Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Glimpse at AALCI

So we started with Phillis Wheatley and Henry "Box" Brown. In many respects, of course, we started with a vision from Nellie Y. McKay, who called for the development of "a pipeline" in relation to African American Studies and literature. Then, there was Joycelyn Moody who helped materialize things. And finally, to fulfill the promise and extend the vision, we relied on our first 8 Fellows.



video

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Notes on Civil Rights Exhibit


[By Rickiah Wingfield Kim McClurg]

On Saturday, we visited For All the World to See, an exhibit on Civil Rights and Visual Culture at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan. The exhibit gave us the opportunity to witness certain aspects of the Civil Rights Movement. This was the first time some of us had seen video footage of Malcolm X speak and clips from the Amos and Andy Show. Those clips were only two small portions of what the exhibit offered.

Of the many exhibits on display, one in particular, captured a moment of history in a space of time that transported the viewer back to the Civil Rights Movement. The Death of Emmitt Till, at the age of fourteen by two white men, portrayed the length the South would go to in order to maintain their Jim Crow way of life; assumedly, Till had whistled at a white woman. The visual pictures of his face and body at his open-casketed funeral make the viewer catch their breath and cry for the lost child.
To hear of the travesties and horrors that occurred in the Civil Rights Movement is one part of a complicated dichotomy. To view it through the eyes of the media on television and to see it lived out in photography brings it to life. This unique real-life space in history will never be forgotten and reminds us not only of how far we have come, but how far we still have to go.

The photography museum revealed how one picture could start a movement and serve as a window to the past. –Cassaundra Sampson

The exhibits at the photography museum were extremely thought-provoking. –Jeanie Hollingsworth


Related
Notes on Harlem
Notes on the Brooklyn Museum
Fellows Offer Impressions of NYC
Selection of NYC photos
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Notes on the Strand Bookstore

(AALCI Fellows Kimberly McClurg and Cherrelle Denwiddie check out the "black studies" section at the Strand)

[By Alysha Griffin and Cherrelle Denwiddie]

As part of our scholastic adventure to New York, we journeyed to an intellectual mecca. Located in a cozy area in Manhattan at the corner of 12th street and Broadway stands Strand Bookstore. The bookstore was a perfect source of inspiration for our burgeoning group of scholars. For many of us, the bookstore showed us the infinite possibilities of research and creativity.

For AALCI Fellow Kimberly McClurg, a history lover, the bookstore proved to be a treasure box. “Never have I seen such a diverse collection of books under one roof,” she said. “For readers and non-readers alike, it s a beautiful way to gain knowledge and interact with those who seek it.”

The bookstore boasts of having over eighteen miles of books in the three levels. While the vast amount of books is initially overwhelming, a visitor will soon become enveloped in the space.

The bookstore does have its deficiencies despite its wonder. For instance, if the Native American section is practically nonexistent, then the African-American section in the Strand bookstore is only a speck amongst other literatures that the Strand bookstore offers. Every black scholar should know that the Strand is great for a wide variety of literature, but not if you need that literary gem of black studies. However, Cassaundra Sampson, AACLI Fellow and playwright, said that the Strand’s books of plays are extremely “reasonable and affordable.”

If you’re looking for an experience to give you a bookgasm, the Strand is the place to be. As a book haven for diverse literatures, the Stand can’t be beat.

Related
Notes on Harlem
Notes on the Brooklyn Museum
Notes on Civil Rights Exhibit
Fellows Offer Impressions of NYC
Selection of NYC photos
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Notes on the Brooklyn Museum

(Joycelyn Moody and AALCI Fellow Cassaundra Sampson discuss artifacts at Brooklyn Museum)

[By Jeanie Hollingsworth and Amber Wicks]

On Friday, June 25 the AALCI participants traveled to Brooklyn to visit the Brooklyn Museum. The five story museum houses several exhibits of remarkable art, but one we took special interest in was “The Arts of Africa” exhibit. This exploration of African culture captivates viewers with mating and spiritual dances, fertility and royal masks, and grand warrior staffs. All of these pieces of art serve a great purpose to their people, which is very interesting.


One display in particular, the Male Wadaabe Charm Dance, was the most intriguing. This short clip showed how traditions are continued and passed on among the Wadaabe men of Niger by presenting this dance over a span of about ten years. Each time, the men would dress up as women and try to be as alluring as possible by imitating the females in their tribe. The males performing would do all this in hopes of being chosen for marriage. This was particularly interesting in comparison to western culture where men usually select their mates.



