Many thanks to Carolyn Dever and the team at Public Books, and special thanks to Debarati Biswas for writing this thoughtful interpretation of The Blackademic Life alongside The Undercommons by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney. In “How to Subvert the Capitalist White-Supremacist University,” Debarati Biswas writes:
Should we then give up on the possibility of remaking the university into a truly diverse space, one that values diversity as a keyword, not just as a buzzword? What does it mean to do the radical work of anticapitalist antiracism, while at the same time remaining associated with the very institution that continues to reproduce white supremacy through its regulation of minority voices and demands?
Here, Biswas identifies one of the key concepts that I tried to address in The Blackademic Life. Obviously, there’s no easy answer. (And while I love my HBCUs, the book does some critical analysis on their histories as well.) I hope one of the takeaways from the book is that the university is imperfect, even inherently conservative, but it is too important an institution for black scholars to abandon entirely. Doing so would allow racist knowledge about us to be reproduced as fact. I trace a literary history of how black scholars have navigated the terrain of American higher education, and how some of them have represented those experiences artistically through fictional narratives.
For JSTOR Daily, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I wrote about a new book on Robert Hayden that illuminates his relationship to the Black Arts Movement. Many people know that Hayden was once accused of being an “Uncle Tom” because he said he didn’t want to be known as a “black writer.” I’ve written about this before in a Poetry Foundation essay on “Middle Passage.” I admit, I still wondered if the whole controversy was overblown, and if we would ever get past talking about it in relation to Robert Hayden’s work. However, I saw a video of Hayden at the Brockport Writers Forum in 1975 that made me realize how deeply Hayden was affected by all of this. In Derik Smith’s new book Robert Hayden in Verse: New Histories of African American Poetry and the Black Arts Era, he convincingly argues that this controversy, which started at a conference at Fisk University in 1966, was actually an important discussion about art and politics, and that Hayden should be read as part of the Black Arts Movement, despite, and even because of, his disagreements with some artists in the movement.
Read “Robert Hayden’s Relatable Fatigue” on JSTOR Daily.
It was a pleasure to speak with Roopika Risam and Mary Churchill, co-hosts of the Rocking the Academy podcast, to discuss The Blackademic Life, academic novels, and the current state of higher education.
I have a new review essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books on two recently published books by Chip Delany: In Search of Silence: The Journals of Samuel R. Delany, Volume I, 1957-1969 (Wesleyan University Press, 2017) and Voyage, Orestes! (Bamberger Books, 2019).
“In Search of Samuel R. Delany”
I recently dialed in to the podcast The Nostalgia Trap to discuss my new book The Blackademic Life, the state of academia, and many other topics. I was a guest on the podcast way back in 2014, so it was great to catch up with my CUNY Graduate Center colleague David Parsons and chop it up about life on the other side of graduate school.
Nostalgia Trap – Episode 175 – The Blackademic Life w/ Lavelle Porter