Talk about landing in the right place at the right time. In the Fall of 2003, I started at SIUE, where the graduate school was sharpening a support system for faculty to apply for external grants, and, at the same time, University of Kansas literature scholar Maryemma Graham began providing me with models and blueprints for humanities programming. That was 11 years and 30-plus grant applications ago.
Although I rarely say so in biographical sketches, "grant writer" is central to my identity as a scholar. Maybe my success rate is not where I would like it to be, so I'm sometimes inclined to downplay my grant writing activities. Whatever the case, there's rarely...no, correction, there's never a moment when I'm not planning, contributing to, or implementing a humanities-related grant.
Graduate students and scholars routinely apply for research fellowships, but Professor Graham was instrumental in getting me to go for programming grants that served students, groups of citizens, and educators. As a contributor on Graham's projects, I gained experience applying for grants and implementing humanities activities. Not surprisingly, more than a few of my successful programs look like mini-versions of Graham's projects.
For example, early on in my career, Graham involved me in her NEH-funded program “Speaking of Rivers: Taking Poetry to the People," which involved 20 reading groups across the country. The groups or "reading circles," as they were called, received sets of free books by Langston Hughes. I was the East St. Louis coordinator, and like my counterparts in Baltimore, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and other cities, I led monthly discussions and activities related to Hughes and poetry. That was 2004, and soon after, I was testing similar kinds of projects at SIUE and at high schools in southern Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri. For the last four years, I've coordinated 3 different common reading groups each semester using Graham's "reading circles" as a blueprint.
I recently received funding to coordinate a reading group, where 50 or so collegiate black men and I will cover Adrian Matejka's The Big Smoke this coming Fall. The grant and current project are results, in part, of the Graham Effect.
Related:• Grant writing and the Teri/Patience Effect
• African American Literature @ SIUE