March 29, 2023

At 7pm EDT on April 3rd, the UMass Amherst History Department’s Feinberg Series will present its capstone event, “The Poetry of War and Resistance.” Five distinguished, award-winning poets whose work has been deeply influenced by U.S. imperialism will each read a selection of their work and respond to questions on Zoom. Presenters include Carolyn Forché, Yusef Komunyakaa, Dunya Mihail, Ocean Vuong, and Ru Freeman (moderator).

The event is the culmination of the Feinberg Series’s yearlong exploration of U.S. imperialism and anti-imperialist resistance. Titled “Confronting Empire,” the series centers on histories of U.S. empire in Asia, the Middle East and the Americas. The capstone features poets whose work grapples with U.S. wars in these regions. 

For Carolyn Forché, her experiences in El Salvador have led to a “devastating, lyrical, and visionary” memoir as well as multiple books of award-winning poetry. The originator of the term “poetry of witness,” Forché’s work has been described as “some of the most dramatic antiwar and anti-torture poetry” of the century.

Yusef Komunyakaa’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry is influenced by jazz, his upbringing in the South, and his experience as a soldier and a war correspondent during the Vietnam War. His work, as Toi Derricotte notes, “shows us in ever deeper ways what it is to be human.” 

The Iraqi American poet Dunya Mikhail is author of numerous books and collections of poetry exploring themes of war, trauma and exile. Writing in both English and Arabic, she is recipient of numerous awards, including the United Nations Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing.

Recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, Ocean Vuong is the internationally-celebrated author of numerous critically-acclaimed, award-winning books, including Time is a Mother, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Night Sky with Exit Wounds. Born in Saigon, Vietnam and raised in Hartford, CT, Vuong is faculty at New York University.

Rounding out the panel, moderator Ru Freeman is an award-winning, internationally-published Sri Lankan and American writer, poet, and activist who teaches creative writing and is the director of the Artists Network at Narrative 4. 

Vietnam War historian Christian Appy, co-chair of this year’s Feinberg Series alongside fellow historians Diana Sierra Becerra and Jess Johnson, explained the committee’s decision to culminate this historically-oriented series with an evening of poetry. “Out of the wreckage of war and imperialism, artists often present us with revelatory, life-affirming insights.” 

Offered every other year by the UMass Amherst History Department, this iteration of the Feinberg Family Distinguished Lecture Series is a collaboration with the Ellsberg Initiative for Peace and Democracy and more than three dozen university and community and university partners. Visit the Feinberg Series website for more information.

Registration for the final Feinberg event of the year is at

Image is from the “Against the Wall” series by Marlene Dumas, used with permission.