February 14, 2012 — African-American studies scholar Houston A. Baker Jr. of Vanderbilt University will give a lecture on Feb. 21 at 6:30 p.m. in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom as part of a University of Virginia Arts in Action project, "Black Fire: The Struggle for Social Justice and Racial Equality at the University of Virginia, 1969-1985."
In "Black Fire," College of Arts & Sciences professors Kevin Jerome Everson of the McIntire Department of Art and Claudrena Harold of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies and the Corcoran Department of History are creating a multimedia initiative, with film documentary, performance-based presentations and digital archives.
Harold noted that Baker was a faculty member at U.Va. during the early 1970s. He was actively involved in the University's "Black Culture Week," an annual event that brought to Grounds such noted figures as Dick Gregory, Harold Cruse, Nikki Giovanni and Julian Bond, before he joined the U.Va. history faculty.
"Baker's presentation marks not just the official launching of a series of events associated with the 'Black Fire' project, but also the welcome return of a seminal intellectual whose short tenure at U.Va. reminds us of how black student activism, black studies and the black arts movement shaped the cultural and political life of the University, particularly during the late 1960s and early 1970s," Harold said.
Currently Distinguished University Professor and Professor of English at Vanderbilt, Baker is a well-known literary and cultural critic, focusing on African-American arts and politics for 30 years. His latest book, "Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era," received an American Book Award for 2009.
Before Baker speaks, Theresa M. Davis, U.Va. associate professor of drama, will give a brief spoken-word performance, also called "Black Fire." English professor Marlon Ross will introduce Baker, who will present "Blues Poems and Black Memoir: An Informal Reading." Baker received his B.A. from Howard University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught at Yale University, University of Pennsylvania and Duke University.
He is a former president of the Modern Language Association. His awards and honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Humanities Center, plus resident fellowships at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He is also a creative writer, with a recently published volume of poetry, "Passing Over."
— By Anne Bromley