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News & Events

Ellis Named Sterling Allen Brown Professor of English and Humanities for Spring 2015

Thomas Sayers EllisThe Department of English has named poet and photographer Thomas Sayers Ellis as the Sterling Allen Brown Professor of English and Humanities for the spring 2015 semester.

Ellis, the author of The Maverick Room and Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems (Graywolf Press), has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the University of San Francisco and Wesleyan University and has served as a visiting writer at the University of San Francisco. His poems and photographs have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies such as The Paris Review, The Nation, Massachusetts Review, Poetry, Tin House, Transition and Best American Poetry.

Ellis is a recipient of the Mrs. Giles Whiting Writers Award and the Salmon O. Levinson Prize for “Vernacular Owl,” an elegy-homage to Amiri Baraka. Ellis is also a faculty member for Cave Canem, a premiere institution for African American poetry, a co-founding member of the Dark Room Collective and the founder of Heroes Are Gang Members—a band of poets and musicians.

During his tenure at Howard, Ellis will continue to draft “The GoGo Book: People in the Pocket in Washington, D.C.” and “Crank Shaped Notes,” a collection of prose and lyrics aphorisms about GoGo, vanishing folk culture and the struggle for statehood in the District of Columbia.

Ellis also will lead two writing workshops for students and members of the Howard community (Jan. 21-22); conduct a public lecture (“A Crank-Shaped Lecture: The Hip Hop in Go-Go’s Pocket” in February); and hold a conversation with Howard faculty member Dr. Meta D. Jones (author of The Muse Is Music: Jazz Poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to Spoken Word). Ellis’s professorship will culminate with a tribute concert and CD debut featuring Heroes Are Gang Leaders in honor of Amiri Baraka during National Poetry Month and in collaboration with the department’s Sterling Brown/Lucille Clifton/Amiri Baraka Poetry Series held in April.

The Sterling A. Brown Professor of English and the Humanities is funded by a Challenge Grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and is a part of an on-going effort to endow a chair in honor of Professor Brown. The Brown/Clifton/Baraka Poetry Series is privately funded by a grant from Reed and Marjie Tuckson. Ellis, a Washington native and Dunbar High School graduate, follows Eleanor W. Traylor (Spring 2012), Daryl Cumber Dance (Spring 2013), and Haile Gerima (Spring 2014) as the fourth Sterling Allen Brown Professor.

For more information, contact Dr. Dana A. Williams, chair of the Department of English at or 202-806-6730. Or visit


Assistant Professor of American Literature

The Department of English invites applications for a tenure-track position at the rank of Assistant Professor in American literature beginning Fall 2015. The ideal candidate will have a PhD in hand, at least one publication in the field, and a strong record of research and teaching in late 19th and/or early 20th century American literature. Ability to teach critical theory is also welcome. All applicants must submit the following documents via the MLA ( online system by COB November 01: a current cv, a letter of interest, official transcripts, and three letters of recommendation. Advanced assistant professors should also submit a brief research agenda. Howard University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin, sex, marital status, religion, or disability.


Assistant Professor of Creative Writing

The Department of English invites applications for a tenure-track position at the rank of Assistant Professor in Creative Writing, with an emphasis on fiction and creative non-fiction, with duties to commence Fall 2015.The successful candidate will have an MFA or PhD, one published book of fiction or non-fiction and a record of publication in the second area, and an excellent record in teaching creative writing. Please send a single PDF file application with curriculum vitae, names of three references related specifically to teaching, and teaching portfolio (syllabi, evaluations) to Dr. Dana A Williams at no later than November 10. Books should be sent to Department of English 2441 Sixth Street, NW 248 Locke Hall Washington, DC 20059. Howard University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin, sex, marital status, religion, or disability.


Assistant Professor of British Literature

The Department of English invites applications for a tenure-track position at the rank of Assistant Professor or Associate Professor to teach the long 18th Century (1660-1830) with duties to commence Fall 2015. The ideal candidate will have a PhD in hand and research, teaching, and publication interests that reflect attention to how British literature of the period (including homeland and colonial authors) addresses issues of empire, colonization, globalization, slavery, revolution, and cosmopolitanism.  An additional expertise in Black British authors would be welcome. All applicants must submit the following documents via the MLA Joblist online system ( by November 10: a current cv, a letter of interest, official transcripts, and three letters of recommendation. Advanced assistant professors should also submit a brief research agenda. Howard University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin, sex, marital status, religion, or disability.



