Rob Elder is coming to The Parlor

May 4, 2010

posted by Caroline Picard

As you may or may not know, Rob Elder is coming to read for The Parlor this evening. It’s going to be fantastic. His book, Last Words of the Executed is a long-standing project that documents the last words of every recorded American who was executed by the law. I first met Rob a few years ago when I happened to work as his assistant. For a very brief period of time, I helped on this book. I remember being especially struck by the range of tone, and it was impossible not to think about the finitude of an individual in the public space alloted before death. What does it say about our perspective/evaluation of human life that, although a given state can take the life of one of it’s citizens, it nevertheless creates a space for that same citizen to articulate something of his or her choosing? There are apologies, denials, pleas, statements of rage, even–while the sentiments expressed reflect directly on the individual at hand, they are nevertheless each contextualized by the same spectral insititution of death.

Resident actors and friends Young Joon Kwak and Basia Kapolka are going to help perform some of these statements. The reading begins at 7, as usual, with a question and answer to follow.

Last Words was mentioned in The Economist which is very exciting indeed. I pasted an excerpt below, but you can read the article in its entirety by going here.

The last words are remarkable for their remorse, humour, hatred, resignation, fear and bravado. “I wish you’d hurry up. I want to get to hell in time for dinner,” a 19th-century Wyoming murderer told his hangman. Some rambled; others were concise. Several blamed the drink; others reasserted innocence, or (especially in recent years) railed against the death penalty. Some accepted their fate. “If I was y’all, I would have killed me. You know?” said a Texan, who had murdered his son’s former girlfriend and her sister, as he readied himself for lethal injection. America’s diverse heritage is stamped even onto its killers’ final moments.

Last Words of the Executed. By Robert Elder. University of Chicago Press; 304 pages; $22.50 and £14.50. Buy from,


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