Benjamin Banneker and Us: Eleven Generations of an American Family; Rachel Jamison Webster

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Placing famed almanac writer Benjamin Banneker at the forefront, Benjamin Banneker and Us weaves together past and present to explore the insidious forces of racism that shape our understanding of ancestry, lineage, and family today.

Lyrically written, Rachel Webster’s Benjamin Banneker and Us examines her own ancestry and relation to Benjamin Banneker, the African American mathematician and writer of almanacs who surveyed Washington, DC, for former president Thomas Jefferson.

Acting as a griot, Webster draws on oral history and conversations with “DNA cousins” to imagine the lives of their shared ancestors, among them Banneker’s grandparents, an interracial couple who broke the law to marry when America was still a conglomerate of colonies under British rule. These stories shed light on the construction of “whiteness” and the laws that gave it meaning. Webster’s passionate and authoritative account adds to the growing body of work addressing structural racism and the inevitable reckoning on race, history, and the legacies of slavery that still affect our society.

March 21, 2023


About the Author

Rachel Jamison Webster (M.F.A. Warren Wilson) is the author of the full-length collection of poetry, September: Poems (Northwestern University Press, 2013) and a hybrid of poetry and prose, titled “The Endless Unbegun” (Twelve Winters Press, forthcoming in 2015) as well as two chapbooks, The Blue Grotto (Dancing Girl Press 2009) and “Leaving Phoebe” (Dancing Girl Press, forthcoming in 2015).

Webster has published poetry and essays in many journals and anthologies such as Poetry, The Southern Review, The Paris Review and Blackbird. She edits an online anthology of international poetry, UniVerse of Poetry, which features poets from every nation in the world and creates programs to widen poetry's audience, through which she curated and produced "The Gift," a series of radio essays about poetry for Chicago Public Radio.

Rachel has received an Emerging Artist Award from the Poetry Foundation and the Poetry Center of Chicago, an Academy of American Poets Young Poets Prize, and an American Association of University Women Award, the latter for her implementation of writing workshops for homeless youth in Portland, Oregon. From 1998-2001 she worked closely with Chicago's First Lady Maggie Daley to establish literary arts apprenticeships for thousands of city teens. In this capacity, she edited two anthologies of writing by young people, "Alchemy" (2001) and “Paper Atrium” (2004). She teaches advanced and beginning classes in poetry and creative non-fiction at Northwestern University, in Chicago.

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