Monthly Archives: June 2016

Coming Attractions: Call & Response

Coming soon: an interview with yours truly for the brilliant documentary serial Call & Response by Brooklyn’s own Malik Isasis and Lina Cherfas! I met this power couple through a fellow member of the CLAGS Board of Directors, and our mutual interest in speculative fiction and media kicked off a conversation about further ways to share knowledge.

photo: Black man, shaved head, with glasses and beard, is speaking, seated in front of a bookshelf

©️ 2016 Malik Isasis

They invited me to take part in Call & Response at their home, which is situated in my old stomping grounds of Ditmas Park, and I happily I obliged. The video is currently being edited. In the meantime, check out a previous installment of the series featuring Sociologist Ginetta Candelario. In her interview, among other topics, Dr. Candelario discusses negrophobia (literally, fear of Blackness, but so much more).

Here’s a bonus: one of Malik’s short films, Lena’s Complicated Machine, imagines the implications of death, love, and time travel. It’s better on that account than Interstellar, in my opinion, and if you know me, you know I enjoyed that movie. Have a look at the trailer, below.

Aren’t you excited now?! View the film, buy the soundtrack, and watch this space for the premiere of our Call & Response episode.

The library is open: PS374. N4 C37 2016

I’ve been super eager to locate Speculative Blackness in my university library. It’s on order, and when I looked it up this time, I saw the call numbers and where it’s placed on the shelves.
Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.15.26 AMI’m really, really pleased to be in such distinguished company. What’s critically important, to me, is that this call number, PS374. N4 C37, places my book next to African Americanist literary criticism. This is essential for my professional identity as an English prof. Also key are my first three subject headings:
American fiction — African American authors — History and criticism.
Science fiction, American — History and criticism.
Race in literature.
You can tell from the content of the book that it’s about media & popular culture. But what you need to know at the library is that I bring these topics to my job, which is teaching African American literature and literary studies. It matters to the institution, so it matters to me. When I articulate the meaning of the category of genre, when I talk about cultural capital and the field of cultural production, and when I deal with the politics of knowledge in classes and when I write articles, I’m drawing directly from the lessons I learned in the course of writing this book. It’s also critical, to me, that this book will be a reason for science fiction studies to visit the African American literature shelf; recognizing that the conversation about race in speculative fiction is inextricably linked to the ongoing legacy of Black scholarship and antiracist knowledge production is an absolutely essential goal of my research. At Penn’s library, Speculative Blackness is right next to the Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel! To me, that’s perfect. Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.44.05 AMOf course, showing up is not the end of the project but the beginning. Placement in a library doesn’t demonstrate that by itself, but it helps. I’m in good company, on the shelves, and when I consider where my first book fits into my current scholarship, it’s a good trajectory.

Summer Sixteen: Mellon Summer Part I

No, not 🍉! I’m referring to the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program and the SSRC-Mellon Mays Graduate Initiatives. These programs have anchored me in a supportive community of colleagues and connected me with the resources I’ve needed at every stage of my academic career so far. From the undergraduate program’s website:

The fundamental objective of MMUF is to address, over time, the problem of underrepresentation in the academy at the level of college and university faculties. This goal can be achieved both by increasing the number of students from underrepresented minority groups (URM) who pursue PhDs and by supporting the pursuit of PhDs by students who may not come from traditional minority groups but have otherwise demonstrated a commitment to the goals of MMUF.

A diverse group of two professors and six college students, all smiling, pose for a group photo, standing in a single row, in a college classroom. In the foreground, there is a desk and chair, and in the background there is a whiteboard.

I worked with these future doctoral students alongside fellow Scholar-in-Residence Dr. Shanna Benjamin (right).

My mentor, Duchess Harris, JD, PhD, was in the first class of Mellon fellows at the University of Pennsylvania. Now, as a full Professor and Chair of American Studies at my alma mater, Macalester College, she invited me to participate in her students’ summer seminar as the program’s inaugural Scholar-in-Residence!


