Life of a Klansman: Edward Ball with Saidiya Hartman

Tue. Aug 11, 2020 8:00pm - 9:00pm EDT
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The National Book Award–winning author contends with two intertwined histories of white supremacy, one in his family, the other in our country.

Life of a Klansman book coverIn Life of a Klansman, Edward Ball returns to the subject of his classic first book, Slaves in the Family: The Mechanisms of White Supremacy in America, as understood through the lives of his ancestors. This time, he tells the story of a warrior in the Ku Klux Klan, a carpenter in Louisiana who took up the cause of fanatical racism during the years after the Civil War. Ball, a descendant of this Klansman, paints a portrait of his family's antiblack militant that is part history, part memoir rich in personal detail. To have a Klansman in the family tree is no rare thing: Demographic estimates suggest that fifty percent of whites in the United States have at least one ancestor who belonged to the Ku Klux Klan at some point in its history. In the current era, when racist ideology and violence are again loose in the public square, Life of a Klansman offers a personal origin story of white supremacy.

Edward Ball researched and wrote Life of a Klansman during his 2015-2016 fellowship at the Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers as the David Ferriero Fellow. He discusses his book with MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and past Cullman Center Fellow, Saidiya Hartman.

Produced in partnership with The Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.

Edward Ball © Nina SubinEdward Ball's books include The Inventor and the Tycoon, about the birth of moving pictures in California, and Slaves in the Family, an account of his family’s history as slaveholders in South Carolina, which received the National Book Award for Nonfiction. He has taught at Yale University and has been awarded fellowships by the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard and The New York Public Library’s Cullman Center. He is also the recipient of a Public Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Saidiya Hartman © Steven GregorySaidiya Hartman is the author of Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Slave Route and Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. She is a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, and has been a Fulbright scholar in Ghana, a Whitney Oates fellow at Princeton University, a Rockefeller fellow at Brown University, and a Critical Inquiry visiting professor at the University of Chicago. She has published articles in journals such as South Atlantic QuarterlyBrickSmall AxeCallalooThe New Yorker, and The Paris Review. She was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 2019. She worked on Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism in 2019, during her Cullman Center Fellowship in 2016-17.


Readers everywhere who wish to purchase copies of Edward Ball's Life of a Klansman (signed) and Saidiya Hartman's Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments can do so at The New York Public Library Shop. All proceeds benefit The New York Public Library. Plus, receive a free commemorative 125th anniversary tote bag with your purchase!

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Edward Ball © Nina Subin
Saidiya Hartman © Steven Gregory

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