SIU-E professor to discuss challenges of African-American writers

Tom O’Connor, Staff Reporter

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A renowned professor at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville will highlight the challenges prominent African-American writers go through at 5 p.m. on Thursday in the Lecture Hall of the Doudna Fine Arts Center.

Howard Rambsy II, who has been chosen to give Thursday night’s lecture, will contend that, while African-American writers have gained more access to publishing firms, a range of problems still persist.

Two English professors, Tim Engles and Dagni Bredesen, said they anticipate a thorough discussion on Ta-Nehisi Coates and Colson Whitehead, both prominent African-American authors with many accolades.

“I knew he would offer a more nuanced view on these writers than we usually get,” Engles said. “He also has much to say about the current state of publishing, especially the handling and reception commonly accorded to African-American writers.”

Rambsy will offer his thoughts on both writers and, at the same time, convey the impact and reception afforded to other African-American authors.

Colson Whitehead, who has most recently written “The Underground Railroad,” often touches upon the myriad of inequities encountered by the African-American community in modern-day society through fictional storytelling.

“Colson Whitehead’s 2016 novel ‘The Underground Railroad,’ winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, is both a gripping adventure about one woman’s tenacious efforts to escape slavery and a moving revelation of horrors and truths that still deeply affects all Americans,” Engles said.

Rambsy recently penned “The Black Arts Enterprise and the Production of African-American Poetry,” an interpretation of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

The critically acclaimed works of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Colson Whitehead have appeared atop The New York Times best seller list, and have also received the National Book Award. Prominent figures, such as former President Barack Obama and Toni Morrison, have lauded both authors for their distinguished works.

Engles said he hopes Rambsy will discuss Cornel West’s recent verbal attack on Coates, expressed in an op-ed article on The Guardian news site. In the article West said Coates does not discuss the worst offenses of white supremacists. He also criticized Coates for his silence on a number of issues, including greed on Wall Street and imperialistic military policies.

Rambsy gained Engles’ attention on the subject after he read a 2016 journal article which illustrated Coates’ route to success relative to other African-American writers.

“I think the audience will come away understanding the extent of the impact Coates and Whitehead have had on American culture, as well as what the enthusiastic response to their respective works reveals about the reception of the work of Black writers in the United States in general,” Bredesen said.

Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].