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accents on english | fall 18-spring 19

Lois Brown, Foundation Professor (Literature) and Director, Center for the Study of Race and Democracy

Foundation Professor Lois Brown moved to Arizona in the blaze of July heat and her work as the director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy has been on fire ever since.

Currently developing a two-to-three-year program plan under the heading of “Race and Place,” Brown has been long-interested in that relationship. Her commitment to this interconnectedness is visible in her extensive research on telling untold histories and narratives of African Americans: “I’m somebody who really likes to think about what is below the surface and contemplate what we haven’t seen yet or what we think we’ve forgotten.”

Invested in the process of excavating memories, Brown is a literature scholar who frequents archives. Archives are generative places, and she first fell in love with archival research while writing her first book, a biography of Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, when an archivist introduced her to a collection of uncatalogued materials. Those records, she explains, are filled with treasure in the form of untold narratives.

Brown’s love of unearthing memory can also be seen in her research visits to old cemeteries. These sites are particularly intriguing for historical work because of their spatial organization and varying levels of preservation. In some cases, headstones have fallen over, leaving only a smooth, unmarked rock visible while valuable historical and identifying markers are submerged in the earth. When this occurs, Brown, often in the company of students that she takes on field trips to local sites, will lift the headstones—an act that reveals hidden, sometimes forgotten, histories.

While at ASU, Brown intends to engage with these histories in the classroom. Her first course at ASU, an undergraduate class entitled “Race, Place, and Memory in African American Literature,” examined these themes. “Memory is different in the Southwest. Starting points are different,” she explains. In her course, Brown explored the role of the geography and history of the Southwest in this dynamic.

—Emily Robinson

Image: ASU Directory photo of Lois Brown.