Miles DavisThe Edgar P. Richardson Symposium American Cool

Friday, March 7, 2014 | 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
National Portrait Gallery
Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium
Free and Open to the Public

The concept of cool is the most influential contribution American culture has made to global aesthetics and style. An exemplary group of scholars will explore how two intersecting branches of cool—African-American culture and popular culture—impact style, marketing, and society. The symposium will engage two related questions:

(1) What do we mean when we say someone is cool?
(2) How do icons of cool impact society for a given generation?



Donnell Alexander is an acclaimed storyteller and editor whose work brings forth facets of American life too often relegated to the margins. A multi-platform content creator, he authored the memoir Ghetto Celebrity (2003) as a personal, elongated addendum to the 1997 Might essay, “Cool Like Me: Are Black People Cooler than White People?” He has served as a staff writer at LA Citybeat, ESPN: The Magazine, LA Weekly, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and the Chico News & Review. Alexander contributes currently to the websites Deadspin and TakePart.

William Jelani Cobb is an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Institute of African American Studies at the University of Connecticut. He is the author of The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama & the Paradox of Progress (2010) and To The Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic (2007), which was a finalist for the National Award for Arts Writing. His collection The Devil & Dave Chappelle and Other Essays was also published in 2007. Cobb’s forthcoming book is titled Antidote to Revolution: African American Anticommunism and the Struggle for Civil Rights, 1931-1957.

Joel Dinerstein is the James H. Clark Endowed Chair in American Civilization at Tulane University, where he is also the executive director of the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South. He is the author of an award-winning cultural history of jazz and industrialization, Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the World Wars (2003), and he has been teaching, lecturing, and publishing articles on the concept of cool for more than a decade.

Thomas Frank is the founding editor of The Baffler , and the author of Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (2012); The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation (2009); and The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (1998), among other books. He is currently a columnist for

Frank Goodyear is the co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine. He was previously a curator of photographs at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Goodyear is the author of A President in Yellowstone: The F. Jay Haynes Photographic Album of Chester Arthur’s 1883 Expedition (2013); Faces of the Frontier: Photographic Portraits from the American West, 1845-1924 (2009); Zaida Ben-Yusuf: New York Portrait Photographer (2008); and Red Cloud: Photographs of a Lakota Chief (2003).

Alissa Quart is the author of Republic of Outsiders (2013), Hothouse Kids (2007), and Branded (2003). She has written for the New York Times Sunday Review, The Atlantic, The Atavist , the London Review of Books, New York , and many other publications and is a columnist for and contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review . She has taught at Columbia University’s Journalism School and was a 2010 Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

Rebecca Walker is the author of the memoirs Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self (2002) and Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood after a Lifetime of Ambivalence (2008); and editor of the anthologies To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism (1995), and Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness (2012), among other books. Her writing has appeared in Glamour , the Washington Post, Bookforum, BOMB, Newsweek, Vibe, Essence , and Interview , among many other magazines and literary collections.

Carl Wilson is the music critic for Slate. He also writes for The Globe and Mail in Toronto and is the author of Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (2007).


Named in honor of Edgar P. Richardson (1902–1985), this symposium pays tribute to Richardson’s significant contribution as a scholar and National Portrait Gallery commissioner. Trained as a painter at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, he had a great impact as an art historian, scholar and author. During his career, he distinguished himself at a number of institutions: as a director of both the Detroit Institute of Art and the H.F. du Pont Winterthur Museum; as a co-founder of the Archives of American Art; as a president and board member of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; and as a commissioner of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery from 1966 until 1979. Richardson invigorated the study of American art as a curator and author through exhibitions and such publications as his Painting in America: The Story of Four Hundred and Fifty Years (1956).

The Edgar P. Richardson Symposium was established at the National Portrait Gallery with the generous support of Richardson’s longtime friend and former National Portrait Gallery commissioner, Robert L. McNeil Jr.

American Cool has been made possible by the generous support of HISTORY®. Additional support provided by Mr. and Mrs. Jack H. Watson, Jr. and by Peter and Rhondda Grant.