A Tribute to Maya Angelou

Our literary work is to write ourselves as we are, not as others perceive us to be.  This is agency; this is art; this is truth.  Maya Angelou spoke to us and will continue to speak to us because the worlds that her words created were not contrivances; nor were they about the derivative work of producing flat, commodifiable caricatures of our rich, three-dimensional lives. She wrote us as she knew us.  And the corpus she bequeaths to us - poems, novels, scrrenplays, children’s literature - leaves a mirror in which we can see who we have been and who we may become.  In her spirit, we must produce new truth-tellers for whom literature is the tool they employ to create a freer, more just, and as important, more beautiful world.

Dana A. Williams
Chair, Department of English

Maya Angelou with Dr. Eleanor W. Traylor (Heart's Day Gala, 2004)

Evidence of the living legacy and heritage of African American literature speaks through Maya Angelou and her peers. Perhaps there is no more compelling way to present this truth than by the example of her work.  She was, like the title of her autobiographical narrative, Singing and Swinging and Getting Merry Like Christmas. The fulcrum of her work wakes to literary resonance that energizing moment that bridges the so-called “Harlem Renaissance” and the so-called “Black Arts Movement.”  That bridge, the Harlem Writer’s Guild of which Maya Angelou (with Paule Marshall, John O. Killens, John Henrik Clarke, Sarah Wright, and Rosa Guy, among others) was a member, is only one of many under-represented ascensions in the evolving aesthetics of African American and related creative production Maya Angelou re-presents.

In many ways, her life is, as well, a history of theatre during the late 1950s while it is foremost a biography of sensibility not alone in America: it highlights American and global response to the lurid murder of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo; the catastrophe at New York’s Audubon Theatre, the murder of Malcolm el Hajj Malik Shabazz; the horror at Jackson, Mississippi, the murder of Medgar Evers; the catastrophe at Memphis, the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and the relentless sacrifice in South Africa before the walls came tumbling down at Robben Island.  Her life writing is an account of how a personal life contacts, is guest, and hostess at “the world party.”  An enactment of individual genius engaging the established genius preceding, her work was an aesthetic revelation. 

Her oft-quoted poem, “Still I Rise,” styles itself as a gift – “gifts the ancestor gave.” These gifts are its “diamonds” and “gold” of rhythm and sound and word. It is the rise of another ancestral signature poem, Margaret Walker’s For My People, of which a line reads, “Let a new earth rise.”  It is the rise sung in the sorrow song: “The Lord loves a sinner/And she’ll rise.” Radiantly, the “I” of the poem exults as it faces “the rising sun of our new day begun” from James Weldon Johnson’s song of joy Lift Every Voice and Sing.  Finally, this “I” of “Still I Rise” is a performer whose performance is a lesson in reading and writing and practice.  The poem’s prosody of memory participates in the poetics of identity.  It re-presents the lineage out of which its possibilities of being emerge.  

It is, of course, difficult to determine the dominant motif in any author’s life, even as the last word has been written. But for me, her legacy in language was perhaps her finest achievement. She blotted out the language of diminishment and influenced the public discourse, as did many members of the magnificent generation that we represent. Her grace, her elegance, her “at homeness” made us all feel that the world was ours to influence in the image of our own wonderfulness.

Eleanor W. Traylor
Chair Emeritus
Department of English


The Department of English Celebrates a Son of Howard—Amiri Baraka

It was he, Amiri Baraka, that voice, who years ago pronounced the meaning and profound implication of the moments and the voices of the fullness of Black life. He does so, ever more, and in a moment of reflection when he is assessing moments of his own awakenings.

Youth in their fervor know no limitations except that they are celebrations of them. Narrow, because they lack experience, yet fervent, super-energetic, super optimistic.

 –“The Black Arts”

Amiri Baraka’s life was, for those of us who knew him, a long moment, a blue note, which shorn of partisanship and its ever-changing cast of characters, was a galvanizing event or an epiphany: a eureka moment, a, perhaps, destiny-shaping moment, in the life of any, but particularly in the young – a moment, which may well drive the course called a life: a moment when wise whys are ventured and the quest for deep knowing begins. The dangers, disasters, sorrows, deep joys and learning of those epiphanies, those quests engaged by one man have produced over a million words, the common property of readers and listeners over the world who engage Amiri Baraka.

