By Josie Shaw
Local Birmingham poet Elizabeth Hughey discussed peace and justice and read her new book “White Bull” at UM on Tuesday, April 12. “White Bull” is a collection of poems written exclusively using words said by “Bull” Conner.
The event is a part of the Poetry at UM series hosted by the English department. This is the first time the series has happened in two years.
The discussion took place in UMOM, soon to be renamed Dr. Wilson Fallon Hall, and was hosted by the Peace & Justice Studies Department.
English professor Dr. Jim Murphy asked questions about Hughey’s book during the Q&A session. Most of the questions were centered around Hughey’s process and inspiration behind writing her poetry.
Conner served as the President of Alabama Public Service Commission in 1936-1954 and 1957-1963. He is infamously known for using fire hoses and police dogs to attack protesters during the Civil Rights Movement.
When Hughey was asked about why she chose Conner as a subject, she said it was because of proximity. Hughey lives in the same suburb where Conner lived, allowing for a dialogue about comparisons between the past and present in her poems.
During the Q&A, Hughey compared her experience growing up in a predominantly white suburb with the conditions of Birmingham schools later in life. Hughley said, “There are phenomenal teachers, phenomenal students, but the resources just aren’t there.”
“I was really shocked, frustrated and anxious, and didn’t know what to do or what I was supposed to do,” said Hughey. She defines this moment of frustration as an educational awakening, and the inspiration behind pivoting her career towards writing about injustice. She chose the medium of poetry to showcase the contradictory themes and emotions in her stories.
The event continued with a poetry reading of “White Bull” in Carmichael Library.
Hughey provided a selection of her poems to read, with most of them being addressed to Conner himself. A student requested for her to read one of her poems titled “Birmingham”.
“I wish that our city had better vandals. I want to be looking at art, instead of having a new experience,” read Hughey from “Birmingham”.
The English Department chose Hughey for her local prominence. “I recognized the importance of it, and the significance especially for our students here,” said Murphy.
When she’s not writing poetry, Hughey serves as a staff member of Desert Island Supply Co. in Birmingham. Desert Island Supply Co. is a nonprofit organization that teaches creative writing to Birmingham K-12 classrooms through their All City Writers Corps program. Hughey has served as co-founder and programming director with the organization for 10 years.
Those who are interested in volunteering with Desert Island Supply Co. are encouraged to visit their website at www.discobham.com. Those interested in following Hughey’s future writing can find information at https://www.elizabethhughey.com.
Find video and more information about Elizabeth Hughey and her book “White Bull” on the Falcons on Air Instagram, @umfalconsonair.