Howard University
College of Arts and Sciences
Department of English
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About

Overview

Ideas, Cultures, and Perspectives

The Department of English at Howard University unveils to its students the wonderful world of words and their many possibilities as meaningful articulations of ideas, cultures, and perspectives. As Ayi Kwei Armah reminds us in The Eloquence of the Scribes, “The best professional work, especially in the arts, grows out of the nurturing base of a tradition.” At Howard, we are both careful and deliberate to reveal to our students that the base of all writing and literary traditions is one to which they are ancestral and cultural heirs and that these Africana inscription systems and literatures indeed nurture us all. From the oldest known book, The Instructions of Ptah Hotep (found in ancient Kemet or Egypt) to the latest novel of our most distinguished alumna, Toni Morrison, the production of literary art (and our approach to it) reminds us that available to us at our finger tips (whether through acts of reading or writing) is a world of knowledge and awareness, of creation and inspiration.

Love of Language

What drives our faculty and students, along with this world, is a love of language; an understanding of its capacity to liberate, to heal, to change lives; and a shared commitment to communicate to others this love and understanding in ways and for reasons that are sometimes (and ironically) ineffably meaningful. At the heart of the Department, undeniably, is its faculty, one that is uniquely as committed to teaching as it is to research and publishing. Leading scholars in a variety of literary fields and on a variety of literary authors occupy offices in Locke Hall; and on any given day of the week, these same scholars can be seen positioned at the front of a classroom or sitting among their pupils in a semi-circle bearing witness to and about the literary traditions that they breathe life into and that have breathed life into them. Indeed, ours is an extraordinary faculty, one like no other in its willingness to teach solidly and to publish prominently.

Career Aspirations

Our current students at the undergraduate level, yet another strength of the Department, range from your traditional lover of literature to the soon-to-be, well-prepared law student to the hopeful public school teacher or future literature professor. Whatever their career aspirations, they join the ranks of luminary alumni like literary critics Houston A. Baker, Jr. and Cheryl Wall or published authors Zora Neale Hurston and Lucille Clifton. Each year, an outstanding class of graduate students finishes our M.A. and Ph.D. programs prepared to pursue professional careers in academia, publishing, and writing/research fields.

Unique and First-Rate

Irrefutably, our graduate program is one of kind. Specializing in teaching and research of literature of the African Diaspora, the graduate program’s course offerings are as varied as are African peoples. During any given semester, students have the option of studying African American, American, British, and Caribbean literatures as traditional survey courses or of taking special topics in literary theory and studies courses on Black British literature or Literature across Cultures. Yet, as unique and as first-rate as we are, the world awaits from us the literary and cultural revolution in Africana letters, and, in so many ways, it is ours for the making.

Thinking Brilliantly

As heirs to an uninterrupted (though sometimes displaced) tradition of peoples who, indeed, value the eloquence of the scribe and the meaning (s)he produces, the community of apprentices and elders that form our department accepts the task before us—equally exciting and daunting though it may be—to find new ways to enter and to engage this liberating tradition and to use all that we (re)discover to read, to write, and to think brilliantly, thereby equipping ourselves and others with the skills needed to imagine and to make manifest a better world.

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The Writing Center