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
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
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
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:
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.