The Penn Science Café and Penn Lightbulb Café Return

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Media Contact:Jacquie Posey | | 215-898-6460February 21, 2013

PHILADELPHIA-- The Penn Science Café and the Penn Lightbulb Café are back, bringing the University of Pennsylvania’s top scholars out on the town to share their research.

Beginning this month, each one-hour lecture will be held in World Café Live Upstairs, at 3025 Walnut St. on the eastern edge of campus, starting at 6 p.m.  Individuals can come early, purchase dinner or drinks, stay for the free talks and participate in question-and-answer sessions that follow.

On Feb. 26, Salamishah Tillet, assistant professor of English and Africana studies, will give this year’s inaugural Lightbulb Café talk, “From Douglass to Django: Slavery and Freedom in the Age of Obama.”

Jane Willenbring, assistant professor of earth and environmental science, will kick off the Penn Science Café on March 12 with a lecture on "Back to the Future: Antarctica in a Warming World."  

Four additional Science and Lightbulb cafes are planned for March and April.

Seating is limited. Reservations can be made by contacting Gina Bryan at 215-898-8721 or

Since 2005, the Penn Science Café has featured scholars discussing their research in public forums held at restaurants and taverns across University City.  The Lightbulb lecture series debuted two years ago.

The two series are presented by Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences and the University Communications Office.

Tillet’s talk is timely as Hollywood revives the themes of slavery and freedom in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Drawing on her book Sites of Slavery, Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination, Tillet will put these cinematic conversations in context with discussion on how contemporary African-American artists like Bill T. Jones, Toni Morrison and Kara Walker reimagine slavery in order to challenge a national silence about racial inequality in the present and model a more robust democracy for the future. 

In a CNN opinion piece, Tillet writes that the problem with Quentin Tarantino's bounty hunter protagonist in Django Unchained is that he is the exceptional slave when those around him are little more than one-dimensional characters.

According to Tillet, this is often what happens in Hollywood.

“Conservatives tout ‘exceptional African-Americans’ to deny contemporary structures of racism, and liberals applaud them for transcending race. In both cases, the ongoing racial inequities that affect the majority of African-Americans today are seen as a thing of the past, as a bygone of the era of slavery.”           

Tillet’s research and teaching interests include 20th-century African-American literature and visual and performance arts, cultural studies, feminism, the African Diaspora and black transnationalism.

She has guest blogged for The Nation and has appeared on CNN, MSNBC and NPR and written editorials for the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post online magazine The