Tag: Ralph Ellison

Robert Reid-Pharr, African-American and African Diasporic Gender and Sexuality Studies Scholar, Joins Harvard as Gender Studies Senior Professor

Robert Reid-Pharr (Photo Courtesy of Robert Reid-Pharr via Harvard Magazine)

by Brandon J. Dixon via harvardmagazine.com

Robert Reid-Pharr, renowned scholar of African-American and African diasporic gender and sexuality studies, on July 1st joined the Harvard University faculty as its first senior professor hired solely in women, gender, and sexuality studies (WGS).

His appointment follows that of assistant professor Durba Mitra, who was hired last year as the first faculty member ever solely in WGS; both hires come at a “historic” time for WGS, according to the program’s director, Robin Bernstein, Dillon professor of African and African American Studies and of WGS. The field has seen increased undergraduate interest in its courses in the last few years.

“The number one reason that we were able to make hires is because we have an incredible student base. Our classes are typically over-enrolled, our courses are very well evaluated, and our Q scores”—students’ ratings of Harvard classes—“are through the roof,” Bernstein said. “So I think we’re at a historical moment where a lot of people understand that gender and sexuality really matter.”

The hires may also reflect the need for appointing young tenure-track faculty across Harvard’s schools whose scholarship is in line with evolving student interest, as noted in the report of the University’s Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging earlier this year.

Reid-Pharr previously served as the Matthiessen Visiting Professor of Gender and Sexuality studies in 2016, a short-term endowed professorship that invites leading scholars of “issues related to sexual minorities—that is, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people” to teach at Harvard.

“We hired him because he’s brilliant, because his scholarship is brilliant, because his scholarship is extraordinary in its impact on multiple fields, but notably on the field of African-American gender and sexuality studies,” Bernstein said. “He is a scholar who has published four extremely important, high-impact books, all of which are deeply original, astonishingly erudite, and all of which have had very high impact on multiple fields.”

Reid-Pharr’s books include Once You Go Black: Choice, Desire, and the Black American Intellectual; Black Gay Man; Conjugal Union: The Body, The House and the Black American; and Archives of Flesh: African America, Spain, and Post-Humanist Critique.

Once You Go Black was a Lambda Literary Award finalist for LGBT studies in 2007. In it, Reid-Pharr posits that a black American identity was not “inevitable,” and that twentieth-century black American intellectuals like James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright have “actively chosen the identity schemes”—of race, gender, and sexuality—that form the basis of a contemporary understanding of black American identity.

Black Gay Man—a collection of nonfiction essays critiquing the construction of black gay identity through an interdisciplinary approach—was the recipient of the 2002 Randy Shilts Award for best gay non-fiction.

Reid-Pharr was recently a distinguished professor at the City University of New York (CUNY)’s Graduate Center, specializing in African-American, postcolonial, transnational, and global literary theory. He has received research awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for literary criticism in 2016.

At Harvard, he will complete research for a book-length project on James Baldwin which he hopes will be informed by discussions with students in his classroom. He also intends to help Harvard with “institution building,” or the development of institutional networks for interdisciplinary discussion and international academic collaboration.

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BOOKS: 13 Must-Reads by Black Authors to Add To Your Library

In light of the recent events surrounding racial and social injustice around the country, knowing our history, as part of our eternal quest to “stay woke,” is more important than ever. While many of us are experiencing a new movement unfolding right before our eyes, scholars, experts and even regular folks with stories to tell, have been putting their experiences to the page to enlighten generations.

The publishing industry suffers from the same lack of diversity and racial biases that plague society at large. While many books don’t make school reading lists or even the New York Times Bestsellers List, there are countless classics that break down the Black experience in America.

It’s hardly a complete list, which could go on for volumes, but it’s a great starting point:

1. The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson

Portrait of Carter Woodson
Carter Woodson (Source: Hulton Archive / Getty)

This book is of primary importance in understanding the legacy of slavery and how it affects Black Americans’ perspectives in society. The book essentially argues that Black Americans are not educated, but rather conditioned in American society. It challenges Black Americans to “do for themselves” outside of the constructs that are set up for them.

2. And Still I RiseMaya Angelou

Maya Angelou Signs Copies Of 'Maya Angelou: Letter to My Daughter' - October 30, 2008
Maya Angelou (Source: Jemal Countess / Getty)

This is one of the most affirming books you will ever read. Technically, it is a collection of poems which focus on hope, determination and overcoming struggle. It contains one of Angelou’s most famous poems, Phenomenal Woman.

3. The Souls of Black FolkW. E. B. Du Bois

Portrait of W.E.B. DuBois
W.E.B. DuBois (Source: Underwood Archives / Getty)

One of the most important books on race in sociology and African-American studies, it is a collection of essays that Du Bois wrote by drawing from his personal experiences. Two of the most profound social concepts – The Veil And Double Consciousness were written about in this book which have come to be widely known as part of the experience of being Black in America.

4. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
'The Color Purple' TimesTalks: Jennifer Hudson, Cynthia Erivo, Alice Walker, John Doyle
Alice Walker (Source: D Dipasupil / Getty)

You may have seen the movie from Steven Spielberg or the recent Broadway musical, but I highly encourage you read this powerful novel, too. The book explores in depth the low position Black women are given in society through the lens of a particular group of women. The story explores both interpersonal turmoil and socially-inflicted violence toward Black women, as well as the bonds they share.

5. Things Fall ApartChinua Achebe

NIGERIA-LITERATURE-BOOK-CULTURE-ACHEBE-FUNERAL
Chinua Achebe (Source: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / Getty)

This book is among the most critically acclaimed ever written by an African author. Through the character Okonkwo, his family and the experiences of his village, Achebe tells the tale of colonization and its effects on African communities, particularly in Nigerian traditional social life.  Continue reading “BOOKS: 13 Must-Reads by Black Authors to Add To Your Library”

‘Invisible Man’ Ban Rescinded by North Carolina School Board After Community Backlash

"Invisible Man" author Ralph Ellison and his wife, Fanny, at their home in New York in 1972, 20 years after the novel's publication. (Nancy Crampton / Knopf)
“Invisible Man” author Ralph Ellison and his wife, Fanny, at their home in New York in 1972, 20 years after the novel’s publication. (Nancy Crampton / Knopf)

ASHEBORO, N.C. — High school students in Randolph County once again can get “Invisible Man,” Ralph Ellison’s classic 1952 novel of alienation and racial discrimination, at school libraries.  Nine days after the county school board banned the book, it reversed itself at a hastily called special meeting Wednesday night, voting 6 to 1 to return the novel to school bookshelves. Several board members apologized for the ban and said they had been chastened by an outpouring of angry objections from county residents.

The backlash caught board members by surprise. Several said they had been inundated with emails begging them to reconsider. Others conceded that they had acted rashly and should have consulted with the superintendent and rank-and-file teachers in the 16,000-student district, about 85 miles northeast of Charlotte.  Several said the public reaction had opened their eyes to viewpoints they had not considered and broadened their outlook on the importance of all types of literature.

“We may have been hammered on this and we may have made a mistake, but at least we’re big enough to admit it,’’ said board member Gary Cook, who had voted for the ban but reversed himself Wednesday.  The meeting, in a packed boardroom, lasted only 45 minutes. The vote to rescind the ban took a few seconds, with only board member Gary Mason dissenting. He called the book “not appropriate for young teenagers.”

The board’s abrupt reversal came in the middle of the annual Banned Books Week sponsored nationally by the American Library Assn., which celebrates the freedom to read. The association and the Kids’ Right to Read Project wrote the school board condemning the ban and asking that it be reversed.

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