Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Remembering Richard Iton

Richard Iton
Last week I sadly learned of the death, after the recurrence of a previous illness, of my former Northwestern University colleague Richard Iton. Like all of the full-time members in Northwestern's African American Studies Department, Richard was a distinguished scholar in several fields, and he brought this interdisciplinarity to bear in his scholarly and critical work, and in his teaching. A political scientist by training, with a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, he explored the relationship between black popular culture and political and social movements and formations. The author of two award-winning books, including In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era (Oxford University Press, 2008) and Solidarity Blues: Race, Culture, and the American Left (University of North Carolina Press, 2000), his interests encompassed a wide range of topics, such as the Black Diaspora and transnationality, postcolonial studies, and critical race studies. Richard could and did speak as authoritatively about Hegel, Gramsci and Fanon as about the history of African American comedy or hip hop, and he once thrilled students by giving them a short course, in the span of a few hours, on hip hop's history and aesthetic and cultural stages up to today. He also played a key role in designing and implementing Northwestern's very rigorous and highly regarded doctoral program in African American Studies, one of the leading ones in the US, and it was not only his intellectual vision, but his diligent administrative work that, alongside that of others, brought the NU PhD in African Americans to fruition. His passing represents a great loss to the department, the university, and the fields in which he worked. It also represents the loss of a warm, generous, down-to-earth, funny, brilliant person, someone who succeeded, many times over, in bringing talented new scholars into the world. Rest in peace, Richard, and we will truly miss you, your exceptional and focused mind, your generous, amazing spirit.

The official statement from Celeste Watkins-Hayes, the chair of African American Studies at Northwestern:

Mourning the passing of our Dear Colleague, Richard Iton

April 25, 2013 -- Last night, we received reports of the passing of our colleague, teacher, and friend Richard Iton. We have been working to confirm this information, and we just received word from Northwestern Memorial Hospital that these reports are unfortunately true. Our hearts are broken and our minds are jarred. But we can take comfort in the fact that Richard touched many lives and made remarkable contributions to our department, our university, and our discipline. We will share details about services when we receive them from Richard's family. In the meantime, let's lean on each other for support.

Yours in sympathy,
Celeste Watkins-Hayes, PhD
Chair, Dept. of African American Studies

Here is a video of Richard speaking last year at Cornell University:

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