A public place to speak, and speak again? I think I'd like that after all. The chance to speak about this or that, deadline after wonderful deadline. What will do the trick, I wonder?--some complexity, some history, some law and some politics, some sense and sensibility. Who knows?
--Patricia Williams, upon accepting the invitation to write the Diary of a Mad Law Professor column for The Nation.
Obviously, Patricia Williams brings to The Nation her extraordinary depth of knowledge--about law, history, race, gender; science and culture. But what has really distinguished Pat's columns is her concern for the HOW of politics. Whether writing about the criminal justice system or mass media or electoral politics, she brilliantly illuminates the unseen cognitive associations that structure the very way we think about a problem. And through the precision of her writing, Pat forces us to challenge them, or to break from them. She is a true public intellectual of the highest order.
--Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor and Publisher of The Nation. (2)
Patricia J. Williams has been widely admired in legal and academic circles for her role as a critical race theorist; less examined, and what I would like to talk about today, is her work as a journalist and commentator. Few are more skilled in making the tenets of a theory legible to broader audiences--or more deeply felt--than Pat.
I first came to fully appreciate this aspect of Pat's work when I served as an editor for the anthology: Burning All Illusions. (3) Subtitled Writings from The Nation on Race, my task was to select articles and essays that exemplified The Nation magazine's writings on the subject between 1866 and 2002. Two of those selections were written by Williams, and reflecting back on them for this conference gave me a new appreciation as to how interdisciplinary her work is, as well as how supple. Her essays seamlessly reflect both traditional and innovative modalities of expression that can speak to readers outside of the academy as effectively as to scholars within it.
The Nation was founded in 1865 by anti-slavery men (including co-founder Frederick Law Olmstead) who sought to sustain the abolitionist spirit after the Civil War. Indeed, the publication has a storied history in this regard: it was later purchased by Oswald Garrison Villard, grandson of William Lloyd Garrison and a founder of the NAACP.
The magazine's political aspirations were one organizing principle; another was that, from its earliest incarnations, it brought on editors with a decidedly...