Farah Jasmine Griffin, Keynote Speaker (Columbia University)
Farah Jasmine Griffin is the inaugural Chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department at Columbia University, where she also serves as the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature. Professor Griffin received her B.A. from Harvard and her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale. She is the author or editor of eight books including Who Set You Flowin?: The African American Migration Narrative (Oxford, 1995), If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday (Free Press, 2001), and Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II (Basic Books, 2013). Griffin collaborated with composer, pianist, Geri Allen and director, actor S. Epatha Merkerson on two theatrical projects, for which she wrote the book: The first, “Geri Allen and Friends Celebrate the Great Jazz Women of the Apollo,” with Lizz Wright, Dianne Reeves, Teri Lyne Carrington and others, premiered on the main stage of the Apollo Theater in May of 2013. The second, “A Conversation with Mary Lou” featuring vocalist Carmen Lundy, premiered at Harlem Stage in March 2014 and was performed at The John F. Kennedy Center in May of 2016. Her most book, Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature was published by W.W. Norton in September, 2021. Griffin is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow and Mellon Foundation Fellow in Residence.
Melanie R. Hill (Rutgers University, Newark)
Dr. Melanie R. Hill is a Gospel Soul Violinist who has performed at the White House on two occasions under the Obama administration, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Apollo Theater in New York, the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and for Pope Francis’s Papal Mass during his historic visit to the United States. Hill has also been featured on Showtime at the Apollo, Good Day Philadelphia, Philadelphia Style Magazine, NY1, BET, TV One, and has performed for Alice Walker, Senator Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, Ms. Sabrina Fulton, Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, Mrs. Susan L. Taylor, and opened for John Legend and Jonathan McReynolds. In collaboration with the Mourning into Unity project in 2020, Dr. Hill performed at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., honoring lives lost due to the global pandemic. Recently, in honor of precious lives lost during the pandemic, Dr. Hill opened for the National Council of Churches before the sermon of Bishop Michael B. Curry, presiding Bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church.
In addition to her music, Dr. Hill is Assistant Professor of American Literature in the Department of English at Rutgers University, Newark with concentrations in literature, music, and theology. Currently, she holds additional positions as an Associate Research Scholar and Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion and Literature at Yale University. Dr. Hill received her Ph.D. in English Literature with two graduate certificates in Africana Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, a second Master’s degree in Literature from George Mason University, and a B.A. in English with a minor in Spanish from the University of Virginia. As a reviewer for the Yale Journal of Music and Religion, Dr. Hill has published articles on Black feminism/womanism and the art of the sermon in African American literature as well as on the works of blues and jazz vocalists Bessie Smith and Ella Fitzgerald under the Religions Journal and Oxford University Press, respectively.
Her forthcoming manuscript entitled, Colored Women Sittin’ on High: Womanist Sermonic Practice in Literature and Music (UNC Press) focuses on the ways in which Black women preachers in African American literature, music, and in the space of the pulpit counter social injustices through sermon and song. Dr. Hill is grateful for God’s blessings and remains focused on sharing inspiration through her violin and spreading scholarship along the intersections of literature, music, and theology.
Cheryl Clarke is a black lesbian feminist poet and the author of five books of poetry, most recently By My Precise Haircut; the critical study After Mecca: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement; and the collection The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry 1980-2005. Since 1979, her writing has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Conditions, Sinister Wisdom, Callaloo, African American Literary Review, The Georgia Review, Mouths of Rain: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Thought; and the iconic anthologies: This Bridge Called My Back : Writings By Radical Women of Color (1982) and Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (1983). Your Own Lovely Bosom: New and Selected Poems is forthcoming in 2023 from Northwestern University Press. She is co-organizer, with her partner, of the annual Hobart Festival of Women Writers in Hobart, N.Y., the Book Village of the Catskills.
