Scotland Bound

Emory seniors Dylan Bird, Joel Boggan, Melissa Roberts, and Kyle Wamstad have been chosen to receive the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund Award for a year of study at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. St. Andrews, founded in 1411, is Emory’s sister institution.

Hospitals CEO Retires

John D. Henry, chief executive officer of Emory Hospitals since 1995, will retire August 31. Henry oversees Emory University Hospital, Crawford Long Hospital, and the Wesley Woods nursing home and geriatric hospital, and will become CEO Emeritus. In May, the Atlanta Business Chronicle recognized Henry with a lifetime achievement award, saying that in his forty years as an administrator, he had left “an indelible mark on the Emory Healthcare system and Atlanta’s health-care community.”

Music and mentoring

Adele Paz, Emory College sophomore, has been named the recipient of this year’s J.A.G. Award, given annually to an Emory student who develops an original community service project. The $1,000 grant will fund a Music and Mentoring Program to enrich the lives of inner-city Atlanta youth. The award was created in 1998 in memory of Joel Andrew Gellar, a member of the Emory College class of 1999, who, while dying of cancer, continued to organize community events from his hospital bed.




































































The South may lay claim to the most troubled chapter of African-American history, but in the last century these dark roots have grown into a flourishing artistic and intellectual black culture. Emory’s location in Atlanta, a locus of Southern black life, has made it a natural magnet for African-American studies, and two recent English faculty appointments have sent a surge of energy through the program and secured Emory a place among the country’s top centers of black scholarship.

Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa joins Emory this fall as the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Poetry, and African-American literature scholar Michael Awkward becomes the Longstreet Professor of English. With these two appointments, says interim Provost Woody Hunter, Emory’s English department now becomes one of the nation’s most important centers for the study and creation of African-American literature.

“For some time, Emory has been developing faculty and library resources in poetry and African-American studies,” Hunter says. “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.”

Komunyakaa, who comes to Emory from Princeton University, has penned nine collections of poetry; his 1984 book Neon Vernacular won the Kingsley Tufts Prize as well as the Pulitzer. His honors also include the William Faulkner Prize, the Thomas Forcade Award, and the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize. In 1999 he was elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Born in Louisiana in 1947, Komunyakaa draws heavily on his childhood in the rural South, his relationships with his family, and the New Orleans jazz scene in his poetry. His tour of duty in Vietnam in the late 1960s also provided fodder for his image-laden verse, which uses visual juxtaposition to capture the ironies of war:

“We tied branches to our helmets. We painted our faces & rifles/With mud from a riverbank.”

Inspired mostly by reaching deep into memories of his life, Komunyakaa has received critical acclaim for his particular ability to redraw these experiences with a fresh vision and extract new meaning.

“Yusef has come with an incredibly large reputation,” says associate professor Mark Sanders, director of African-American Studies at Emory. “He is fairly young for the level of acclaim he has achieved, and his poetry is stellar. His use of voice, imagery, and attention to the specifics of locale–whether it’s Louisiana or Vietnam–makes him one of the leading living poets in English in the entire world. He brings to African-American literature at Emory all the wealth of his artistry, and he will lend the program a very high level of visibility; he also will be a great asset to our students in creative writing as well as a resource for those who want to write about African-American poetry.”

Michael Awkward is considered one of the foremost theoreticians in African-American studies of his generation, says Sanders. Most notably, he has made inroads in contemporary black literary, cultural, and gender studies, analyzing how black Americans are represented in a range of media. He comes to Emory from the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught English and served as director of the Center for the Study of Black Literature and Culture.

Awkward has written several books, including Negotiating Difference: Race, Gender and the Politics of Personality.

“Prior to Negotiating Difference, some of the assumptions that went into the discussion–assumptions about how we construct cultural and individual identity, against which we are defining difference–had not been examined closely enough,” Sanders says. “Michael gave us a new vocabulary for talking about racial and cultural differences. This fits into the larger context where the department has been building to cover both theory and history equally well. The Longstreet position that Michael is taking has been designated for African-American literary theory.”

Awkward and Komunyakaa join a department already known for specialists including Frances Smith-Foster, co-editor of The Norton Anthology of African American Literature and The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, who teaches English and women’s studies and directs the Emory Institute for Women’s Studies; award-winning poet Natasha Trethewey (see related story); and Lawrence Jackson, author of the biography Ralph Ellison: Emergence of Genius, in addition to Sanders. Rudolph Byrd, professor in the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts and chair of Emory’s “Lynching and Racial Violence in America” conference committee, and well-known author and journalist Nathan McCall lend additional strength to the program.

In a parallel effort, Emory’s Special Collections Department at Woodruff Library has amassed some of the rarest and most eclectic holdings of African-American resources anywhere. Most recently, the Langston Hughes collection has grown to become the third most significant in the country. The Camille Billops and James V. Hatch Archives, donated to Emory last fall, offer an array of African-American memorabilia including oral history tapes, scripts of unpublished plays, posters, photographs and many boxes of books and periodicals. Included among the several hundred playscripts received are works by Amiri Baraka, Ed Bullins, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Lorraine Hansberry, Zora Neale Hurston, Willis Richardson, Wole Soyinka, Melvin Van Peebles, Derek Walcott, and Richard Wright.

“I think Atlanta is an obvious kind of fit for a blossoming of African-American literature, its creation and its study,” Sanders says. “The history of African Americans in Atlanta and in the Southeast is very rich, there is a burgeoning intellectual community, and a long record of support of African-American arts. It makes perfect sense that history would give rise to this particular moment when African-American literature is gaining strength at Emory and has ties across the city and the region as well. This seems to be a continuation of an organic process, rather than a creation out of the blue.”–P.P.P.



© 2003 Emory University