historical and ongoing forms of social inequality, environmental hazards, and political crisis that plague the circum-Caribbean region. This conference brings together scholars from multiple disciplines, artists, and activists who have been immersed in disaster relief and solidarity efforts. Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti offer the most salient examples, and these two sites will serve as focal points for the conference.

Earlier this year, Trethewey released a memoir Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast about her family's process to after the hurricane. In her Fresh Air interview, "she explains that both the identity and future of the Gulf region are directly linked to how the region's past is remembered," something that will likely be an important theme this week.