Anna Hinton (University of North Texas)
Anna Hinton's research interests include post-Brown Black women’s writing, Black feminist theory, critical disability studies, crip theory, reproductive justice, and hip hop studies, to name a few. She is currently writing her monograph, Refusing to Be Made Whole: Disability in Contemporary Black Women's Writing, which approaches conversations about aesthetics, spirituality, representation, community, sexuality, motherhood, and futurity through a Black feminist disability studies perspective. Her work is published or forthcoming in Toni Morrison: On Mothers and Motherhood, CLA Journal, Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal, the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies (JLCDS), and The Cambridge Companion to American Literature and the Body. She was a 2011 participant in the Rutgers English Diversity Institute (REDI), and she is currently an Assistant professor of Disability Studies and Black Literature & Culture in the English Department at the University of North Texas.
Brandon Callender (Brandeis University)
Brandon Callender earned his Ph.D. in English Literature from Berkeley University in 2020, and is currently an assistant professor of English Literature at Brandeis University, where he specializes in black queer literatures and black horror studies. He is currently completing his book manuscript on black queer men's intimacies and belongings, entitled The Charge of the Other in Black Gay Men's Literatures.
Dionte Harris (University of Virginia)
Dionte Harris is a PhD candidate in English at the University of Virginia and current Provost Predoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. His dissertation project, “Black Boyhood and the Queer Practices of Impossibility in African American Literary and Cultural Productions,” examines the ways writers and artists mobilize queer Black boyhoods—and the figure of the queer Black boy—to engage and complicate discourses on Black and queer life and being, Black queer masculinities, and Black childhoods. His analysis is grounded in a framework he call Black queer becoming—a mode of Black and queer theorizing that interrogates the relationship between antiblackness and queerphobia to understand how queer Black boys experience race, gender, and sexuality as a lived reality, social identification, and relation to power structures. In the 2022-2023 academic year, Dionte will be the Martha LA McCain Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies. Following the postdoctoral fellowship, he will join the University of Tennessee as a tenure-track Assistant Professor of 20th and 21st century African American literature and cinema. His research has been supported by a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, a Yale LGBT Studies Research Fellowship, a UVA Dean’s Dissertation Fellowship, and a University of Pennsylvania’s Provost’s Predoctoral Fellowship.
Lauren Jackson (Northwestern University)
Lauren Michele Jackson is an assistant professor of English at Northwestern University and a contributing writer at The New Yorker. She is the author of the essay collection White Negroes and is currently working on a second book, on the back, with Amistad Press, as well as a research project on the aesthetics of non-epiphanic identity in contemporary black novels.
Dana Williams (Howard University)
Dana A. Williams is Professor of African American literature and Dean of the Graduate School at Howard University. Prior to serving as Dean, she served as Chair of English at Howard University for nine years. She has served as president of the College Language Association (the oldest and largest professional organization in the US for faculty of color who teach languages and literatures) and was recently elected as 2nd Vice President of the Modern Languages Association. She also serves as president of the Toni Morrison Society and as board member of the Furious Flower Poetry Center, the Hurston/Wright Foundation, and the American Society of Learned Societies. In 2016, she was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as a member of the National Humanities Council. In addition to her work at Howard, she has held faculty positions at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge; Northwestern University, Evanston, IL as a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow; and Duke University, as a faculty fellow of the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. She has published extensively in the field of African American literature and is currently completing a book on Toni Morrison's editorship at Random House Publishing Company.
Beverly Guy-Sheftall (Spelman College)
Beverly Guy-Sheftall is the founding director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center (1981) and Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies at Spelman College. For many years she was a visiting professor at Emory University’s Institute for Women’s Studies where she taught graduate courses in Women’s Studies. At the age of sixteen, she entered Spelman College where she majored in English and minored in secondary education. After graduating with honors, she attended Wellesley College for a fifth year of study in English. In 1968, she entered Atlanta to pursue a master’s degree in English; her thesis was entitled, “Faulkner’s Treatment of Women in His Major Novels.” A year later she began her first teaching job in the Department of English at Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1971 she returned to her alma mater Spelman College and joined the English Department.
