As an undergraduate at Tougaloo College, I attended my first major literature conference in October 1997. The University of Alabama's English department was hosting "Myth, Memory and Migration: The Black South in the Cultural Imagination." I decided to attend because my professor Jerry W. Ward, Jr. was a scheduled presenter.
During the symposium, Professor Ward introduced me to three of his good friends/colleagues: Houston A. Baker, Jr., Karla Holloway, and Trudier Harris. I recall that Harris gave a presentation about Raymond Andrews, and Baker gave a keynote related to the South, black literary tradition, and Thomas Jefferson. Holloway discussed her then ongoing research on African American funeral and burial practices; her presentation was a preview for her book Passed on: African American Mourning Stories: A Memorial (2002).
Deborah McDowell also presented at the conference and discussed memoirs; her own book Leaving Pipe Shop: Memories of Kin had recently been published. There was an evening gathering where Margaret Walker gave a reading, including her poem "For My People."
I left the symposium feeling inspired. I was 20 years old at the time had been given me a blueprint for the kind of thinker I might want to be. I wasn't yet sure about becoming a literature professor and literary scholar in 1997, but I felt confident that when I grew up I wanted to be like Baker, Harris, Holloway, and Ward.
• A Notebook on Black South Literary Scholars