My First Published Book!!!!

 

This week I completed reviewing my page proofs and creating the index.  I have approved of the jacket copy and blush at the strong endorsements provided by scholars in the field.  All that is left is for the manuscript to go to press!! I’m dreaming of the UPS man delivering my advanced copies in December—a great birthday present if you ask me! Conjuring Moments in African American Literature will be released commercially in January. I have completed my first monograph!

The journey to publication has been a learning experience.  I didn’t have many issues with losing an editor or fighting for the cover art—all of which I’ve heard horror stories about.  I even decided to go ahead and create the index myself rather than contract a freelancer to do it on my behalf. If you’ll remember, I was torn about that decision in a previous blog.

As it turns out, if you prepare in advance putting the index together isn’t all that troublesome.  It is a tedious process, but at the advice of my colleague Elizabeth West, I did the work of creating the index terms well in advance. When I received the page proofs is was a simply matter of using the appropriate software to do a search for the terms. 

In all, it took me two full days of work to complete it to my satisfaction. I’m not sure whether I’d be willing to entrust that kind of detail and thoroughness to someone who is less familiar with my work.  After all, I’ve invested some years in developing my scholarship and the index is as much a reflection of that as anything else.  Who knows? Maybe for the next project I’ll be more flexible since I am now initiated into the process. 

I am very happy and excited to see this project come to a close in terms of the writing, revising, and other minutia of publication.  I do hope, however, that the life of Conjuring Moments does not end here.  The next phase is promoting and marketing my work—another area in which I’m a novice.  There are no manuals or guides for how one should go about the work of promoting his or her scholarship. I will have to lean on my great circle of mentors and colleagues to assist with that one.  I am looking forward to the critical response to my scholarship as well as the awkward dance of self-promotion!

Let the Circle of Sista PhDs be Unbroken!

 

As I have continued to make my rounds at professional conferences, summer institutes, and various university campuses I have been overjoyed to learn of all the other thirty-something black female PhDs who are making waves in the academy!  It’s always great to see a friendly face, but to make contact with a friendly face that is reflective of your own experience is exceptionally exciting! My professional “elder” T. Harris once told me to seek out the best and brightest in my field and to make them my professional support network. She advised me to lean on this circle for reading those raggedy drafts, for emotional support when the academy gets to be enough, and for collaboration on other professional projects.  It was a great piece of advice and although she didn’t point to other black women in particular, my black female mind was directed that way by default. That is not to suggest that I am opposed to black male scholars in my circle or even white men and women. I lean on more than a few, but this one is for my ladies. 

I knew some folks in my age range or a bit older with whom I shared similar interests, but the task of building the type of bond T. Harris speaks of has been grounded in more theory than practice. That is, until recently.  As I have encountered black female academics who are still in the early stages of their careers, as am I, I have made a special effort to lend my support and build professional and personal links to these women.  It is a work in progress.  I am a very shy and introverted individual—don’t judge me. Nonetheless, I am happily moving forward with building my network of thirty-somethings. I am so proud to share the academic stage with such fierce and innovative thinkers. Here are just a few of the amazing scholars with whom I have connected or intend to connect. Look out for us:

Therí A. Pickens, Assistant Professor of English (Bates College)

Her research focuses on Arab American and African American literatures and cultures, Disability Studies, philosophy, and literary theory. Check out her blog: The Rogue Vogue Professor. Did I mention she isn’t even 30???  Do the math.

Folashade Alao, Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies (University of South Carolina)

Her scholarship examines the construction of the Sea Islands as a significant cultural landscape in the black feminist imagination and historicizes the Sea Islands’ contemporary emergence as a site of memory.You can find her profile here.

Ayesha Hardison, Assistant Professor of English (Ohio University)

Ford Fellow, MLA Executive Committee Member of the Black American Literature and Culture Division, NEH Summer Scholar. Look forward to her monograph Writing Through Jane Crow: Race, Gender, and Genre, 1940-1954.

Koritha Mitchell, Associate Professor of English (Ohio State University)

She is most well known for her work on the depiction of lynching and racial violence in African American Literature and Drama, Living with Lynching. I can’t wait to see what is next from this scholar.

Aisha Lockridge, Assistant Professor of English (St. Joseph’s University)

A Diva in her own right, Professor Lockridge has crafted an innovative read of the the Diva in African American literature in her recently released book, Tipping on a Tightrope. Her next project will contend with the “magical negress” in popular culture. Read all about her research and teaching here. 

Tanisha C. Ford, Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

The phrase she coined to describe her scholarship says it all: “Haute Couture Intellectualism.” I haven’t met this scholar yet, but her work on black women, respectability, and adornment sounds like a project that is well over due.