She has published a number of texts within African American and Women’s Studies which have been noted as seminal works by other scholars, including the first anthology on Black women’s literature, Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature (Doubleday, 1980), which she coedited with Roseann P. Bell and Bettye Parker Smith; her dissertation, Daughters of Sorrow: Attitudes Toward Black Women, 1880-1920 (Carlson, 1991); Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought (New Press, 1995); an anthology she co-edited with Rudolph Byrd entitled Traps: African American Men on Gender and Sexuality (Indiana University Press, 2001); a book coauthored with Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Gender Talk: The Struggle for Women’s Equality in African American Communities (Random House, 2003); an anthology, I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde, co-edited with Rudolph P. Bryd, Johnnetta B. Cole, and Guy-Sheftall (Oxford University Press, 2009); an anthology, Still Brave: The Evolution of Black Women’s Studies (Feminist Press, 2010), with Stanlie James and Frances Smith Foster. Her most recent publication (SUNY Press, 2010) is an anthology co-edited with Johnnetta B. Cole, Who Should Be First: Feminists Speak Out on the 2008 Presidential Campaign. In 1983 she became founding co-editor of Sage: A Scholarly Journal of Black Women which was devoted exclusively to the experiences of women of African descent. She is the past president of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2017).
Deborah McDowell (University of Virginia)
Deborah E. McDowell, a scholar of African American/American literature, is the Alice Griffin Professor of Literary Studies and Director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia, where she has been a member of the faculty since 1987. Her publications include ‘The Changing Same’: Studies in Fiction by African-American Women, Leaving Pipe Shop: Memories of Kin, as well as numerous articles, book chapters, and scholarly editions. She is co-editor (with Claudrena Harold and Juan Battle) of The Punitive Turn: Race, Inequality, and Mass Incarceration. Extensively involved in editorial projects pertaining to the subject of African-American literature, she founded the African-American Women Writers Series for Beacon Press and served as its editor from 1985-1993. This project oversaw the reissue of fourteen novels by African American women writers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She also served as a period editor for the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature, now in its third edition; contributing editor to the D. C. Heath Anthology of American Literature, and co-editor with Arnold Rampersad of Slavery and the Literary Imagination. Her service on various editorial boards has included Publications of the Modern Language Association, American Literature, Genders, and African-American Review, Modern Fiction Studies, and Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature.
Professor McDowell has been the recipient of various grants, including the Mary Ingraham Bunting Fellowship (Radcliffe), the National Research Council Fellowship of the Ford Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center Fellowship. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Purdue University in 2006.
Shaun Myers (University of Pittsburgh)
A former postdoctoral fellow of African American and Diasporic Literature in the Rutgers English Department, Shaun Myers is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh. She teaches and writes in the areas of African American and Black diasporic literature and culture, specializing in mobility, black feminist transnationalism, aesthetics, and print culture history. Her current book project, Black Anaesthetics: African American Literature Beyond Man, traces posthumanism’s disavowed black genealogies in the works of writers such as Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, and Andrea Lee. Her work appears or is forthcoming in American Literary History, South Atlantic Quarterly, African American Literature in Transition, 1980–1990, and Los Angeles Review of Books.
GerShun Avilez (University of Maryland, College Park)
GerShun Avilez is Professor of English, Director of Graduate Studies, and Affiliate Faculty in the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. An award-winning teacher and writer, he is a cultural studies scholar who specializes in contemporary African American and Black Diasporic literatures and visual cultures. Much of his scholarship explores how questions of gender and sexuality inform artistic production. He has published two books: Radical Aesthetics and Modern Black Nationalism (2016) and Black Queer Freedom: Spaces of Injury and Paths of Desire (2020). He is the co-editor of the 10th edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature, 1945-Present (2022). He is at work on a new book project on race, sexuality, and healthcare. He has written essays on a range of historical and cultural subjects, including the Cold War, segregation narratives, early African American writing, race and terror, social death, queer life, experimental poetry, Black women’s writing, the Harlem Renaissance, Black Power gender politics, and the Black Arts Movement.
LaMonda Horton-Stallings (Georgetown University)
Dr. LaMonda Horton-Stallings is Professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University. As L.H. Stallings, she is the author of four books: The Afterlives of Kathleen Collins: A Black Woman Filmmaker's Search for New Life (Indiana University Press, 2021); A Dirty South Manifesto: Sexual Resistance and Imagination in the New South (University of California Press, 2019); Funk the Erotic: Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures (Univ. of Illinois Press, 2015); Mutha’ is Half a Word!: Intersections of Folklore, Vernacular, Myth, and Queerness in Black Female Culture (Ohio State Univ. Press, 2007).
