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The Wire Conference

April 8, 2016 - April 9, 2016

The Wire Conference

Friday, April 8, 2016 – Saturday, April 9, 2016



Panels 1-5: 301 Pulitzer Hall
Panels 6-7: 501 Schermerhorn Hall
Panels 8 and 9: Cowin Auditorium, Teachers College


Panels 1-7: Free and Open to the Public; No Registration
Panels 8-9: Purchase tickets here: wireconference.brownpapertickets.com


A consideration of the achievement, the afterlife, and the legacies of the HBO series The Wire—by some of the actors, writers, and musicians who created it, the academics who teach and study it, and those who in their communities continue to engage the issues it raises. The conference will culminate in a ticketed “Actors and Activism” panel, featuring actors from The Wire, and a performance by the Moving Mountains Theater Company, a nonprofit organization that trains inner city youth in the performing arts, founded by The Wire star Jamie Hector.

Although critically acclaimed from the start, the HBO series The Wire was far less widely viewed during its original presentation (2002-08) than it has been in the succeeding years.  It is one of the very few television series that has become both more popular and more revered over time–consistently ranking on top-ten lists as one of the best series in television history—despite never having been heavily publicized or available for viewing free of charge.  And it is the only series to have been so widely incorporated into the academic curriculum in both the US and abroad.  For almost a decade, The Wire has been showing up on the syllabi of courses in sociology, English, African-American Studies, anthropology, film, education, religion, law, urban studies, criminal justice, and media studies at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Duke, UC Berkeley, Middlebury, Rutgers-Newark, University of Washington-Spokane, Syracuse, Loyola University New Orleans, University of Michigan (and the list of both disciplines and institutions goes on).

This two-day conference considers the afterlife and legacies of The Wire. For those involved with its creation, the experience of The Wire was unusually transformative.  The same might be said for those who study and learn from it.  What accounts for the unique status of The Wire as an object of multi-disciplinary inquiry?  Why does it appeal so strongly to those in the academy, and increasingly so as the years go by? In what ways has its unusual degree of creative collaboration led to other forms of collaborative work for creators and consumers (community activism, public humanities, team-teaching across disciplines)?  How does its status as a multi-part realist narrative (written as a whole rather than season by season) shape how we read it?  What effect does its subtly traversing the borderline between fact and fiction have on interpretation?

Friday panels address teaching The Wire and the issues it raises in different contexts; scholarship on The Wire, focusing on questions of seriality and narrative experience (including Linda Williams, Frank Kelleter, and Jason Mittell); a discussion about “immersive journalism” with June Cross, Leon Dash, Lynnell Hancock, among others, and the systemic urban problems that most affect the economically disadvantaged; and a “public square” panel, organized by Sheri Parks (University of MD), on Baltimore as a site for examining the interplay of race, racism, and the roles of the police, city officials, black youth (profiled as such), and other community actors.  There will be an early evening discussion and performance of music from The Wire, organized by the composer Blake Leyh, the music producer of The Wire.

Saturday sessions focus on mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline (organized by the Center for Justice at Columbia); the intersection of race, religion, and politics in the inner city (organized by the Institute for Research in African-American Studies); actors and activism (a roundtable organized by Jamie Hector and including other Wire activist-actors).  There will be an early evening performance by the Moving Mountains Theatre Company.



Conference Schedule

Friday, 8 April 2016 – 8:30am-7:00pm 305 Pulitzer Hall | Free and open to the public

Coffee and Opening Remarks – 8:30am-9:30am

  1. Teaching The Wire – 9:30am-11:00am
    Organized by the Heyman Center for the Humanities
    Fran Bartowski, University of New Jersey, Newark Sherri-Ann Butterfield, University of New Jersey, Newark Toby Gordon, Johns Hopkins University
    Arvind Rajagopal, New York University
    Moderator: Marcellus Blount, Columbia University

    Break – 11:00am-11:15am

  2. Seriality and Narrative Experience – 11:15am-12:45pm Organized by the Film Division, School of the Arts Frank Kelleter, Freie Universität, Berlin
    Jason Mittell, Middlebury College

    Linda Williams, University of California, Berkeley

Lunch – 12:45pm-2:00pm

  1. Immersion Journalism – 2:00pm-3:30pm Organized by the School of Journalism June Cross, Columbia University Andrea Elliott, New York Times LynNell Hancock, Columbia University Others TBA

    Break – 3:30pm-3:45pm

  2. Baltimore Stories in the “Public Square” – 3:45pm-5:15pm Organized by Sheri Parks, University of Maryland
    Sheri Parks, University of Maryland
    Other panelists TBA

    Break – 5:15pm-5:30pm

  3. Music from The Wire – 5:30pm-7:00pm
    Organized by Blake Leyh, Musical Supervisor on The Wire Juan Donovan Bell, Darkroom Productions
    Blake Leyh, Musical Supervisor on The Wire
    Others TBA

Saturday, 9 April 2016 – Morning Panels 501 Schermerhorn Hall | Free and open to the public

  1. Mass Incarceration and the School-to-Prison Pipeline – 10:00am-11:30am Organized by the Center for Justice
    Mariame Kaba, Project Nia
    Desmond U. Patton, Columbia University

    Carla Shedd, Columbia University Columbia JustArts program participants

    Break – 11:30am-11:45am

  2. Religion, Race, Politics in the Inner City – 11:45am-1:15pm
    Organized and Moderated by the Institute for Research on African American Studies: Monica R. Miller, Lehigh University
    Michael Leo Owens, Emory University
    Josef Sorett, Columbia University
    Rev. LaKeesha Walrond, First Corinthian Baptist Church, New York City
    Joseph R. Winters II, Duke University

    Lunch – 1:15pm-3:00pm

Saturday, 9 April 2016 – Afternoon/Evening Panels Cowin Auditorium, Horace Mann Hall, Teachers College
GA Tickets: $15; Student Tickets: $7 | Click here to purchase tickets All proceeds support Moving Mountains Theater Company

  1. Actors and Activism – 3:00pm-4:30pm
    A roundtable featuring actors from The Wire, organized by Jamie Hector Jamie Hector
    Felicia Pearson
    Wendell Pierce
    Sonja Sohn
    Moderator: Jamal Joseph, Columbia University

    Intermission – 4:30pm-5:00pm

  2. Performance by the Moving Mountains Theater Company 5:00pm-6:30pm


Heyman Center for the Humanities; School of the Arts; Center for Justice; School of Journalism; Institute for Research in African-American Studies


April 8, 2016
April 9, 2016
Event Category:


The Heyman Center for the Humanities