Saturday, December 2, 2023

Deliberate Meetings about the field of African American Literary Studies and Teaching

This entry is part of a series about 20 Years of African American Literary Studies at SIUE.

In fall 2014, I began organizing meetings with my new junior colleagues Tisha Brooks and Elizabeth Cali. The premise was that we were meeting to work on grants that we were applying for, including a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute grant. But the meetings really gave us a chance to talk about African American literary studies. So we met once per week for an hour and sometimes two, primarily discussing what we were reading and thinking about literary studies.

Surprisingly, such conversations rarely take place, especially at schools like ours where there’s a high teaching load. For one, meetings irritate faculty so much that they no one wants to meet outside of official meetings. Second, there are usually so few scholars of African American literature in a department that there’s not enough people to meet with knowledge on the field. Third, graduate students studying African American literature rarely witness scholars of African American literature meeting on a weekly basis, and without such a model, they aren’t inclined to meet when they become professors.

Here's what I know though: when I arrived at SIUE in 2003, my faculty mentor Eugene B. Redmond would call me nearly every morning, no seriously, nearly every Monday – Thursday, between 7:00 am and 7:30 am. He’d talk to me while he was taking his morning walk at a park or, during winter months, at the mall where senior citizens took walks. Redmond and I talked about upcoming or ongoing projects, and often the histories of Black literary studies.

Redmond eventually retired, and when Brooks, hired in 2013, and Cali, hired in 2014, began, I decided to come up with a reason to have a weekly meeting.

Our schedules eventually prevented us from meeting on a regular, so we took a break, but in fall 2022, I started a new regular meeting series with Cali, my new colleagues Cindy Reed and Donavan Ramon, and our grad students, to discuss our approaches to teaching African American literature courses that we were teaching for first-year Black students.

20 Years of African American Literary Studies at SIUE

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