Most accounts—inaccurate because the texts keep coming—include fifty-four plays, seven collections of plays, four screenplays, twenty-one collections of poetry (not to mention uncollected poems), ten collections of essays, one with Amina Baraka, his dancer, singer, poet, activist wife (not to mention uncollected non-fiction), a novel, and a collection of stories (not to mention uncollected fiction) as evidence of the production issuing from the intellectual, spiritual, awake-to-the-self-and-world quests of this millennial representative man and author. In all this work, this recording of revelations, this personally digested thick and deep encounter with the world and with scholarship, one riveting chord, played through variations, in every genre and explosions of genres that the work conflates, comes crashing through: the moment of learning and the journey to where that leads. He speaks of such moments like this:

Something dawned on me, like a big light bulb over my noggin. The comic strip Idea lit up my mind at that moment as I stared at the books. I suddenly understood that I didn’t know a hell of a lot about anything. What it was that seemed to move me then was that learning was important. I’d never thought of that before … the employment agency approach of most schools I guess, does not emphasize the beauties the absolute joy of learning … I suddenly appreciated what real education might be. I vowed, right then, to learn something new everyday. It was a deep revelation, something I felt throughout my whole self. I was going to learn something every day. That’s what I would do. Not just as a pastime … but as a life commitment —“Error Farce”.

Deep revelation.

That is the force that was Amiri Baraka, a big light bulb going bright in the heads of young whalers chanting in the manner that big whalers chant. We learned things we had not thought hard about before: the life plan of our society; the revolutionary idea of the vote; the miracle of civil rights (not narrowed or melanized anymore); and the biggest thrill of all – our relation to all this.

Through Amiri Baraka’s work, we inherited a vocabulary nurturing a liberational direction in reading and writing and therefore critical thought dominant in the world today. In the words of one of his colleagues, Ishmael Reed, he was “Always a nuance ahead of everybody else; he is our most original writer. Nobody else comes close.”

Against the notion that ideas are born when they become respectable, in the Age of Baraka, modern consciousness becomes contemporary. That shift in consciousness has been the single-most intellectual and expressive dynamic of the latter half of the twentieth century. The twenty-first century is as much determined by this shift in thought and feeling as it is by the technology now available to bring human beings to our knees in submission to robotry or to an opportunity to build a global environment in which none of us is prey.

What is the Age of Baraka? And what are the meanings of the words modern and contemporary? Quite simply and, therefore, profoundly, West African Dogon philosophy, for one, has most effectively answered the question of the contemporary. In Dogon thought, the present is the residence of the ancestral and the yet unborn. All time is, therefore, within us, the living, and it is we who are emissaries of the entire past and the shapers of what is to come. As is true of each of us, so it is true of an age—a flow of time characterized by distinctive features. In life and art, the distinctive features of modernity for African people in America are characterized by a paradigmatic negotiation with preposterous formulations imperiously named reality. The distinctive features of a contemporary paradigm in life and art, as he maps it, are the smashing of these codes and the re-naming and re-making of the world.

The Barakan moment in the history of a language and of a people occurs when the language of ethical suasion and, most of all, the language of resistance and self-determination as embodied in two twentieth-century emissaries of that language—Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz)—has been murdered. It is then that a voice sounds a call which, if unanswered, makes humanhood cheap. The call, as Larry Neal put it, proposed “a radical reordering of the word” and, consequently, of systems of thought necessitating a re-appraisal of the entire past to shape millennia. There are moments in the life of a language when at a moment of crisis, it receives a radical reordering or it dies from the world’s memory. But as we know, it is not just a matter of words.

Were it just a matter of words, that might have been sufficient. For Amiri and for us, it was a matter of whether the destiny of a people could withstand a devastating blow. Language had been broken, hurt, in mortal danger. It fled to its nativity in orality. It found it in the mouth of the young Baraka and his age group. Needing the healing lick of tongues, the hot breath of life, it found it in the streets, in the cafes, in the joints, in the halls, in the churches; children took it to the schools; language found its healing in the drum, in every horn; it found it in the singer’s voice; it received new life in the palette of painters: “I’m filled with color, every tint you think of lends to mine/my mind is full of color,” the young man said. Language received renascence in the sculptor’s form, in the arc of the dancer’s swing, and in the warp and woof of the textile maker. “No one can speak the true word alone,” says Paulo Frieres; the word requires the confluence of an age.

No, it was not just a matter of words, or even books. It was a confluence of all expressive modes moved by the spirit of an age—to produce a language coiled to bite the tongue of pretenders to the throne of purit—a language “Unfair and unfair” and a language gloriously in love with itself.

