5 Questions with Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Author of ABOLITION GEOGRAPHY: Essays Towards Liberation

May 17, 2023

Ruth Wilson Gilmore is Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences and Director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the City University of New York Graduate Center. A co-founder of many grassroots organizations including California Prison Moratorium Project, Critical Resistance, and the Central California Environmental Justice Network, Gilmore works on racial capitalism; organized violence; organized abandonment; and abolition as a green, red, and internationalist project of liberation. She is author of Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (UC Press 2007); and with Paul Gilroy she co-edited Stuart Hall: Selected Writings on Race and Difference. (Duke 2021). Change Everything: Racial Capitalism and the Case for Abolition is forthcoming from Haymarket. Gilmore has lectured in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. Her internationalist work is featured in the Antipode Foundation documentary Geographies of Racial Capitalism with Ruth Wilson Gilmore (Dir Kenton Card, 2020). Honors include the Ralph Santiago Abascal Prize in Economic and Environmental Justice (2003); the Southern California Library Lifetime Achievement Award (2007); A New Way of Life Re-entry Project Lifetime Achievement Award (2010); the American Studies Association Angela Y. Davis Award for Public Scholarship (2012); the Association of American Geographers Harold Rose Award for Anti-Racist Research and Practice (2014); the SUNY-Purchase College Eugene V. Grant Distinguished Scholar Prize for Social and Environmental Justice (2015-16); and the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Cultural Freedom Award (2020). In 2021 Gilmore was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a Marguerite Casey Foundation 2022 Freedom Scholar. Read Professor Gilmore’s New York Times feature here.

Professor Gilmore will be celebrating the paperback publication of her book ABOLITION GEOGRAPHY: ESSAYS TOWARDS LIBERATION on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 with a virtual City Lights LIVE! event with Dr. Clarence Lusane. Register here.

Where are you writing to us from?

At home in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, just below Fort Tryon Park — in a sunny little room facing a phenomenally ugly building that blocks any view of the Hudson River & Palisades, though I can see a fair amount of sky.

What is bringing you joy right now, personally/artistically/habitually?

My partner Craig Gilmore. Karen Tei Yamashita’s meyer lemon marmalade she sent us nestled in a box of fruit from her Santa Cruz tree. Friendship. Reading. Conversations across many generations. Surprising my oldest brother for his 80th birthday. Listening to Tomeka Reid’s cello.

Which writers, artists, and others influence your work in general, and this book, specifically?

So many. Abolition Geography collects work written over more than 30 years. Forgive the relative presentism of this list.

Artists: Shellyne Rodriguez, Tiffany Chung, Renée Green, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Bettye Saar, Allison Saar, Charles White, Denny Farber, Camille Billops.

Composers/musicians: Ornette Coleman (always), Matana Roberts, James Brandon Lewis, Mary Halvorson, Kid Creole, Billie Holliday, Return to Forever, Tower of Power, Andrew Hill, Vijay Iyer, Wadada Leo Smith, Art Ensemble of Chicago — and really AACM across the generations.

Writers! Cedric Robinson, Janet Abu-Lughod, Stuart Hall, Sivanandan, Sónia Vaz Borges, Hilary Mantel, John Le Carré, Mike Davis, Lorna Goodison, China Miéville, Robin D.G. Kelley, Hazel Carby, Vijay Prashad, bell hooks.

What books are you reading right now and would you recommend any to others?

Vron Ware Return of a Native; Arianne Shahvisi Arguing for a Better World (forthcoming); Walter Rodney Decolonial Marxism; Yvonne Busisiwe Phyllis This Land is the Land of our Ancestors; Alberto Toscano Terms of Disorder (forthcoming); VI Lenin Imperialism; Beatrice Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant Health Communism; Aviah Sarah Day & Shanice Octavia McBean Abolition Revolution; Shahram Khosravi Waiting: A Project in Conversation; Katherine McKittrick Trick Not Telos; Abdulrazak Gurnah By the Sea.

If you opened a bookstore, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

I was a bookseller groupie for more than two decades, shadowing my partner and his comrades who ran shops including City Lights, Verso, Recto & Verso, the UCLA Bookstore, Seminary Co-op, Hue-Man Experience, Aquarian, even the original Brixton Writers and Readers. If I had a shop now, I’d like it to be a version of George Padmore’s floating Pan African Congress: a solar-powered ship, not too big, that could meander from place to place — moving with The Common Wind as Julius Scott’s beautiful book showed us — and include a land-vehicle that could roll away from the shore. The bookstore would be a moving central place, a means to build solidarity, thrill in writing, and have a good time.

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