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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 27, 2007

Lecture To Address Future Of African American Studies Programs

An upcoming lecture will focus on how African American studies programs fit into the academic world, and what pressing issues such programs need to consider.

"The topic is important because at many colleges and universities, African American studies seems to be trying to figure out its place right now," said Bridget Tsemo, assistant professor of African American studies and rhetoric at the UI. "Are African American studies programs going to continue to be independent departments? Or, are they going to be part of other departments, like English or American studies?"

Valerie Smith, Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature and director of the Center in African American Studies at Princeton University, will present "The Futures of African American Studies" at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, March 1 in the Lucas Dodge Room at the Iowa Memorial Union. The lecture is free and open to the public.

A reception, also in the Dodge Room, begins at 3 p.m.

Smith was asked to speak because Princeton's program has a reputation for being forward-thinking and for successfully balancing historical aspects of African American culture with innovations and current issues, Tsemo said. Smith's lecture will also provide insight into what types of issues African American studies programs will give attention to in the next decade.

Smith's research and teaching interests include African American literature and culture, black feminist theory, autobiography, black film and 20th century American literature. She has held fellowships from the Bunting Institute, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the University of California Humanities Research Institute, the UC President's Office, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Alphonse G. Fletcher Sr. Foundation.

Books by Smith include "Self-Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative" and "Not Just Race, Not Just Gender: Black Feminist Readings." She is the editor of "African American Writers," "Representing Blackness: Issues in Film and Video" and "New Essays on Song of Solomon." She recently co-edited a special issue of Signs with Marianne Hirsch on gender and cultural memory. At present, she is writing books on the Civil Rights movement in cultural memory and on Toni Morrison.

Smith's courses include Women Writers of the African Diaspora, Religion and African American Autobiography and Topics in American Literature: Literature of the Civil Rights Movement.

The UI African American Studies Program focuses on the study of people of the African descent in the United States and the African Diaspora. The interdisciplinary unit draws on faculty from many departments within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, including: Communication Studies, English, Health and Sport Studies, History, Journalism and Mass Communication, Religious Studies, Rhetoric, Sociology and Theatre Arts. A major and a minor in African American Studies are offered for undergraduates.

The lecture is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Office of the Vice President for Research and the African American Studies Program.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Nicole Riehl, 319-384-0070,; Program: Bridget Tsemo, 319-335-0177,