Thursday, January 02, 2020

My 2019 (Semi-)Hiatus

A photo from our contract rally at
Rutgers-Newark, April 2019
As J's Theater readers--if there still are any!--may have noted, last year (2019) was a very lean one in terms of my presence here. I believe I managed six entries (with perhaps double that still in draft mode), and that was pushing it. One, which I only recently published, featured a review I undertook for Art in America on last year's Whitney Biennial, which I found fascinating on multiple levels, in contrast to many mainstream critics, including one who summed it for me at lunch late in the year, as "predictable." As it turns out, it was anything but--and, as I argued in that piece, really multiple Biennials, including one transformed by the protests that not only the Biennial's artists, but outside activists, supporters and artists, and the Museum's staff, launched. To be able to watch it unfold and write about it was a pleasure, but alas, I had almost no time to focus on it here.  I also had no real time--or rather no time to focus--to complete memorials to figures who have been incredible important to me, whom we lost in 2019, and I am thinking in particular of Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall (who was one of my favorite teachers in grad school), and Ernest J. Gaines, among many others. They are but a few of the people who left this human plane last year, and perhaps at some point I can either finish my mini-tributes and turn those live or write new ones this year. We will see.

My day jobs are, as readers know, a writer, and a professor of English and African American and African Studies (AAAS). Over the last six years (roughly since 2013), however, I've also served first as Acting Chair and then full-time Chair of AAAS, a post I have enjoyed deeply, but which also has entailed a very different level and kind of time commitment, since chair duties, I had to learn quickly, run every day of the week and all year long, and involve all kinds of matters, from curricula to student needs and concerns to staff and faculty personnel issues to other kinds of university service to general administration to tasks defying categorization. 

What I also learned was that there often is little training, except on the job, for the challenges that present themselves. Soliciting the advice of one's peers, especially other chairs or former chairs, and colleagues, listening to them carefully, addressing pressing and longer-term issues, and encouraging and engaging not only in an ethos but a practice of collaboration are all key, but administrative duties can be very stressful, and run along timelines parallel to but different from those of the academic year. Add this to my regular (teaching, mentoring, advising, my own life and writing) and irregular duties (letters of recommendation, tenure, judging panels, etc.), and it's fair to say that my blogging has been one major area to suffer some of the the greatest blows as a result.

This past fall was also a particular challenge because, on top of everything else, I was serving on four search committees. Serving on one search committee is a high hurdle; four is almost impossible to describe, though I grasped why I was asked to serve, and was cognizant throughout of what my presence could help to effect and why I committed to each. I can say, breaking no confidences, that each went quite well, and 2020 should bring good news to my institution and some excellent people who, I hope, will be wonderful leaders in their various ways and invaluable colleagues. That, as all such work tends to be, is the hope and goal, making people, programs and departments, the institution itself, better and stronger than they were before, with added benefits not yet foreseen but which will redound and resonate long after the moment of the work has ended. That is the core of so much of what we do in life, though, isn't it, or at least hope to?

2020 brings a competitive leave sabbatical--courtesy of several fellowships I received in 2018--so I hope to be able to post here more often. I have been thinking quite a bit about how blogging has changed in the 14 (soon to be 15!) years since I began this blog, and though I am ever more convinced that we live in an increasingly post-literate, let alone post-post-modern world, where the power of the regime of images grows ever stronger, the role of the oral has become more central and dominant, public prose is transforming into a shadow of itself, and social media's forces and forms are reshaping not only language as an exterior medium but our interiorities in ways we have not fully recognized or reckoned with,  I do believe there is a place for this blog and others, even if it ends up looking somewhat different than it did in the past, so I will strive to post semi-regularly here, even if, as I have at times, primarily with quotes and notices from others, including citations of and links to blogs I still follow, like Keguro Macharia's, to name one of my favorites and one of the very best. (And speaking of which, his remarkable study Frottage: Frictions of Intimacy Across the Black Diaspora is now out from NYU Press!)

So, here's to 2020, more blogging (I hope), and the excitement to come!

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