Writer, cartoonist to weigh in on race in America

By

Maureen Roen

Aaron McGruder created the groundbreaking comic strip "The Boondocks" in 1997 as a college student at the University of Maryland. When it was first syndicated in 1999, it enjoyed the second-largest launch for a strip ever, immediately picked up by more than 150 newspapers nationwide.

Now, the writer and cartoonist will join Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy 2014 Visionary Lecture Series as its featured guest for a moderated conversation on race in America.

“We’re excited to be joined this year by one of the freshest, sharpest humorists of our time,” says Matthew Whitaker, ASU Foundation Professor of History in the College of Letters and Sciences and founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, who will moderate the conversation, set to take place Nov. 6 at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

“Through his writing and characters, Aaron McGruder has opened cross-cultural and cross-generational conversations on issues of race, identity, politics and other topics that aren’t always taken on in media and aren’t always comfortable for people to talk about,” says Whitaker. “We look forward to some honest, lively commentary and discussion.”

Also an animated television comedy series, “The Boondocks” was only the beginning for McGruder, who has published five books based on the series, including the best-seller “A Right to Be Hostile." He co-created the graphic novel “Birth of a Nation,” a political, social satire in which the mostly black community of East St. Louis secedes from the Union. He is also a co-creator of the live-action television series set in Compton, California, “Black Jesus,” which aired this fall.

McGruder’s satirical pen has earned him many accolades over his 20-year career, including a “Chairman’s Award” at the 2002 NAACP Image Awards. USA Today has compared his voice to that of Langston Hughes.

Of course he’s also drawn critics along the way, which McGruder has said he expects as a satirist: “It’s our job to be out there on the edge.”

The knowledge that the power of satire also carries with it tremendous responsibility is ever-present for him.

“What has never been lost on me is the enormous responsibility that came with ‘The Boondocks’ – particularly the television show and its relatively young audience,” McGruder wrote in April, when revealing he was leaving the series prior to the final season. “It was important to offend, but equally important to offend for the right reasons … it was always done with a keen sense of duty, history, culture and love. Anything less would have been simply unacceptable.”

As he noted in a 2004 New Yorker magazine profile interview, “I want to say the things no one else can say, but it’s a tightrope walk.”

The lecture, which will begin at 6:30 p.m., will be immediately followed by a reception and book-signing (a limited number of books will be available for purchase). The event is free and open to all, but tickets are required.

One of the signature annual events organized by the center, the Visionary Lecture provides a forum for innovative social architects to present new ideas and projects related to race and democracy, broadly construed.

The Tempe Center for the Arts is located at 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe, and parking is free. To reserve your tickets for the event, visit http://csrd.asu.edu/visionarylecture or call the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at 602-496-2114.