CameraZOOM-20160617132333970The Macalester Mellon fellows, who are rising juniors and seniors, were assigned to read Speculative Blackness as part of a summer-long curriculum. Their summer seminar takes them to lectures, museums, science exhibits, performances, and other events while they develop the  research projects that will comprise their work toward their eventual graduate studies. Needless to say, the invitation was an honor and a privilege.

A diverse group of ~100 graduate students and professors, all wearing business casual attire, pose for a photograph in several rows. Some are standing and some seated. In the foreground is a grassy lawn, in the background are the columns and arches of a cloister at a collegiate-gothic style building.

SSRC-Mellon Mays Graduate Initiatives 2013 Summer Graduate Student Conference.

The visit to my alma mater came at a fortuitous time, as I was already slated to rejoin my Mellon colleagues for the Graduate Student Conference at Bryn Mawr College. The last time I participated in this conference was in 2013, where I was a speaker on the Recent PhD Panel that allows newly-minted doctors to give graduate students an idea of what to expect in their imminent future. The Summer Seminar at Macalester took place first, then the Graduate Student Conference. More on that later: first, back to Mac! Continue reading

One down…

I just finished teaching my Global Black Lit course, which makes the quarter very nearly done. In just a couple hours, I’ll be done with teaching (after the last session of my Literary Theory class). This marks the end of my fourth academic year at Drexel (whoa) and my… twelfth quarter. The quarter system is wild.

In retrospect, I wish I had selected something (anything…) from Latin America for my Global Black Lit class, because it’s really the glaring omission on this map.amCharts (2)

I wanted to illustrate where the texts and authors we read during the course came from. I feel OK about the breadth of African nations we covered–it was only ten weeks!–and the connections we made to the U.S. and Europe. But clearly, there’s are whole continents missing. I know I can find Cuban and Brazilian authors of African descent whose works are familiar enough to teach, and I can actually read the original versions of some of these, which always helps, but I realize I’m sorely limited when it comes to experience teaching Afro-Latinx writers.

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However, I do feel affirmed by the positive feedback I received from the one African student in the class. He’s Ugandan; he brought up a few examples from his experience of the country’s recent history that I think the class found meaningful, and I certainly appreciated them. The last thing you want when teaching a subject where few students in the course have any frame of reference for the material in their prior experience is to further alienate those who do. More importantly, though, he said he’d discussed some of the material we read with his father, he feels like the course was eye-opening, he had recognized how African authors are looked down upon and cut out of conversations about literature, and he appreciates that we got to read things he never would have otherwise. And he’s going to hang on to the texts for his personal library (I assume all students do this, but I have to remember that I’m an English professor so of course I kept all the books). I pointed out that my former department head edits the Journal of the African Literature Association, in part to remind myself that I’m not the expert around these parts. Fortunately, I’m in good company.

41D3TAecsnL As the map above indicates, we dealt with a works from variety of language communities.I feel good about that. Many of the works were originally published in English or in French. It’s hard to detect at the scale above, but we read the work of Frantz Fanon and Suzanne Césaire representing Martinique. I strongly recommend The Great Camouflage to basically everyone, and if I were to teach this course at the graduate level, I’d assign the work of my esteemed colleague Vanessa Agard-Jones on this country and its contexts, as well. Come to think of it, Christopher Miller’s book The French Atlantic Triangle would be a good read for this, and so would Juan Flores’s Afro-Latin@ Reader. Interesting how thinking about the shift from undergrad to graduate teaching involves replacing primary texts with criticism.

Anyway, we read great stuff: George Schuyler’s Black Empire–essential! Some essays by and about Claudia Jones

…an excerpt of Wangari Maathai’s memoir, and the film Rostov/Luanda by Abderrahmane Sissako, which I totally understood this time! I was pretty pleased with my students’ writing this term, in general, so I hope this trend continues throughout the oncoming wave of final paper grading. Fingers crossed, inbox open. Next time around, I may utilize more films, at least optional basis. I’d planned to show Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, and I could assign Marguerite Abouet’s Aya of Yopougon, since I like it so much. If I assigned material on that basis, I’d have derailed the syllabus early on and shown Lemonade 🍋.