News and Events
Holmes and Hughes
Pepperdine professor David Holmes embarks on a semester at the University of Kansas in the prestigious role of Langston Hughes Visiting Professor
When author and activist Langston Hughes was growing up in Lawrence, Kansas, in the early 1900s, the landscape of racial parity in America was bleak. Raised by his maternal grandmother in the small, rural town, Hughes was as proud of his heritage as he was enamored with language and literature, and married the two with a prolific bibliography of novels, plays, and poetry collections that tackled race and the human condition. His works include Not Without Laughter (1930), I Wonder as I Wander (1956), Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951), and Jericho-Jim Crow (1964).
Today, the University of Kansas honors Lawrence's famous former resident with the Langston Hughes Visiting Professorship—a position that attracts prominent or emerging ethnic minority scholars. Pepperdine English professor and director of African American Studies, David Holmes, was named the Langston Hughes Visiting Professor of Spring 2013, a position in which he will teach one undergraduate course on fiction, film, and music about the civil rights movement, and a graduate seminar exploring a few of the contemporary rhetorical, religious, political, and pedagogical implications of the civil rights movements.
We talk with Holmes about his appointment, what he is looking forward to about his time in Kansas, and Langston Hughes' impact on his life and career:
PEPPERDINE: This position has been held by many prominent scholars, how does it feel to be following in their footsteps as the Langston Hughes Visiting Professor?
DAVID HOLMES: To say I am honored would be a tremendous understatement. First, Langston Hughes was one of the premier literary artists and cultural critics of the 20th century. The scholars who have held this honor before me hail from the arts, humanities, social, and natural sciences. While I'm humbled by the invitation, I am encouraged by what this honor says about my teaching, professional service, and scholarship.
Has Langston Hughes' life and works had an influence on you? How so?
The range of Langton Hughes's works have inspired and intimidated me. Best known for poetry, he wrote plays, novels, short stories, essays, and two lengthy autobiographies. Hughes's talent for evoking universal sensibilities from his particular experiences as a black man cuts to the heart of what makes great literature. Most of us can't be Hughes but we can experience him, cuddle up to his greatness.
How did you decide what to explore in the two classes that you'll be teaching?
The civil rights movement remains a fertile ground for rhetorical, social, political, and pedagogical study. As an English Professor, I am interested in how certain historical movements are recreated in literature, film, and other forms of popular culture.
What are your thoughts on the role of African American Studies in higher education today?
African American Studies has undergone several changes since the 1960s. Unfortunately, some believe this collection of fields to be confined to protest history, cultural practices, or identity politics. African American Studies enriches our study of this nation precisely because this collection of fields speaks to the human condition on a multidisciplinary level. Since African American Studies remains a relatively underrepresented course of study, many misconceptions abound.
What are some of the most important issues and topics that need to be explored in African American studies today?
There are many issues related to African American Studies that could be explored. With the election and reelection of the first Black President, one issue must be what we mean by a post-racial society. Is post-racial synonymous with post-racism? Does the election of Obama mean that we as Americans have liberated ourselves from deeply entrenched cultural or even intellectual assumptions and institutional practices? How should living in a post-racial society shape the way we teach, research and serve, especially in a Christian university?
What are you hoping to bring back to our students at Pepperdine from this experience?
I plan on teaching a course on Hughes during the third summer session and the fall. I hope to bring the students insights into a man who contributed to the shaping of wider American literature and culture. Hughes belongs to all people.
For fun, what are you most looking forward to doing or seeing in Kansas?
Not freezing to death! There are some museums I want to visit and, of course, walk down the streets that Hughes walked.
Thank you for talking with us, David! Anything else you want to add?
I have taught at Pepperdine since 1993. This is my home. I look at my appointment as the Langston Hughes Professor at the University of Kansas as an honor for me and Pepperdine.
David G. Holmes is Professor of English and Director of African American Studies at Pepperdine University. The author of Revisiting Racialized Voice: African American Ethos in Language and Literature, some of his articles have appeared in College English, Rhetoric Review, and the award-winning anthology Calling Cards. His current interests include African American expressive culture, political rhetoric, political theology, religious rhetoric, and rhetorics of racism. His major project focuses on remapping the rhetorical narratives of the Birmingham mass meetings of 1963. A frequent presenter at the CCC and RSA, he has held offices in the Conference on College Composition and Communication and has served on the editorial board for the CCC journal. He recently received the Howard A. White Award for teaching excellence at Pepperdine.
The Langston Hughes Visiting Professorship was established at the University of Kansas in 1977 in honor of the African American poet, playwright and fiction writer who lived in Lawrence from 1903 to 1916. Over the years, the visiting professorship has attracted prominent or emerging ethnic minority scholars to the university campus, involving a broad range of disciplines and academic departments/schools.