The Department of English and the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies collaborated to jointly hire Assistant Professor Njelle Hamilton, who joins the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences this fall. For the last two years, she was an assistant professor of Anglophone Literature at Plymouth State University. A scholar of postcolonial and Caribbean literature, Hamilton is interested in how oral and print cultures cross-pollinate, and in how contemporary writers deal in their work with the region’s social and political issues of the last 60 years. She is currently working on a book that examines the use of popular music forms such as reggae, calypso, and the mambo in contemporary Caribbean novels dealing with trauma, memory and identity.
Hope Bay, Portland, Jamaica.
Writing novels and songs; traveling; biblical research and exegesis.
How are you spending this summer?
Packing and moving to Charlottesville!
Tell us something about yourself that people would be surprised to hear.
I was a cultural ambassador for Jamaica during the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France.
Who is your greatest hero, and why?
I don’t know that I have heroes per se, but I’ve been fascinated for some time now with the Marys of the New Testament, particularly Mary of Bethany who left her housework to sit and learn at Jesus’ feet, and who anointed him before his crucifixion; and Mary Magdalene who was the first to see him alive and the first to get the commission to “go and tell” that He is risen, and to the male disciples no less!
I find these little snippets of the lives of women in general and female disciples in particular to be so full of suggestion, and I am obsessed with trying to understand what social, cultural, and religious circumstances, and what personal convictions led them to eschew traditional gender norms and to end up in such enviable positions in Jesus’ life and ministry. That church history and Christian doctrine largely ignore and often silence these women make them even more impressive to me.
Tell us about your most embarrassing moment.
Back in college, I drove for almost a whole day, cross-country, to meet my then-favorite singer, Jon Secada, when he visited Jamaica for a show. This after I had to call the local radio station several times just to get on air and answer a question to win tickets to the show, overnight stay at a hotel, and backstage pass to meet him. But when I went up to him for the meet and greet and the photo, I completely flubbed my hello, even though I had rehearsed what I would say, because, of course! I don’t know if he heard what I said, much less understood my mangled words, and worse, the photo captured my embarrassed face for posterity and publication. Oh, and we were late to the show because we got lost. But it was a great show!
What is the best place you’ve ever lived or visited, and why?
Tough one! I’ve lived in and visited so many awesome places. Lived in: a toss up between Marseilles and Paris. Marseilles because I was young and in love, and it was the first big city I lived in outside of Kingston. I have so many great memories there, and just seeing a photo of Vieux Port (the Old Harbor) gives me goose pimples. Paris, because it’s Paris! But mostly because that was where I had my first ever solo apartment (an amazing artsy loft in the 18th) and lived the bohemian life.
Visited: Jerusalem, because it had been a lifelong dream, and was full of historical and spiritual significance for me.
Thinking about the role of technology in education, what will the U.Va. learning experience be like in 2030?
I teach literature, so I hope the study of literature and the value of books will have remained central to the humanities and the liberal arts. While I hope that the essence of the literature classroom will have remained the same, I expect that we will have found ways to meaningfully and productively connect the solitary and immersive practice of reading literature, and the intellectual rigor of critical reading and writing, with the technologies and skills students will be using outside the classroom.
Literature professors already use multimedia to help students connect the text to its context, so what I’d like to see by then is that students become immersed in the contexts themselves – they engage with the authors via social media, they go to literary readings – and bring that richness back to classroom discussions of their readings of the texts. I also envision a future in which assignments continue to be diversified, so in addition to training students in writing traditional literary analyses, essays, theses, etc, we also afford them opportunities to produce films, blogs, and other digital and web content – or whatever other media might exist by then!
What do you think you will enjoy most about Charlottesville and U.Va.?
I haven’t moved to Charlottesville as yet, so what I most look forward to is being part of a large and vibrant intellectual and cultural community again, as I’ve lived in a rural area and been teaching at a much smaller school for the past two years.
If money were no object, what else would you like to pursue?
I’d live by the ocean and write novels and songs all day.
What advice would you give to incoming first-year students?
The first year is often stressful, challenging, overwhelming, exciting and liberating all at once. You want to make sure that as early as possible, you identify support resources, and develop good habits that will last you throughout college and beyond – figure out when and where best you study; figure out what kinds of friends help you to be the best you; figure out what you need to keep healthy emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc; and figure out where to go to get help for a variety of issues.
Most importantly, take this year to figure out who you are, and who you want to be. That’s really the coolest thing about being in college: the opportunity to grow your personal and intellectual self. Have fun! And don’t do stupid things. It’s never worth it.