Reducing any human to an artist, even one as talented as Amiri Baraka, is, of course, a deliberate understatement of the invaluables of a civilization. Yet, a radical reordering of language, art, and culture assuring their connection to a usable past, calling attention to their fluency in a present, and etching their future re-articulation is, precisely, the meaning of contemporaneity and the Barakan moment. He cannot be consigned to words and books alone. Such language manifests in a certain critical genius which, like the jazz artist’s method, fingers misrepresentations of reality in the ardent tones of a present, deconstructing these by a rapid examination of “perfected” obsolescence, all the while resisting official claims to the authenticity of a raced, gendered, sexed language in which no one can find a home.

Amiri was more than an artist—he was fully human. So, we celebrate the life of LeRoi Amiri Baraka in all of its iterations and await the day we’ll see him again, reclaiming for us all a continuing genius that gives birth to his and all of our brightness.


Past News & Events

Dr. Daryl Dance Named Sterling Allen Brown Professor of English and Humanities for the Spring 2013 semester

Dr. Daryl Dance is a distinguished scholar of African American and Caribbean literature and folklore. Professor emeritus at the University of Richmond, Dr. Dance is a scholar-teacher exemplar, having trained hundreds of students over the course of her career and having published extensively. She is the author From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore, The Lineage of Abraham: The Biography of a Free Black Family in Charles City, VA; Honey, Hush! An Anthology of African American Women’s Humor; New World Adams: Conversations with Contemporary West Indian Writers; Long Gone: The Mecklenburg Six and the Theme of Escape in Black Folklor;, Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical and Critical Sourcebook; Folkore from Contemporary Jamaicans; and Shuckin’ and Jivin’: Folklore from Contemporary Black Americans. Dr. Dance is the Spring 2013 Sterling Allen Brown Professor of English and the Humanities. 


Dr. Meta D. Jones Joins the Faculty

Dr. Meta Jones joins the faculty in the Department of English as an Associate Professor of African American literature. She earned her BA with honors in English with a certificate in Afro-American Studies from Princeton University in 1995, an MA in English from Stanford in 1996, and Ph.D. from Stanford University in English and American Literature in 2001. She is the author of The Muse is Music: Jazz Poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to the Spoken Word (2011), a finalist for the Modern Languages Association William Sanders Scarborough Book Prize.



Edwidge Danticat to Deliver the Annual Charles Eaton Burch Lecture



2011 Department of English Common Text:
Isabel Wilkerson's
The Warmth of Other Suns

The Humanities Division of the College of Arts and Sciences holds an annual “Common Text” program for all members of the Howard Community.
The purpose of the common text project is to engage members of the Howard community in reflection on a dramatic presentation of some of the most difficult problems that Howard’s mission must address. The history of common text projects in academic and wider communities illustrates the potential of this methodology.

Essay contest

Students are encouraged to write a 500 word expository essay based on The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Refer to your syllabus for out-of-class essay specifications.

Oratorical contest

Students will present their essays at the Common Text Conference.

Multimedia contest

Students are encouraged to present stand alone multimedia presentations, such as websites, posters and PowerPoint presentations. Students must present a brief summary of their multimedia presentations.

Essays and multimedia descriptions are due to your professors on or by Monday, October 31, 2011. Professors must turn them into Professor Elam's mailbox by Tuesday, November 1, 2011.




StepAfrika! Dance company founder will discuss and show film clips of the great migration's artistic inspiration.


Monday, October 24, 2011
Locke Hall, Room 105



Isabel Wilkerson Lecture

Monday, November 14, 2011
6pm – 8pm
Cramton Auditorium

Isabel Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in 1994, making her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African-American to win for individual reporting. Wilkerson has also won the George Polk Award, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and she was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists.

Wilkerson has spoken on the topics of migration, social justice, urban affairs and 2oth Century history at universities across the country and in Europe. She has lectured on narrative writing at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University and has served as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and as the James M. Cox Jr. Professor at Emory University.

She is currently Professor of Journalism and Director of Narrative Nonfiction at Boston University.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011
8am - 4pm
Blackburn Forum Auditorium

Thursday, November 17, 2011
8am - 5pm
Blackburn Ballroom

Reception for Conference Participants and Essay Winners
Thursday, November 17, 2011



Dr. R. Victoria Arana to participate in "Behind the Looking Glass"

As a pioneer in the field of Black British writing, Dr. Arana has been invited (in August 2011) to join Britain’s newest academic project, “Behind the Looking Glass," as one of a small core of leaders, to kick off the UK’s Black British Literature Research Network. The initial planning meeting of the core group is to take place at Leicester University (in Leicester, England), October 7-8, 2011. Dr Arana is Professor of British Literature and a member of the Department's graduate faculty. She is also the author of several seminal texts on Black British travel writing.