A Dirty South Manifesto: Sexual Resistance and Imagination in the New South was a 2021 finalist for the American Studies Association's John Hope Franklin Prize. Funk the Erotic: Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures received the Alan Bray Memorial Award from the MLA GL/Q Caucus, the 2016 Emily Toth Award for Best Single Work by One or More Authors in Women’s Studies from the Popular Culture Studies Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA), and it was a 2016 Finalist for the 28th Annual Lambda Literary Awards for LGBTQ Studies.
Ifeoma Nwanko (Sarah Lawrence College)
Dr. Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo, a Rutgers English alumna, is Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. Her distinguished leadership and scholarly career spans over 20 years of service to renowned institutions of higher education.
Prior to her role at Sarah Lawrence, she was an associate professor in the Department of English and a faculty affiliate in the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society, the Program in Latinx Studies, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University.
Her extensive administrative experience includes serving as Director of the Program in American Studies and as Associate Provost for Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships at Vanderbilt where she focused on creating and implementing initiatives relating to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Dr. Nwankwo has also served at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, as Co-director of the Atlantic Studies Initiative and as a faculty member in the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies and the Department of English.
As the author or editor of numerous publications including book chapters, journal articles, journal special issues, and books, including the monograph Black Cosmopolitanism: Racial Consciousness and Transnational Identity in the Nineteenth Century Americas and Rhythms of the Afro-Atlantic World (co-edited with Mamadou Diouf) — and through her work as the founding director of Voices from Our America™, an international academic research, K-12 curriculum development, and community engagement project — Dr. Nwankwo has offered significant insight into communities’ ethnographic, as well as identity- and memory-making methodologies, as well as the interconnections and engagements between cultures and communities across time, space, and medium.
Dr. Nwankwo earned her B.A. in English and Spanish (with Honors) from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (RC ‘94) and her Ph.D. in English with certificates in Latin American Studies and African & African American Studies from Duke University.
Valerie Smith (Swathmore College)
Valerie Smith, a distinguished scholar of African American literature, is the 15th president of Swarthmore College, where her priorities have included attracting more low-income and first generation students, supporting curricular innovation, increasing the diversity of the student body, and strengthening relationships between the College and the region. Her efforts during the largest campaign in the College’s history generated unprecedented support for students and for transformative facilities projects that provide new opportunities for collaboration and community building. President Smith is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Council on Foreign Relations and serves on the boards of the American Council on Education, the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, and the National Museum of the American Indian. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Bates College, she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Virginia. Prior to her arrival at Swarthmore, she was a professor of English and African American Studies at UCLA, and the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature, founding director of the Center for African-American Studies, and the dean of the college at Princeton University. She is the author of three books on African American literature and culture and the editor or co-editor of five others.
Deborah Gray White (Rutgers University, New Brunswick)
Deborah Gray White is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. She holds a Ph.D from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is author of Ar’n’t I A Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South; Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994; several K-12 text books on United States History, and Let My People Go, African Americans 1804-1860 (1999). In 2008, she published an edited work entitled Telling Histories: Black Women in the Ivory Tower, a collection of personal narratives written by African American women historians that chronicle the entry of black women into the historical profession and the development of the field of black women’s history. Freedom On My Mind: A History of African Americans, a co-authored college text, is in its third edition. As a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C, and as a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow, White conducted research on her newest book, Lost in the USA: American Identity from the Promise Keepers to the Million Mom March. She holds the Carter G. Woodson Medallion and the Frederick Douglass Medal for excellence in African American history, and was also awarded a Doctorate in Humane Letters from her undergraduate alma mater, Binghamton University. From 2016-2021 she co-directed the “Scarlet and Black Project” which investigates Native Americans and African Americans in the history of Rutgers University. She is co-editor of the three part Scarlet and Black series that covers this history and is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Rutgers Institute for Global Racial Justice.
Brittney Cooper (Rutgers University, New Brunswick)
Brittney Cooper is Associate Professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University. She is author of the New York Times bestseller Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women, the winner of the Merle Curti Prize in U.S. Intellectual History from the Organization of American Historians, co-author of Feminist AF: A Guide to Crushing Girlhood, a Kirkus Best Book of 2021, and co-editor of The Crunk Feminist Collection. Professor Cooper is a contributing writer for The Cut/New York Magazine, a contributor for Black News Channel, and a frequent commentator at MSNBC. She is co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective.
