Imagine Otherwise: Alix Olson on Transitioning from Performer to Professor

Jun 6, 2019 | Podcast

This week I got to meet a performer whose work I’ve loved for over 15 years. For Imagine Otherwise, I got to interview poet, performer, and professor Alix Olson about how and why Alix made the transition from internationally touring slam poet to gender studies professor and scholar, the limits of resilience as an organizing strategy and what we might mobilize around instead, how artists and performers can adapt their skills to the classroom to teach diverse students, and why centering humor, laughter, and expansive practices of family are key to how Alix imagines otherwise.

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You can also read the transcript and show notes on the Ideas on Fire website, which have links to Alix’s work and all the concepts, people, and events we discuss on the show (great for teaching!).

Guest: Alix Olson

Alix Olson is an assistant professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Emory University. She received her PhD in political science and a graduate certificate in advanced feminist studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2018.

Her scholarship can be found in New Political Science: A Journal of Politics and Culture, Wagadu: Journal of Transnational Women’s and Gender Studies, and Agitation with a Smile: Howard Zinn’s Legacies and the Future of Activism. She has received the Caucus for a New Political Science’s Christian Bay Award for work that “makes the study of politics relevant to the struggle for a better world.”

Alix’s book manuscript, The Promise(s) of Resilience: Governance and Resistance in Complex Times, critically examines the rise and circulation of the concept of “resilience” within twenty-first-century political life and how it is fundamentally re-ordering peoples’ understanding of themselves, the world, and possibilities of action.

For over a decade, Alix toured internationally as a spoken word artist. She published three volumes of poetry, produced three spoken word albums (Protagonist, Independence Meal, and Built Like That), and is featured in the award-winning documentary Left Lane: On the Road with Alix Olson. Alix is the editor of Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution (Seal Press) and co-author of Burning Down the House (Soft Skull Press). She has performed on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, CNN, Oxygen, and Air America’s Unfiltered with Rachel Maddow. She has been featured on the covers of Ms. and Curve Magazines and in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Key quote

“In my generation of artists, many of us have gone back to grad school. Many of us have switched career trajectories. I think in part that’s because there also was the loss of a live audience and that has to do the neoliberalization of spaces.

I think there are many answers out there for many of us who switched paths. For me, it was just plunging back into reading and thinking about what was going to spark my inquiry. I slowly began to write pieces that were more theoretically based. I also started to write pieces for the Huffington Post and to channel how I was writing to think about an audience in a different way—not as what is going to get them to scream and feel empowered, but to get them to critically think in a different way.”

– Alix Olson on episode 90 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast


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