Britney Wilson Britney Wilson wins The Black Theatre Network S. Randolph Edmonds Young Scholars Competition

Wilson's essay "Every Woman in No Man's Land: Triumphs of the Modern Black Woman at the Expense of the Black Male Character in the Works of Lynn Nottage" has won 1st place in the Division I level of the 2011 S. Randolph Edmonds Young Scholars Competition sponsored by the Black Theatre Network. As first place winner, she has been invited to deliver her paper at the 2011 Black Theatre Network Conference in Winston-Salem, N.C., to attend a special Young Scholars awards ceremony and reception in her honour during the conference, and her paper will be published in the conference edition of BTNews. In addition to a monetary prize, she will also receive a free one-year membership in the Black Theatre Network. Congratulations Britney!




Jon Woodson's anthems, Sonnets, and Chants

Dr. Jon Woodson publishes Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants Recovering the African American Poetry of the 1930s

Jon Woodson’s Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants is a thoroughly engaging work. He makes a convincing case for not only reading a wide range of neglected poetry from the period, but for reading it through the rich interpretive lens he provides. This is a major work of scholarship which genuinely breaks new ground in the field.” —James A. Miller, professor of English and American studies, The George Washington University



Department of English Partners with The Hurston/Wright Foundation for Writers’ Week Workshop

Sunday, July 10 – Friday, July 15, 2011
at Howard University

Hurston/Wright Writers' Week is the first multi-genre summer writers' workshop for writers of African descent. This is a week long non-residency program of classes and presentations by publishers, agents and published writers. Writers' Week brings together an international community of Black writers who work in a nurturing/safe space to discuss their work, its meaning, and unique aesthetic. The workshop attracts published and unpublished writers, college students, seniors, retirees, and professionals.



Sterlin Allen Brown

The Department of English Receives the NEH Challenge Grant for the Sterling Allen Brown Endowed Chair in English and the Humanities

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the Department of English a Challenge Grant in the amount of $500,000, with matching 2-1 funds from the University, in support of the Department's efforts to endow a chair in honor of Sterling Allen Brown. The award encourages collaboration among the English Department and other departments in the Humanities Division and in the Division of Fine Arts. The award also inaugurates the "Howard Humanities Seminar" for faculty and the "Howard Arts and Humanities Atelier" for students to be held in the Fall and Spring semesters respectively.

The full schedule for activities related to the Fall 2011 Sterling Allen Brown Endowed Chair in English and the Humanities program will be announced shortly. To support this program with charitable gifts, please call 202-806-6730.



Columbia Publishing CourseInfo Session on Publishing

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
2.10-3.30pm, Locke Hall, Room 100

Interested in a career in publishing? Join a representative of the Columbia Publishing Course to hear about their one-of-a-kind instructional program focused on entry-level publishing careers, such as editors, literary agents, publishers, designers, publicists, and more.

The Columbia Publishing Course provides an intensive introduction to all aspects of book, magazine, and digital media publishing, from evaluations of manuscripts to the sales and marketing of finished products. At CPC students learn directly from leaders in the industry--writers, editors, publishers, design directors, illustrators, advertising experts, and publicists. The Columbia Publishing Course provides unparalleled access to the publishing industry and includes extensive preparation for the job market, culminating in a job fair. Recent graduates have landed at Random House, HarperCollins, Scholastic, Marie Claire, Glamour,, and 

Join Lindy Hess, director of the Publishing Course, to hear about the course and careers in the publishing industry.

For more information, contact the Department of English (Locke Hall, Room 248) at 202-806-6730.



How to Write about the Media Today

Dr. Alla Tovares Publishes How to Write about the Media Today (Writing Today)

It was inevitable. From cable news to blogs, social networks, and instant messaging, the everywhere, all-the-time mass media of today not only has revolutionized how we communicate—it has itself become a major topic of that communication, as students, scholars, professionals, and everyday citizens consider its scope, its impact, its innovations, and its limitations.



Changing Bodies in the Fiction of Octavia Butler: Slaves, Aliens, and Vampires

Dr. Gregory Jerome Hampton Releases Changing Bodies in the Fiction of Octavia Butler: Slaves, Aliens, and Vampires

Changing Bodies in the Fiction of Octavia Butler: Slaves, Aliens, and Vampires is a timely text that critically situates Butler's fiction in several fields of study including American, African-American, gender, and science fiction studies.



Freshman English Common Text Literary Conference: November 17-18, 2010

Schedule of Presenters

Freshman English Common Text Literary Conference



58th Annual Charles Eaton Burch Memorial Lecture



Heart's Day 2010

Click for details

Click for details!



Heart's Day 2009





The Writing Center