January 13, 2003

Two new additions boost faculty in AA literature

By Deb Hammacher

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa and noted African American literature scholar Michael Awkward, are joining the Emory faculty, adding to an already strong core in African American literature and research.

Awkward will serve as the Longstreet Professor of English and African American Studies, and Komunyakaa will be the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Poetry.

“The appointments of Michael Awkward and Yusef Komunyakaa are enormously important to Emory’s creative and intellectual commitment to the literary arts and to scholarship in the humanities,” said interim Provost Woody Hunter. “The entire University community will be greatly enriched by their presence. For some time, Emory has been developing faculty and library resources in poetry and African American studies. These professors are, in a sense, capstones to a sustained building program that now has resulted in one of the finest collections of writers and scholars in the world.”

Because of Emory’s location in Atlanta, a center of African American life, thought and culture, the University considers its growth in African American studies to reflect its engagement with its community, according to Emory College interim Dean Bobby Paul.

Emory ranked second among national universities in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education’s most recent annual rankings of percentages of black faculty and overall racial diversity.

These appointments, Paul said, establish Emory’s English department as one of the preeminent centers in the country for the study and creation of African American literature, complementing a faculty that already includes poet Natasha Trethewey and scholars Lawrence Jackson, Frances Smith Foster and Mark Sanders. This core group is augmented by well-known journalist and author Nathan McCall in journalism, and literary scholar Rudolph Byrd in the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts.

Komunyakaa, currently a professor at Princeton University, is considered one of the top living American poets, said Jim Grimsley, director of the creative writing program.

Komunyakaa is the author of nine collections of poetry. He received the Pulitzer and Kingsley Tufts prizes for his book Neon Vernacular (1984). His published works include Pleasure Dome (2001), Thieves of Paradise (1998) and Dien Cai Dau (1988). He also wrote a collection of prose, Blue Notes: Essays, Interviews and Commentaries and co-edited The Jazz Poetry Anthology (1991). Among his honors are the William Faulkner Prize, the Thomas Forcade Award, the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize, the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1999 he was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Awkward specializes in contemporary African American literary, cultural and gender studies, particularly how race and community impact representations of black Americans in literature, music and other cultural forms. He currently is professor of English and former director of the Center for the Study of Black Literature and Culture at the University of Pennsylvania. Previously he was an English professor and director of the Center for Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan.

Awkward is the author of Scenes of Instruction: A Memoir (2000), Negotiating Difference: Race, Gender and the Politics of Positionality (1995) and Inspiring Influences: Tradition, Revision and Afro-American Women’s Novels (1989), and editor of New Essays on ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ (1990). His works-in-progress are Philadelphia Freedoms: Representing Post-Civil Rights Black Identities and Black Postmodernity: New Essays.

Also joining the English department faculty in 2003 is poet Reetika Vazirani, who has written two books, World Hotel (Copper Canyon, 2002), and White Elephants (1996), which won a Barnard New Women Poets Prize. Her poems have appeared in a number of publications. Born in India and raised in Maryland, Vazirani was writer-in-residence through the fall semester at the College of William and Mary.






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