(AALCI Fellow Alysha Griffin studying sculpture.)


Although the traditional art pieces of art were astonishing, a classmate Gwendolyn Denwiddie stated, “Africa has modern art that should be on display also.” Completely agreeing with this, we feel that the modern art would further show how traditions and beliefs in the different regions of Africa are carried on and effect everyday life. All in all, the art displayed in the Brooklyn Museum was compelling, and the array of exhibits will leave one mesmerized and more knowledgeable about Africa, its many cultures and peoples.

Related
Notes on Harlem
Notes on the Strand Bookstore
Notes on Civil Rights Exhibit
Notes on Civil Rights Exhibit
Fellows Offer Impressions of NYC
Selection of NYC photos
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...

Notes on Harlem


[by Cassaundra Sampson and Rickey Lowe]

The essence of the legendary Apollo can still be felt, standing on the outside looking up at the shining lights and standing on the imprinted legendary names on the ground. "When I was young I use to sneak out I watched the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, B.B king, I mean all the great stars,” noted a middle-aged African American reminiscing outside the historic building on 125th Street in Harlem. “I live in Atlanta now, but I make my trips out here every year."

The famous Apollo Theater, however, only represents one of the countless amazing aspects of Harlem. The fellows of the AALCI seemed to have been interested in the diversity that flooded the streets and the relationships between the many cultures. Alysha Griffin, an AALCI Fellow from Spellman said, "Sometimes we as African Americans feel isolated from the greater American society. But Harlem seems to be a place where black people and other people of color can gather as a community and exchange ideas and cultures.”

Harlem is a part of New York where various cultures are intertwined. The music alone from jazz and R&B being blasted on one end to Latino music on another truly shows the essential cultural experience of this section of Manhattan. The sights are definitely memorable and worth the experience. Hours after departure, nearly half of the Institute Fellows returned to explore the Harlem again, leading to more insight of why this famous neighborhood is considered so legendary in New York.

Related
Notes on the Brooklyn Museum
Notes on the Strand Bookstore
Notes on Civil Rights Exhibit
Fellows Offer Impressions of NYC
Selection of NYC photos
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...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

NYC photos

A few photos from our group's movements around the city.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Photos from the AALCI Exhibit

We've provided some photographs from today's exhibit.




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The AALCI Exhibit

More Ways of Understanding the Academy

Marcheta Evans meeting with AALCI Fellows

Yesterday, Marcheta Evans, Associate Dean for the College of Education and Human Development at UTSA, and Bridget Drinka, chair of the Department of English at UTSA, participated in our conversation series. Evans and Drinka provided us with a wide range of advice on understanding the academy based on their experiences as researchers, professors, and administrators.

Evans discussed the challenges and rewards of working in various positions in the academy as well as the importance of being an active member in professional organizations. Her diverse experiences serving in leadership roles on university campuses and in organizations associated with counseling made it possible for our Fellows to gain quite a bit of information, if not insight.

Bridget Drinka discussing geographic dimensions of speech patterns

In addition to providing professional and educational advice, Drinka opened with a stimulating discussion of regarding speech patterns and language variety in New York City, where our group will travel to soon. Drinka's discussion of sociolinguistics and the gendered implications of how and why men and women speak certain ways was really fascinating and gave our group more ideas for considering how the roles of structural and cultural factors in shaping behavior.
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Building Technological Consciousness

Bryan Carter leading technology workshop for AALCI Fellows

On Monday, we got a visit from Bryan Carter, a professor of literature from the University of Central Missouri. Carter led a workshop for the AALCI that greatly expanded our considerations of what's possible utilizing new media and various digital technologies.

Carter also introduced our Fellows to the popular online virtual world Second Life. He led our group on the creation of avatars and took them on a tour of Virtual Harlem, an island on Second Life created by Carter that depicts the sites and sounds of 1920s Harlem. For years now, Carter has taught many of his courses on Second Life and through the use of internet radio broadcasts, skype and chat sessions, and with voicethread and ustream channels.

All our Fellows have facebook accounts, and some have utilized new media for special projects. However, Carter pushed us to start thinking about the development of online "electronic portfolios" as a way of presenting those aspects of our professional records and accomplishments on the web that do not adequately translate onto the pages of a conventional print version of a vita.
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Monday, June 21, 2010

Visiting Austin



On Sunday, we visited Austin. We spent the day walking around downtown, checking out the sites. It was a good change of environment, and the downtown area is really walker friendly, so got the chance to see quite a bit.