 

I will admit, with many of these women I do have a professional relationship and I am unabashedly promoting their work just for the sake of exposing others to the scholarship of other black female PhDs of a certain age.  Isn’t that, after all, also part of the professional life? Get to know them and support their work!!!

Single Black Female…..Mother.

 

I have heard much discussion about and have even experienced some of the difficulties of being a career-oriented woman. The balance of work and quality of life—which often means family—is not always easy to maintain.  One has to consider if and at what point marriage and child-bearing (and the thankless task of childrearing) will enter into the equation. Before of after tenure? Are you being justly compensated for the same work as your male counterpart? And maintaining the boundaries between the personal and the professional lives is always at the forefront—at least these are many of the concerns I have shared in my young career.  I’m sure many of my female colleagues would agree that this is pretty normal  stuff for us.  It’s part of the social inheritance of being a working woman. We just have to charge it to the game and work it out to the best of our abilities.  Most of us fare pretty well.

What I have heard less discussion about is the murkier waters of the career woman who has made it past many of the initial hurdles of securing a job, finding a partner, publishing, and procreating only to discover that the universe had something else in mind.  For whatever reason, career woman is now a single parent.  Now, the everyday tasks of raising a child aren’t really the challenge. There is certainly some adjustments to be made but we’re talking about Ph.Ds—career woman doesn’t miss a beat in that arena. But single parenthood creates all sorts of other interesting challenges for Lady PhD that I’m just dying to know about.

You see, I have found myself in this very predicament. The issue? How does one continue on with the business of academia as a single, black female mother?  In my previous life, I maintained an active presence with my professional organizations.  Usually I attend a minimum of two conferences a year.  Now that I am sans spouse, that seems like an impossibility.  Sure, I hear of parents who bring their children to conferences and expose them to the academic life.  They make all the claims that it is great for the child’s development.  I’m sure it is.

But you see, my current institution doesn’t pay me enough to incur the cost of flying my child to the conference site.  And to be fair, I don’t see my son sitting quietly in the audience as I present.  I’m just saying, you have to know your children and little man is much too….shall we say inquisitive for that. And further more, when I’m conference hopping, I’m always “at work” and I’m just not of the mind to bring my 4 year old into the work space. It’s cute and totally acceptable for other folks. I love to see kids in those spaces, but for the record—I’m just not that person. I prefer not to mix the two. Call it a personality quirk.  Rather than polling for answers to my unique situation, I am much more interested in how other single parents—and I am not privileging mothers—who are also academics maneuver through the minefield.

Conference attendance is just one issue—but it is pretty important to a young, burgeoning scholar such as myself.  Conference attendance is one of the forums through which I stay current in my field.  It is a very important part of my professional development.  What about others? I anticipate going on the job market this year—how on earth will I navigate invitations for a campus interview when I have no childcare solution for pre-school age kid? Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill or are there other professionals who have had to alter their professional paths due to unforeseen life changes? And if so (as I just can’t imagine there hasn’t been) why aren’t people talking about it!!!???? I am all about making the necessary adjustments to make life livable and work doable—I just don’t know what they are.

I don’t have any answers. I am navigating each situation as it reveals itself. But I am seeking community—others with shared experience who might provide some insight.  After all, that is how we do things around here….right?

Teaching a Literature Course Online??

 

So, it has finally happened.  I am faced with the task of teaching a literary course online. I knew one day it would come to this, but I never imagined it would come so soon. 

Now, I know there are plenty of instructors who do this everyday.  I know composition course are regularly taught online or in hybrid classrooms.  I know many of the for-profit institutions offer online degrees.  I think its wonderful for those seeking access to education.  My course on Voodoo and Visual Culture had low enrollment this term and thus, it was canceled. The alternative I have been given, however, is to teach the course online in the spring. I was a bit hesitant to accept, but after a meeting with the instructional technology team I am excited more than ever to try this out!

With all the technology that is available to colleges and universities, it isn’t surprising that online courses are being offered more and more. I can narrate my power point slides, hold live chat sessions with voice integration, still make use of course reserves at the university library, and employ a plagiarism fail safe for all the written assignments.  Best of all, I can do all of the above without showing up to a half empty classroom twice a week (that is a definite plus!). I am excited about jumping into this new arena and figuring out if this is really something that works for me.  I  mean, there are certainly some pedagogical challenges that present themselves when considering my approach to teaching a literature course.

For instance, how will I shift from a discussion-based teaching style to one that is more lecture oriented to accommodate and make use of the available technology? Will something get lost in translation as I lecture to my laptop microphone about the oral and folk elements of the introduction to Mama Day? How can I be sure to cover topics that I may not find interesting or important about a text, but which my students are dying to investigate? How can I have an interactive discussion about a single passage from Praisesong for the Widow in an online forum?  I’m not sure how I will navigate these obstacles, but I do have plenty of time to develop a strategy. 

