The Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University, in conjunction with the Department of English and Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, will present a lecture by author, cultural historian, and Harvard Professor Robin Bernstein entitled “‘I’m proud to be part of the reality-based community’: How Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home Uses Digital Photography and Performance to Counter the Post-Reality of George W. Bush”. The lecture will take place on Monday, December 8 from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. in Room 207 at 185 Nassau Street and is free and open to the public.
Bernstein is a cultural historian who specializes in American performance and theater from the nineteenth century to the present. Her other areas of study include formations of race, age, gender, and sexuality, and her research integrates the study of theatrical, visual, material, and literary evidence. She received her doctorate in American Studies from Yale University and is currently a Professor of African and African American Studies and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University.
Bernstein is the author of the critically acclaimed book, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights. In the book, Bernstein argues that the concept of “childhood innocence” has been central to racial formation in the United States since the mid-nineteenth century. Racial Innocence won the Outstanding Book Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, the Grace Abbott Best Book Award from the Society for the History of Children and Youth, the Book Award from the Children’s Literature Association, the Lois P. Rudnick Book Prize from the New England American Studies Association, and the IRSCL Award from the International Research Society for Children’s Literature. Bernstein’s other books include the anthology Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theater and a Jewish feminist children’s book entitled Terrible, Terrible!
Alison Bechdel, whose work is discussed in the lecture, is a cartoonist and graphic memoirist who explores the complexities of familial relationships in multilayered works that use the interplay of word and image to weave sophisticated narratives. Bechdel was originally known for the long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which followed the lives of women in the lesbian community as they influenced and were influenced by the important cultural and political events of the day. She achieved critical and commercial success in 2006 with her graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which is the subject of this lecture. Fun Home is a nuanced depiction of Bechdel’s relationship with her father in their small Pennsylvania town. Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which his daughter and her family referred to as the “Fun Home.” It was not until college that Bechdel, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve. An impeccable observer and record keeper, Bechdel incorporates drawings of archival materials, such as diaries, letters, photographs, and news clippings, as well as a variety of literary references in deep reflections into her own past.
Bechdel is also the originator of the widely-used test for gender bias in fiction called the Bechdel test. The test asks if a work of fiction features at least two (named) women who talk to each other about something other than a man.