Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Writer-Scholar & Twitter: The Case of Mark Anthony Neal

The other day, I was talking with the sister-scholar Danielle Hall about one of our ongoing topics: black intellectual histories. This time, we were talking how contemporary scholars utilize social media, and we started citing various folks on twitter. I mentioned Mark Anthony Neal.

Neal is one of our most distinguished scholars who, for over a decade now, has consistently provided engaging commentary and scholarly writings on black expressive culture. The next time I talk to the good sister, I'm going to try to make the case that part of what makes Neal notable on twitter is his status as a prolific writer prior to the rise of social media. Thinking of Neal's identity as an active writer helps to explain what makes him stand out as a scholar on and beyond twitter.

Consider that twitter began to experience rapid growth in 2007. By that time, Neal had already written a number of books, including What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Public Culture (1998), Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic (2002), Songs in the Keys of Black Life: A Rhythm and Blues Nation (2003) and New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity (2005). In 2005, he started blogging on his New Black Man site, and over the next years continually picked up the pace of his entries. 

In addition to participating in the typical exchanges on twitter, what distinguishes Neal from several other scholars is that he often posts links to his blog entries or his weekly webcast Left of Black. There is considerable and understandable interest in the webcast; however, I am especially drawn to his productively as a writer, which I think helped make his many other endeavors possible.

I guess it's also true that his various other endeavors have also assisted his writing. Note his increased blogging activity over the years: 2005 (34), 2006 (78), 2007 (158),  2008 (149), 2009 (255), 2010 (606), and 2011 (781). The jump in entries in 2009 is especially notable; Neal blogged more as he became more and more engaged in social media. There are certainly other black scholars on twitter to consider as well, and we could also say more about the significance of Neal writing about music and culture.

For now though, I just wanted to note the necessity of giving thought to the idea of the writer-scholar or of the scholar who writes regularly.

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