Austin proved to be a rich canvas for our fellow, Alysha Griffin, who took several photographs. Alysha provided the photos presented in this blog entry.



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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Becoming Professors and Scholars

on right, Ph.D. candidate and hip hop artist, Marco Cervantes

On Friday, we met with UTSA graduate students Erin Ranft and Marco Cervantes. Ranft is in her third year of the English doctoral program, and her research focuses on African American science fiction, feminist ideology, slavery, and black nationalist movements. Cervantes, who will defend his dissertation in August, has accepted a faculty position in UTSA's Mexican Studies American program. Cervantes, by the way, is also a hip hop artist.

Ranft and Cervantes gave our group useful, near-future perspectives on graduate school. Their responses to our questions were perhaps especially helpful since our group plans to pursue graduate study in the near future.

UTSA doctoral student Erin Ranft conversing with Institute Fellows

We spent a considerable amount of time asking both our guests about their research interests and projects. We had recently been discussing afrofuturism, so we had all kinds of questions for Ranft concerning her coverage of black women sci-fi writers such as Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson.

And since some of us have been discussing the notion of scholar-artists, we were intrigued by what Cervantes is doing as a hip hop artist and researcher concerning the intersections of Chicano and black cultures.
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Understanding the Academy

Deborah Thomas and Joycelyn Moody

Beyond our discussions of black studies and folks' particular fields of study, we've been have a developing conversation about what it means in general to pursue university careers. This past Thursday, Deborah Thomas, assistant to the dean of the College of Liberal and fine arts, and Sonja Lanehart, Brackenridge Endowed Chair in the Literature and Humanities, visited our group. They discussed the experiences working at UTSA and in the academy in general. explained the operations of the university.


Thomas gave an overview of the structure of universities in general and gave her perspectives based on her more than 18 years of experience working in higher education. Lanehart discussed aspects of her educational and professional trajectory and discussed the challenges and opportunities of being a university professor.



Sonja Lanehart


The discussion was really informative and helped us revise and expand our understandings of the academy.
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lit. Prof, Dana Williams visits AALCI


On Monday, Howard University literature professor Dana Williams visited our program to discuss Toni Morrison's Sula. Williams led us on an exploration of Morrison's work utilizing an African American studies framework developed by black studies scholar, Gregory Carr.

Williams also provided the AALCI Fellows with advice on developing essays at the graduate level and on sharpening their personal statements.

During her discussion of Sula, Williams mentioned that one beauty of African American literature is that "it gives voice to things we feel but can't say." In some respects, her observation served to compliment Morrison's ability to give voice to those things we were not always equipped to say.

During the course of her presentation, Williams gave us insight on annotating literary texts in order to prepare essays on the works. In a way, she was giving us ways to appreciate and then participate in the processes of giving voice to things previously unspeakable.
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Negotiating the Academy


Last Tuesday, UTSA professor and AALCI advisory council member, Kelly Rodgers stopped through and offered Fellows advice on achieving in graduate school and negotiating the university and academy in general.
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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Reading Black Poetry

One week down, and we've covered a range of poetry, works by Phillis Wheatley, Robert Hayden, Opal Palmer Adisa, Elizabeth Alexander, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Natasha Trethewey, Kelly Norman Ellis, Traice Morris, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Margaret Walker, Dudley Randall, and of course, our man Langston Hughes.

Hughes, I'm reminded again and again as we cover his works, provides these wonderful windows into African American life and culture. And it's cool how Hughes was on the black studies tip before folks were even calling it black studies. At one moment, Hughes is giving voice to the tensions between a landlord and tenant and then at another moment, he's articulating the concerns of a black mother. Then at another moment, he's indicating that black Americans are, well, black American.

We'll keep reading works by Hughes and other black poets during the coming weeks, and we'll try to note some of our discoveries and observations here.

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Researchers in Action

(Fellows looking through UTSA Library's Sterling Houston Papers)

Yesterday, reference librarian Tara Schmidt and rare books librarian Juli McLoone provided our Fellows with a special introduction to the UTSA Library. Schmidt explained the ins and outs of the library’s many databases that would assist in research, and McLoone prepared a hands-on activity utilizing materials from the university’s special collections.

