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Maurice Wallace Broadens Study of Black Identity In The Arts, On The Streets

Published November 20, 2016 in News

Associate Professor of English Maurice Wallace wasted no time in jumping into the University of Virginia’s interdisciplinary humanities community in 2015. Freshly hired as a member of the English department faculty and the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, within a year he was named the institute’s associate director.

Having a range of academic interests, he said he has found a ready-made community here. “It’s easy to be interdisciplinary at UVA,” he said.

Photo CreditDan Addison, University CommunicationsUVA appealed to him for its “storied English department” with its strengths across periods and genres. “I’ve always had great admiration for the department,” he said.

Previously on the faculty at Duke University, he had no problem coming here after his wife, Pamela Sutton-Wallace, was named chief executive officer of the UVA Health System, he said.

The history and legacy of the Woodson Institute also attracted him, and he’s happy to support its activities, faculty, fellows and undergraduate students in his associate director role. It’s an important time for the institute, when it’s realizing long-term aspirations and casting for a new vision, he said.

“Maurice’s contributions to the Woodson Institute are manifold,” English Professor Deborah McDowell, who directs the institute, wrote in an e-mail. “Not only does he bring a distinguished record of scholarly achievement, he brings his talents as a master teacher. Whether he’s teaching the writings of James Baldwin, the films of Spike Lee or ‘Slavery and the Literary Imagination,’ he provides our students a challenging – and stimulating – classroom experience.

Maurice Wallace, associate professor of English, is also associate director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“He has also become, for many of them, a trusted mentor and a confidante, whose guidance extends well beyond the classroom.”

A scholar of 19th and 20th-century African-American literature and cultural studies, Wallace’s scholarship focuses on the intersection of the visual arts with identity and political movements. He co-edited with Shawn Michelle Smith “Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity,” which was published in 2012. Frederick Douglass, the best-known 19th-century ex-slave dedicated to abolition, was very aware of how his photographic portrayal would represent his race, for instance.

Wallace has already shared his expertise in several conferences on Grounds. Most recently, he spoke about the public speaking power of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “King’s Vibrato: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Sound of Blackness” on a panel about soundscapes in the Civil Rights Movement that was part of the October symposium in honor of Julian Bond. The talk about King comes from the subject of his current book project on the civil rights leader’s oratorical eloquence.

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