GETTING CURIOUS | What Stories Do America’s Monuments Tell? with Dr. Elizabeth Alexander


You’re planning an afternoon with friends, just east of Atlanta, Georgia. A picnic, maybe a scenic walk, some fireworks as the sun goes down. You find a park that seems to have it all: Stone Mountain. Then you do some research on it—and learn that it holds significance for the Confederacy AND the modern Ku Klux Klan. WTF?! In the lead-up to Juneteenth, Dr. Elizabeth Alexander joins Jonathan to explore the history and contemporary significance of America’s monuments—who’s represented, in what ways, and what it’ll take to change these narratives.

Elizabeth Alexander – decorated poet, educator, memoirist, scholar, and cultural advocate – is president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  She has held distinguished professorships at Smith College, Columbia University, and Yale University, is Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and serves on the Pulitzer Prize Board.

Dr. Alexander composed and delivered “Praise Song for the Day” for the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama, and is author or co-author of fifteen books, including American Sublime (Pulitzer finalist, Poetry, 2006), The Light of the World (Pulitzer finalist, Biography, 2015), and The Trayvon Generation (2022).

You can follow Dr. Alexander on Twitter @ProfessorEA and Instagram @alexanderlizzy, and at

Want to know what the Mellon Foundation is up to? You can follow their work on Twitter and Instagram @mellonfdn. 

Want to learn more about monuments? Check out the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project, and the work of Monument Lab.

A special thank you to all of our listeners who submitted questions for Dr. Alexander, they very much guided this episode!

Join the conversation, and find out what former guests are up to, by following us on Instagram and Twitter @CuriousWithJVN. 

Jonathan is on Instagram and Twitter @JVN and @Jonathan.Vanness on Facebook.

Transcripts for each episode are available at

Love listening to Getting Curious? Now, you can also watch Getting Curious—on Netflix! Head to to dive in.

Our executive producer is Erica Getto. Our associate producer is Zahra Crim. Our editor is Andrew Carson.

Our socials are run and curated by Middle Seat Digital.

Our theme music is “Freak” by QUIÑ; for more, head to

Getting Curious merch is available on

Headshot Credit for Dr. Alexander: Djeneba Aduayom

Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness