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Professor Honorée Jeffers Named Sutton Chair of English

Honoree Jeffers, English

The Department of English is happy to announce that Professor Honorée Fanonne Jeffers has been appointed the Paul and Carol Daube Sutton Chair in English, pending the expected approval of the Board of Regents. 

This has been an especially exciting year for our brilliant colleague. The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois, Professor Jeffers’ debut novel, has just been selected as an Oprah Winfrey Book Club Novel.  It is the epic story of Ailey Paul Garfield and her search for her own heritage, a story that Professor Jeffers calls “a love letter to black women.” In her New York Times review of the novel, Veronica Chambers writes,

“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” is quite simply the best book that I have  read in a very, very long time. I will avoid the cliché of calling it “a great American novel.” Maybe the truest thing I could say is that this is an epic tale of adventure that brings to mind characters you never forget: Meg Murry in “A Wrinkle in Time,” Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Huckleberry Finn.

Ron Charles of The Washington Post writes in his review,

Whatever must be said to get you to heft this daunting debut novel by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, I’ll say, because “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” is the kind of book that comes around only once a decade. Yes, at roughly 800 pages, it is, indeed, a mountain to climb, but the journey is engrossing, and the view from the summit will transform your understanding of America.

Professor Jeffers been featured in this AP storythis CBS News Interview, and a host of other media outlets, including The Oklahoman, for her new work.

Of course, an endowed professorship is bestowed not for singular achievement, but for a lifetime of extraordinary work. An award-winning poet, Professor Jeffers has previously published The Age of Phillis, an innovative book of poetry informed by her archival work on Phillis Wheatley, who published a book of poetry in 1773. The Age of Phillis won the 2021 NAACP Image Award for Literary Work and was Poetry Finalist for the PEN/Voelcker Award in Literature and long-listed for the National Book Award in Poetry.  Her past awards include induction into the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame, and her work has been supported by many fellowships, including her current Mellon Fellowship. “For over twenty years,” states her website, “she’s been lifting her voice on issues of Black culture, racism, American history, and gender through the medium of writing.”

We celebrate Professor Jeffers for all of her achievements and thanks Dean David Wrobel and Provost André-Denis Wright for bestowing this honor upon her.

Statement on Black Lives Matter

From the Chair, Roxanne Mountford:

The Department of English has issued a statement (below) that began as a conversation within our Policy Committee about how to meaningfully respond to the death of George Floyd in the same week in which Amy Cooper was caught on a cell phone video telling the police that she was being threatened by an African-American man in Central Park after she was asked to leash her dog by a birder. These events and the subsequent protests that many of us have joined are a watershed moment, and we wanted not only to express solidarity with those working to dismantle anti-black racism but also to commit to the work of cultivating anti-racism in our practices. For statements have never been enough.

I am doing that work myself. I am finding the following helpful:  Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, this interview with Kendi on anti-racism, this interview with Eula Biss on whiteness, and the Racial Equity Tools website. I also want to recommend the work of our own faculty on anti-black racism:  Honoree Jeffers’s chapter in The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race (and her poetry and forthcoming novel on contemporary African Americans, living in the American South in the aftermath of the Jim Crow era and racial terrorism), Catherine John’s chapter on interracial pedagogy in the book College Curriculum at the Crossroads: Women of Color Reflect and Resist (and her work on Afro-Carribean literature and culture), and Rilla Askew’s Fire in Beulah on the Tulsa Race Massacre. Our department hosted a community-wide re-reading of Toni Morrison’s groundbreaking novel Beloved and will be taking part in events surrounding the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre in Spring 2021. Stay tuned for more.

Our Statement:

The faculty in the OU Department of English join Black Lives Matter in condemning systemic racism and oppression in our community and in the United States. We stand with those who fight the racist structures, white supremacist ideology, and state sanctioned anti-black violence that have led to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others. We stand with the families of Oklahoma’s black and brown citizens who have died at the hands of law enforcement, including Marciona Kessee, Derrick Ollie Scott, Mah hi vist Good Blanket, Magdiel Sanchez, Luis Rodriguez, Martin Sanchez-Juarez, and others.  

Our community and our university have been and continue to be impacted by systemic racism, evidenced by Norman’s history as a “sundown” town as recently as 1967, by the banning of black students at OU until the admission of George McLaurin in 1948, by the segregation of black students at OU until 1950, and by more recent events such as the Sigma Alpha Epsilon incident in 2015 and instances of blackface on campus just this past year. 

With Ibram X. Kendi, we acknowledge that the racism fueling police brutality against our neighbors is not only “out there,” but also in here, in us. We pledge to do our part in the struggle to dismantle systemic racism. So that we can make necessary and meaningful reforms, we commit to engaging in self-study of and deep reflection on policies and practices that demean our colleagues and students of color, including those stemming from our departmental structures, our curriculum and pedagogy, and our relationships with one another.  #BlackLivesMatter


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