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On America: Randall Kennedy on Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word with Erroll McDonald and Annette Gordon-Reed

February 1, 2022 via Zoom

To celebrate the publication of the twentieth anniversary edition, we were honored to host this distinguished panel discussion of Randall Kennedy’s fascinating and urgent book Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, which features a new introduction by the author. Kennedy, a legal scholar, unpacks “the nuclear bomb of racial epithets” and its storied history of use from the Jim Crow south to Netflix comedy specials. How should society engage with this word? Should books like Huckleberry Finn stay on the shelves? Vice President and Executive Editor at Penguin Random House and Chair of The Center for Fiction Board of Directors Erroll McDonald and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed joined Kennedy for this riveting conversation on identity, history, and racial justice as Black History Month commenced.

In Conversation

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    Randall Kennedy

    Randall Kennedy

    Randall Kennedy is the Michael R. Klein Professor at Harvard Law School, where he teaches courses on contracts, criminal law, and the regulation of race relations. He is a member of the bar of the District of Columbia, the American Law Institute, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of seven books and lives in Deham, Massachusetts.

  • Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan www.beowulfsheehan.com

    Erroll McDonald

    Erroll McDonald

    Erroll McDonald is a Vice President, Executive Editor in the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group of Penguin Random House. Among the authors he has edited and published are: James Baldwin, Romare Bearden, Italo Calvino, Sandra Cisneros, Stanley Crouch, Friedrich Durenmatt, Marjorie Garber, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Michael R. Gordon, Alan Hollinghurst, Simon Johnson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Margo Jefferson, Randall Kennedy, Klaus Kinski, Laila Lalami, Fran Lebowitz, Arthur Levitt, Daniel E. Lieberman, David Malouf, Wangari Matthai, Timothy Mo, Toni Morrison, Kary Mullis, Albert Murray, Bao Nihn, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Juan Carlos Onetti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Richard Posner, V.S. Pritchett, Manuel Puig, Salman Rushdie, Luc Sante, President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Wole Soyinka, Colm Toibin, Robert Farris Thompson, and John Edgar Wideman.

    Erroll McDonald was born in Limon, Costa Rica. He graduated from Yale College summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with Distinction, and membership in Phi Beta Kappa. He was for two years a Fellow in the Department of Comparative Literature of the Yale Graduate School. He holds an MBA from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business. He has been a lecturer at Yale and is an adjunct professor at Columbia. A former trustee of PEN America, he lives in New York City and Goshen, Connecticut.

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    Annette Gordon-Reed

    Annette Gordon-Reed

    Annette Gordon-Reed is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University. Gordon-Reed won sixteen book prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, for The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008). She is the author of six books, and editor of two. She was the Vyvyan Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History at the University of Oxford (Queen’s College) 2014-2015, and was appointed an Honorary Fellow at Queen’s in 2021. Gordon-Reed served as the 2018-2019 President of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, and is currently president of the Ames Foundation. Her honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, and the National Humanities Medal. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the British Academy.