The truth of the matter is that students of all shapes, sizes, learning styles, and colors are demanding online learning to accommodate their lifestyles.  Many students are working one or more part time jobs to make ends meet. Online courses simply work better for them.  If I am going to stay current in the profession, then that means trying out and integrating new learning tools into my teaching repertoire. There aren’t many institutions that have not gotten on board the online teaching wagon.   I’m not at all sure how this will work, but I am up for the challenge and ready to expand my teaching arsenal. The future is present.

P[ublishin’] ain’t Easy

 

This week I received the copy edited version of my first book manuscript.  I was exuberantly happy and excited to reach this point in the production process. I jumped right in to review the copy editor’s suggestions and queries—wondering if I was as good a writer and proofreader as I imagined. I mean, I have spent ***number of years perfecting my dissertation into an awesomely, publishable piece of scholarship worthy of being called such. It’s been a labor of love—and hate.  You know its hard out here for a….p—uh, a person who is trying to publish. Still, I am happy to finally be in this place.

It reminded me, however, that I still know very little about the publishing process. It seems I am learning as a go, unsure of what questions to ask and to whom to direct them. And what is this about creating my own index????  It is a lonely, scary world for the first time author.  I feel totally inept at managing the process.  I have tackled everything from securing copyright clearance for decades old blues songs, to negotiating permission from an artist to use his work as cover art, to then having to professionally scan the original art work that is in my possession, to contracting an indexer only to realize that I am, in fact, the best person to do the job. That’s not to mention actually formatting the manuscript according the publisher’s guidelines and all that that entails. 

It has been a learning process filled with anxiety, excitement, and the thrill of learning something new.  I’m am feeling real insecure about the index project.  I’ve convinced myself that I can, in fact, do the job, but I am not confident about final product.  I have no clue about the details and formatting that makes a really good index. It seems time consuming and the publisher has assured me that time is not on my side.  It can all be overwhelming at times and my stuff isn’t even in press yet! I am constantly asking myself, how could I have better prepared myself for this?  How could I have clued myself in to the process in a real, informed sort of way?

Don’t misunderstand me.  I read books on publishing and polled colleagues and mentors about the process. Most gave honest, though vague answers: the contract is pretty basic, pay someone to do your index, and it will take about a year from contract offer to book release.  Very few mentioned any of the leg work of securing permissions, cover art, or the possibility of creating your own index. 

The process has not been overly burdensome, but when you are behind the learning curve one may find themselves spending more time playing catch-up.  Now that I am (almost) fully initiated into the club of published scholars, I do not feel so anxious or uninformed about the process.  I have faced the gauntlet and survived another day.  Future monographs will certainly not provoke the cold sweats and nervous jitters as this very first one. I will keep you informed about the index—who knows how that will turn out? But it is my first and there is something inspiring about taking the time to learn the process the first go ‘round. 

I suppose it makes my entry into the profession official—almost the equivalent to dissertating and defending for the young professional.   I can dig it.  I just hope the next batch of newbie scholars can crack the code and know what they are in for prior to taking the leap.  I imagine it makes the process much more seamless. 

Conjuring Moments in African American Literature: Women, Spirit Work and Other Such Hoodoo will be available from Palgrave Macmillan Press in January 2013.

Promotion and Tenure–The Long Sojourn

 

This August marks my sixth year in the professoriate.  It has been six years since I defended my dissertation and was hooded by my esteemed advisor Darryl Dickson-Carr.  Six years beyond the Ph.D. signifies another milestone in the academic career, particularly for the tenure track appointed, depending on which one of us takes a mind to it. In the strictest circles if one is not anxiously aspiring toward promotion and tenure, then the perception is that said person just isn’t intellectually productive and sharp enough to make the cut.

We all know the story. The hushed tone of voice when speaking of that colleague.  The sideways glance when someone asks when how long you have been out of graduate school and at so and so institution and your answer moves beyond that six year mark.  You explain, between nervous laughter and intimidation that you are still at the assistant professor rank, or, god forbid, relegated to a lower rank—adjunct, visiting, instructor. The conversation takes on a new direction—either one of pity or unsolicited mentoring.   You grin and bear it, feeling vulnerable to the whims of academic decorum.

Not only have I heard the story, I am living it.  I made a choice to leave, yes leave a perfectly good tenure-track position after putting in five years on the job. I cannot begin to even tell you what type of academic snubbing I have witnessed as a result of meeting other academics—usually of the tenured variety.  They offer their pity and heart-felt advice on how I should tighten up on my scholarship and wish me insincere luck on my next job search. None of these encounters last more than five minutes and no one cares to even inquire further into my circumstances. It operates like a type of academic bullying with all of the condescension and posturing.  

