Ask folks in the field of African American literary studies who's out there and down there with the actual people, not just researching and publishing, but really there with the folks. Ask around, and one of the names you'll hear, one of the names you should hear is Dana Williams. She's the chair of English at Howard University, but saying that somehow seems like an understatement.
I noticed in the announcement of NEH grant recipients yesterday that Dana Williams received an award as director of the project "Reviving the Bethel Literary and Historical Association in the Twenty-first Century." It's a collaborative project with Howard University and the National Cathedral of African Methodism to "reimagine the Bethel Literary Society and to digitize its holding."
Some years back, someone from NEH was saying folks at HBCUs hadn't really been applying enough for NEH grants. I think Williams heard that and felt some kind of way. Since 2013, she's been the director on 4 successful NEH grants.
Let me tell you, completing an NEH application and earning the award aren't easy. The tasks are even more challenging if your institution is under-resourced, a circumstance confronting many HBCUs. Whatever the case, Williams has been making moves.
Beyond her successes with grants, Williams has served as President of the College Language Association, and she's currently president of the Toni Morrison Society, among other duties. In addition to her writing and ideas on pedagogy, Williams has been particularly resourceful as a kind of critical cultural witness in the fields of African American literary and cultural studies. Listening to folks like Maryemma Graham, Eugene B. Redmond, Jerry W. Ward, Jr., and Williams has given me a really long and clearer view of what artists and scholars have been up to over the last several decades.
When I glanced through the NEH award recipients, I was like, "Well, Dana does it again."
• Black women scholar-organizers and literary gatherings
• Lovalerie King, Maryemma Graham, and the states of the field