Baha’i Blogcast with Rainn Wilson – Episode 39: Derik Smith

Hello and welcome to the Baha’i Blogcast with me your host, Rainn Wilson.

In this series of podcasts I interview members of the Baha’i Faith and friends from all over the world about their hearts, and minds, and souls, their spiritual journeys, what they’re interested in, and what makes them tick.

In this episode, I’m at my home in LA with Derik Smith, a professor in the Department of Literature at Claremont McKenna College in California, and his work focuses on African American literary culture, with a particular interest in poetry. We talk about African American poet and Baha’i, Robert Hayden, plus we look at the concept of black people being likened to the “pupil of the eye” in the Baha’i Writings. We also discuss racism, the prison system, constructive resilience, and the role each one of us can play in ensuring individual and social transformation and justice. I hope you enjoy the conversation!

Dr. Smith also teaches and writes about representations of blackness in American film and musical culture. His 2018 monograph, Robert Hayden In Verse: New Histories of African American Poetry and the Black Arts Era, recently won the College Language Association’s annual book award. His current scholarship focuses on the poetics of rap, and the rise of the genre during the final decades of the twentieth century, as well as the connection between critical race studies and the Baha’i Faith. Smith regularly teaches courses in American prisons and nurtures activist interests in prison studies and pedagogy. He and his family live in Southern California, USA.

To find out more about Derik Smith and some of the things we covered in this episode, check out the following links:

  • Read Derek’s essay: Centering the “Pupil of the Eye”: Blackness, Modernity, and the Revelation of Baha’u’llah found in The Journal of Baha’i Studies, Volume 29, Number 1 Spring-Summer 2019.
  • Rainn and Derik discuss the following quote:

    “Thou art like unto the pupil of the eye which is dark in color, yet it is the fount of light and the revealer of the contingent world”. –Abdu’l-Baha

  • Derik and Rainn mention the following books:

    i. Robert Hayden in Verse: New Histories of African American Poetry and the Black Arts Era by Derik Smith.
    ii. The Book of Certitude (Kitab-i-Iqan) by Baha’u’llah.
    iii. The Dawn-Breakers by Nabil-i-Azam. (Baha’i Blog article: An Introduction to ‘The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil’s Narrative’)
    iv. God Passes By by Shoghi Effendi
    v. The Most Holy Book (Kitab-i-Aqdas by Baha’u’llah
    vi. The Advent of Divine Justice by Shoghi Effendi
    vii. Tablets of Baha’u’llah by Baha’u’llah.
    viii. The Writings and Talks of Abdu’l-Baha by Abdu’l-Baha.

  • Find out more about Robert Hayden here on Wikipedia.
  • Check out this collection of poems by Robert Hayden here on Amazon.com.
  • Rainn mentions the writer Anand Giridharadas, author of ‘Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World
  • Derek talks about volunteering at the Baha’i World Centre, which you can find out more about here, and from this Baha’i Blog article: Why is the Baha’i World Centre in Israel?
  • Derik and Rainn talk about the concept of “Constructive Resilience”, an example of which you can read about from this article by Michael Karlberg: Constructive Resilience: The Baha’i Response to Oppression. You may also enjoy listening to a conversation with Michael Karlberg here on the Baha’i Blogcast with Rainn Wilson Episode 35.

    You can find all of our episodes here on the Baha’i Blogcast page, and be sure to ‘subscribe’ to the Baha’i Blogcast for more upcoming episodes on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Soundcloud.

    Thanks for listening!

    -Rainn Wilson

  • About the Author

    Naysan is the editor of Baha'i Blog and he has worked in various avenues of media for two decades. He’s passionate about using the arts and media to support and explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith and he has produced and collaborated on popular music projects like the "DawnBreaker Collective" and the successful Ruhi-inspired sequence of "MANA" albums. His experience as a producer for CNN was invaluable while working on a number of special projects for the Baha’i World Centre, including the "Building Momentum" and "Pilgrimage: A Sacred Experience" videos. If there’s a media-related Baha’i project out there, chances are that Naysan was involved with it somehow!

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