Spare me. I am neither an academic charity case, nor am I such a novice as not to understand the decision I made or build a strategy behind that decision. Obviously, the job was not “perfectly good” if I deemed it necessary to leave of my own accord and not because I wanted to avoid the tenure process—which is nine time out of ten always the unspoken assumption.

I admit, my transition was a bit unnerving.  I felt a little uneasy and quite insecure about how I would be perceived by my peers.  I did the nervous laughter dance and allowed the condescension to fly, believing it was just part of the hustle.   But now I have my academic weight up and I have met and had meaningful conversations with other people in the field who have opted to take the unconventional route to promotion and tenure. I am not an anomaly. I am not always already blacklisted. There will be no more bullying around this camp. 

Leaving tenure-land has meant churning out a manuscript or two, sharpening my grant writing skills, and hours upon hours of research and writing time. The University of Houston’s Visiting Scholar Initiative in African American Studies has allowed me to grant priority to my research in the early, budding period of my career—though very much off the tenure track—in a way my previous position would not (and I did give them an opportunity to match the deal in order for me to stay). Is not that the whole point of being among the  junior faculty in a research-oriented institution?  If veering off the track to pursue one’s research is not a worthy endeavor, then please explain to me what is?

Each path toward professional success (if that means tenure, great. If not, that’s great, too!) is a varied and winding road.  While I’m sure the sixth year rule shan’t be over turned in the near future, I am hopeful that the younger folk (and mid-career) realize that there are in fact many paths to tenure and it does not have to be the scary, gut-wrenching journey so many have trudged before us.  As I prepare for my second year as Visiting Scholar, I am empowered by my decision. I am free to sketch out my own plan and strategically place myself in a slightly more competitive position when I enter the job market.

The time I will have spent pursuing my research agenda, honing my craft, and expanding my network is invaluable to the goals I have set for myself. So please save the side eye and half-hearted inspirational speeches. I’ll get to tenure in my way and in my own right. I make no apologies for deviating from the script. It was the best thing that could have happened to my career.

Trans-itioning: Moving across Academic Spaces

 

I was privileged to be among the chosen to participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on Contemporary African American Literature, directed by Lovalerie King at Penn State University. As I reflect on the experience, it is hard to articulate what actually took place in that space.  Sure, I can tell you it was a three week, intensive study of the field with a group of 24 scholars and 3 resident faculty (Trudier Harris, Maryemma Graham, and Dana Williams).  There was a great deal of intellectual discourse and exchange of ideas that took place.  The group collaborated over research interests, pedagogical approaches to certain texts, and professional development opportunities.  Those are the objectives one would expect to have met during the course of a summer institute of this sort.

What I am having more difficulty explaining is what took place outside of the intensive learning.  I came to the institute expecting to learn more than I taught; listening more than I spoke. I envisioned being able to share insights in my own area of research and expertise but figured that would be in the background. As one who is taking a non-conventional route to tenure, I imagined myself still a novice in the field.  I was sure my reserved, quiet demeanor would be the default position I would assume—as it always has been.

                      NEH Group Photo

I, however, have been trans-formed by this experience. I was not the mute girl sitting around the table copiously taking notes. I was unusually vocal and at times vehemently so.  I learned, but I was also in a position to teach something to my peers—not a position I am familiar with outside of publication where I am just a name in print with which the reader can argue.  I received validation and encouragement on my scholarship when both T. Harris and Dana Williams spoke about my forthcoming monograph with something of scholarly praise.  I contributed as much to the dialogue as I took away from it. They shy, quiet Kameelah was out the door.  I didn’t recognize myself!

It dawned on me that to continue to call myself a novice is to discredit all the hard work I have put into studying and becoming an expert in my field. As a newly minted PhD, all I could think about was how much inexperience I had. I felt perpetually wet behind the ears and allotted that when (and if!) I saw my monograph in print, then and only then would I be able to stand among the grown folk. I suppose in the six years since my defense, I have wallowed in that position—not allowing myself to see myself as the professional I have become.

With my book being released at the end of the year and following the phenomenal experience of the NEH Summer Institute, I have no choice except to claim that I am indeed an expert and that I have something to contribute to the field. It is both a humbling and gratifying feeling. I am thoroughly appreciative to my fellow summer scholars and the visiting faculty who created the safe space in which I found myself in metamorphosis.

I come away with a stronger sense of my professional self and a new network of colleagues with whom I have shared much more than intellectual energy. I count many of them among my friends with whom I can share/learn about the trials and errors of the academic life. I only hope that I encouraged someone else’s transformation in the course of those three weeks. As part of the academic community, we all have insecurities that must be hammered out.  I’m still working on mine, but I’ve had a helluva jump start!