Mecca Sullivan (Georgetown University)
Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, Ph.D., is the author of the short story collection, Blue Talk and Love, winner of the 2018 Judith Markowitz Award for LGBTQ Writers, and The Poetics of Difference: Queer Feminist Forms in the African Diaspora (University of Illinois Press, 2021), which explores the politics of experiment in global Black feminist art, literature, and hip-hop. Her fiction and scholarship have appeared in Best New Writing, The Kenyon Review, Callaloo, Feminist Studies, American Fiction, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, TriQuarterly, GLQ: Lesbian and Gay Studies Quarterly, American Literary History, The Scholar and Feminist, American Quarterly, Black Futures, Public Books, New York Magazine’s The Cut, and others. In her creative and critical work, she considers the links between language, imagination, and bodily life in Black queer and feminist experience. She has earned support and honors from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Center for Fiction, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is Associate Professor of English at Georgetown University. Her novel, Big Girl, will be published by W.W. Norton/Liveright in July 2022.
Margo Crawford (University of Pennsylvania)
Margo Natalie Crawford is the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Professor of English at University of Pennsylvania. Crossing boundaries between African American literature, visual art, and cultural movements, her scholarship opens up new ways of understanding black radical imaginations. Crawford is the author of Black Post- Blackness: The Black Arts Movement and Twenty-First- Century Aesthetics. She is also the author of Dilution Anxiety and the Black Phallus. She is the co-editor of New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement as well as Global Black Consciousness. Her latest book, What is African American Literature?, was published in 2021. Her essays appear in a wide range of books and journals, including American Literary History, South Atlantic Quarterly, Modern Drama, American Literature, The Psychic Hold of Slavery, The Trouble with Post-Blackness, The Modernist Party, Publishing Blackness: Textual Constructions of Race Since 1850, The Cambridge Companion to American Poetry Post-1945, Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in Black Freedom Struggle, Callaloo, Black Renaissance Noire, and Black Camera. She is on the editorial board of the Society for Textual Scholarship, The James Baldwin Review, and the Wiley Blackwell Anthology of African American Literature.
Soyica Colbert (Georgetown University)
Soyica Diggs Colbert is the Idol Family Professor of African American Studies and Performing Arts at Georgetown University. She has had fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Stanford University, Mellon Foundation, and the Robert W. Woodruff Library. Colbert is an Associate Director at the Shakespeare Theatre Company and the author of Radical Vision: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry, Black Movements, and The African American Theatrical Body. She also served as a Creative Content Producer for The Public Theatre’s audio play, shadow/land. Her research interests span the 19th-21st centuries, from Harriet Tubman to Beyoncé, and from poetics to performance.
Thadious M. Davis (University of Pennsylvania)
Thadious M. Davis, Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought, Emerita, and Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of Understanding Alice Walker (2021); Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, and Literature (2011); Games of Property: Law, Race, Gender, and Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses (2003); Nella Larsen, Novelist of the Harlem Renaissance (1994); and Faulkner’s “Negro”: Art and the Southern Context (1982). She edited and wrote the introductions and explanatory notes for the Penguin Classic editions of Nella Larsen’s Passing (1997) and Quicksand (2002). Her recent essays are: “‘Because What Else Could He Have Hoped to Find in New Orleans, If Not the Truth’: William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!” in New Orleans: A Literary History (2019); “Southern Geographies and New Negro Modernism” in A History of the Literature of the U.S. South (2021); “Richard Wright’s Triangulated South: Formation as Preface and Prelude” in Richard Wright in Context (2021); and “To Breathe a Collective Air” in Narrating History, Home, and Diaspora: Critical Essays on Edwidge Danticat, 2022.
Brent Hayes Edwards (Columbia University)
Brent Hayes Edwards is the Peng Family Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and the editor of the journal PMLA. His most recent books include Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination (2017) and his translation of Michel Leiris’s Phantom Africa (2017). In 2020 Edwards was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.