Friday, September 11, 2015
The Literary Scholar as Journalist
I made what I viewed as a fascinating discovery while reading issues of Black World magazine in the spring of 1998 in New York City. I was participating in an exchange program between my home college Tougaloo College and New York University (NYU). At some point, I stumbled onto the September 1974 issue of Black World and came across an article "Report on a Poetry Festival: Melvin A. Butler Third Annual Memorial" by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
Ward was one of my undergraduate professors from Tougaloo. He did not speak much about his publishing career to students; he was perhaps too busy teaching. So it wasn't a surprise that he hadn't mentioned to me that he had published articles in Black World. What caught my attention, though, was that in Black World he was writing as a journalist, not merely as a literary scholar, per se.
I had read journalists who wrote about authors and books. I had not, until that moment, put much thought into the notion of literary scholars as journalists. But here Professor Ward was unknowingly providing me with a model. Over time, I began discovering a few other models--poets and critics publishing reports and news articles.
Much of what I was reading in Negro Digest/Black World was providing me with a sense of the possibilities of what we might call African American literary journalism. There were scholarly pieces and reviews, sure. At the same time, many articles in the periodical focused on the news of black poetry and various literary scenes.
English graduate programs presume that students will go on to produce academic prose. Not surprisingly, scholars and literature professors rarely produce journalistic work. Yet, Negro Digest/Black World gave made me aware of alternatives and encouraged me to write in multiple genres. It's not a stretch say that my early exposure to what I was witnessing in the periodical primed me to take on a mode of composing like blogging.
• Blogging about Black World magazine