In particular, the Fellows investigated the Sterling Houston Papers. Houston was a talented artist who “had a thirty-year career in professional theater as an actor, musician and writer in San Antonio, New York and San Francisco.” The flyers, personal letters and cards, images, and email correspondence contained in the boxes gave us a glimpse of Houston’s impressive career, his wide-ranging connections to artists across the country, and his interactions with friends and family. (Fellows looking through UTSA Library's Sterling Houston Papers)

I spent most of my time during our session in special collections observing a group of the Fellows looking through folders from the boxes and discussing their findings. It was really something watching these researchers in action, growing more and more excited as they made “discoveries” and made connections.

No TV, No Problem

It’s likely that our crew would have clicked and connected no matter what. But still, here’s something worth noting.

During much of the first week, our Fellows had limited television access and no internet connections. These circumstances, some of the Fellows observed, contributed to them having more extended discussions beyond our class sessions.

They’ve frequently referenced these deep, 3-hour conversations that they have after having dinner together every evening. Those conversations, I’m told, cover our course readings, political matters, poetry, and all kinds of topics.

Even now that the Fellows have internet access, I hear that the first days without access set a tone of vibrant communication. And as far as no TV, well, no problem.
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From the Opening Event


Forgot to post this one from Sunday, June 6, at our opening reception. We had our Fellows there as well as friends from around the university.
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Addressing the Pipeline Problem


A couple of days ago, Joycelyn Moody, the director of the AALCI, discussed the inspiration for the Institute. Moody's vision was very much linked to ideas expressed in the late literary scholar Nellie McKay's article "Naming the Problem That Led to the Question 'Who Shall Teach African American Literature?'; or, Are We Ready to Disband the Wheatley Court?".

Among other issues, McKay's article gives attention to the problem of the "pipeline," the notion that in black studies, broadly defined, there are not enough people in place "to attract the next generation of scholars to this important part of the life of the mind."

For Moody, one way to address the problem of the pipeline meant developing a program, this AALCI program, that encourages undergraduates to pursue graduate study in fields related to black studies.

Working with this program "fulfills my goals," said Moody, "which are essentially Nellie McKay's goals."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Getting Started

We're off to a good start after completing our first full day of sessions yesterday. We have a fresh crew with folks from several different colleges and universities: Fisk, Spelman, Jackson State University, North Carolina State University, University of Missouri, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and University of Texas at San Antonio.

Yesterday, we mainly discussed the overall format of the program and discussed writing samples and personal statements.

We also spent a considerable amount of time discussing the Middle Passage, using Charles Johnson's short story "The Transmission" and the introduction of Marcus Rediker's remarkable book The Slave Ship. Given our common interests in black studies, some of us figured that discussions of slavery (and resistance to enslavement) would be a good place to start.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

100 Poems


So this summer, we'll see if can cover about 100 poems by black poets. It'll be about quality and quantity. The typical succinctness of verse will make it possible for us for us to cover a large number of poems in about a month.

Our first week, we'll read several poems related to slavery. At the time and after, we'll cover canonical poet such as Phillis Wheatley, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Robert Hayden.

We'll check out poems associated with the black arts era, including Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Carolyn Rodgers, Nikki Giovanni, Larry Neal, and Jayne Cortez.

We'll cover poems by the late Lucille Clifton. And we'll cover poems by a host of contemporary poets such as Tyehimba Jess, Kevin Young, Patricia Smith, Kelly Norman Ellis, Treasure Williams, and Natasha Trethewey.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The AALCI Designs


Here's the front of our program postcard. We also used the image as the front-page of our web site. The postcard image and web site were produced by Tristan Denyer, a talented designer who's created all kinds of wonderful works for Black Studies @ SIUE. Check out his print portfolio or his web portfolio.

Our work with Tristan on the designs of the web site and promotional material for the AALCI was crucial in our overall development of the program. Tristan pushed us to translate our visions for the AALCI into formats that were compatible for the audiences we wanted to reach. The processes helped us clarify what we wanted to communicate in efficient visual and linguistic language.

Welcome to the AALCI

Mic check, 1, two.

Mic check, one, 2.

Welcome to the blog site of the African American Literatures and Cultures Institute (AALCI). Here's where we'll share ideas and present short reports on our thinking and projects during the course of the summer.

The AALCI began with some visionary plans from professor Joycelyn Moody, who noted in one interview that she's hoping to "create a pipeline across the nation’s universities so that the subfield of African-American Studies within the English departments remains vibrant.”

This summer, we'll begin a crucial aspect of building that pipeline by working with a group of Institute Fellows.

Stay tuned.