Ms. Mentor on the Academic Novel

I don’t know how I’ve managed to get this far without mentioning the “Ms. Mentor” articles on academic novels that have appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education for the past several years. I’ve certainly been aware of them, and have plucked a few novel reading recommendations from them since I’ve been working on this project.  The latest installation “Writing Academic Novels for Fun and (Little) Profit” was just published in The Chronicle on June 2. The column is ostensibly about how one might go about writing an academic novel, but it’s also a pretty good primer on some of the genre’s conventions, which, admittedly, are not always so fresh.

I also noticed this part: “Academic novels are no longer a rarefied genre, skewed a bit toward the Anglophile, as they were nearly 10 years ago, when Elaine Showalter wrote her elegant and witty survey, Faculty Towers: The Academic Novel and Its Discontents.” Well yeah, that’s pretty much what my whole dissertation was about. It’s not so much that the academics novels have changed. The change is that critics are now finding, reading and analyzing all those novels out there that are not just about Oxford, Cambridge, Yale or Harvard.

Ms. Mentor’s article ends with a list of suggested readings. To that list I would add my own bibliography of black academic novels. You might also check out the Schoolsville blog, which has running lists of  academic novels from various locations.

Over the summer, I’ll be posting more about academic novels, including Buchi Emecheta’s Double Yoke, a novel that I admit I overlooked in my dissertation. I think Emecheta’s work, (including Double Yoke and Second-Class Citizen, among others) is pressing and relevant now that the education of women in Nigeria has become a big topic in international news over the past several weeks.

I have a lot more thinking, reading and writing to do on Emecheta’s work before I feel up to posting something substantial here, but so far I can say that excluding her work in my dissertation was a major oversight on my part. And I think her writing could help to provide a critical link between the academic novel and the academic memoir, between the black American academy which was the focus of my own work, and the diaspora to which that work is connected. One of the big questions I struggled with in the dissertation is why are there so few academic novels by black women? One way I tried to answer that question is to point to the academic memoir as a genre that more women seem to have taken up in lieu of academic novels. Stephanie Evans’s book Black Women in the Ivory Tower looks at the memoirs written by black women academics such as Fanny Jackson Coppin, Mary Church Terrell, Zora Neale Hurston, Lena Beatrice Morton, Rose Butler Brown, and Pauli Murray. In my initial proposal I also sketched out a chapter on Paule Marshall’s The Chosen Place, the Timeless People, and that is another novel that I am working on including in the book project.

So between Ms. Mentor’s article and my own suggestions you should have plenty of academic novel reading options to choose from this summer.

You can check out the previous Ms. Mentor columns here:


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