“The Over-Education of the Negro: Academic Fiction, Higher Education, and the Black Intellectual”

October 5, 2012, Room 8301, The Graduate Center

“The Over-Education of the Negro:  Academic Fiction, Higher Education, and the Black Intellectual”

Lavelle Porter, Ph.D. Program in English

This presentation will be an overview of my dissertation project on “academic fiction,” a genre defined by its fictional depictions of professors, graduate students and university life. In particular my work focuses on academic fiction produced by black writers. While the dissertation is mostly about the academic novel as a literary genre, my analysis also includes works in other creative genres, including short stories, plays and films.  The field of Black Academic Fiction includes work by a diverse range of black intellectuals including W.E.B. Du Bois, Paule Marshall, Percival Everett, Ishmael Reed, Samuel R. Delany, Adrienne Kennedy, Zadie Smith, Spike Lee, and many others.   In this project I survey the critical literature on academic fiction and I describe how black academic fiction explores some common themes in all academic fiction, while also addressing a distinct set of issues related to the social, historical and political status of black Americans.

The GC Advocate

There have been some ongoing issues with the website of The GC Advocate, the student-run newspaper of the CUNY Graduate Center community.  The main site has been down from time to time, and recently I have noticed malicious site warnings when I tried to click on links to it.  I have written several reviews and articles for the paper over the years and I have tried to keep the original links here, but as a result of these continuing problems I have gone through my old posts here and tried to remove all of the links to the old GC Advocate site on this blog.

The GC Advocate is still publishing physical copies, and is now functioning as a blog at  http://opencuny.org/gcadvocate


A few years ago, I noticed a book published about September 11, 2001 titled To Wound the Autumnal City.  I haven’t read that book, but as a Samuel R. Delany fan I certainly recognized the title.  It is the opening line from Delany’s epic science fiction novel Dhalgren (1975).  Looping the last line of the novel back to the first line creates this sentence:

“Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of the halls of vapor and light, beyond holland and into the hills, I have come to to wound the autumnal city.”

A social reading of Dhalgren started up a few days ago and continues through November. This appears to be an extension of the #OccupyGaddis social reading from this summer.

I was intrigued by the plans for this Dhalgren reading but I didn’t think that I would have time to participate, what with several other deadlines bearing down on me.  But on Monday I pulled my ragged paperback of Dhalgren off the shelf and put it in my backpack thinking I might get a chance to dig in to it at some point.  I pulled the book out on my commute and starting reading.  Now,for the past two days I have spent my train rides between Manhattan and Brooklyn reading the novel.

I have also been reading the tweets about it on Twitter under the hashtag #AutumnalCity.  (I am not on Twitter, and have no interest in joining it, not even for this.)  There is a Goodreads group where you can find more information on the reading and how it works and participate in discussions there.

I remember first trying to read Dhalgren back in 2001 when I was still living in Ann Arbor.  I’m pretty sure I bought this tattered yellowing paperback that I have now from the Dawn Treader bookshop.  I remember feeling that reading it was a chore, not without moments of pleasure, but certainly “difficult.”  I made it about 2/3 of the way through, then left it and never came back to it.  I’ve read tons of Delany’s writing since then, but never made it back to finishing Dhalgren.

I’ve been surprised at how easily I have slipped into the flow of reading it this time.  I’m sure the subsequent decade of reading and writing about Delany’s work has something to do with this.  I’m up to page 60 so far, and I have already recognized some of the overlapping scenes from his short book Heavenly Breakfast, about living in a rock-commune in the East Village in the 1960s.  I also recall the peyote hallucination in his memoir The Motion of Light in Water, an incident which, I believe, was meant to “reveal” the source of one of the images from Dhalgren; a group of kids walking down the street projecting holograms of dragons and other mythical beasts.

I can’t promise I will blog about it more as the reading goes on, but I will be keeping an eye on what other people are writing about it. And I wanted to do my part to spread the word so others could join in.  I have a million other things to work on right now, but reading one of the best books by my favorite author, in my favorite city, during my favorite season of the year, was too much to pass up.

You can follow the twitter discussion about it here: http://twitter.com/#!/search/realtime/%23AutumnalCity

I meant to re-post the schedule but the Goodreads site was down.  Here it is:

“The schedule starts September 7 and asks you to read about 10 pages per day.”
Sept. 7: Start
Sept. 26: page 200
Oct. 16: page 400
Nov. 5: page 600
Nov. 26: done!