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Linda Arnold Carlisle Faculty Research Grant

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Dr. Noelle Morrissette - Winner, 2013-2014 Linda Arnold Carlisle Grant

Dr. Noelle Morrisette, cross-appointed faculty member in English and in Women’s and Gender Studies, is the winner of the 2013-2014 Linda Arnold Carlisle Faculty Research Grant. Her project is titled "Anne Spencer: Letters and Legacy." In her proposal, Morrissette describes her project:

Anne Spencer (1882-1975) is frequently referred to as a major poet of the Harlem Renaissance—the artistic flowering of nationally conscious black arts in the early twentieth-century, roughly 1919-1940—but she never lived in Harlem. She didn’t live in any major metropolitan or northern city. Spencer lived in the South her entire life, the latter seventy-four years of it in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she wrote the poems that brought her to the readership of The Crisis, Opportunity Magazine, and other major African American and American literary journals that proclaimed the newness of black participation in the changing social, political, and artistic landscape of America.

My project interrogates the assumption made during the Harlem Renaissance and echoed by African American literary and cultural criticism since the 1970s that black literary modernism found its greatest writers in urban centers of the North, the exclusive sites of a New Negro sensibility and the “Renaissance.” I provide a much-needed critique of the seemingly perpetual exclusion of black women’s writing from serious consideration in literary and cultural scholarship of black modernism. And I intend to reverse the conservative and commonly gender-inflected discussion of “influence” in the forming of individual and shared literary practices during the Harlem Renaissance period, arguing that women writers’ work from locations outside the urban North had a deep impact on both the letters and legacy of the Harlem Renaissance period, and were a major contribution that made it into a national movement.

While my book project on Spencer is a life and letters project, it is more specifically a women’s and gender studies project, one that draws attention to the persistent undervaluation of women’s writing and lives, even as the work of recuperating important movements related to the claim of citizenship by major minority groups such as African Americans seems to have reached its fullest exposition. In my first monograph, James Weldon Johnson’s Modern Soundscapes (University of Iowa Press, May 2013), I discussed how the environment of American sounds—noise, Broadway musicals, novelistic vocalization—shaped Johnson’s experiences and became the foundation of his literary aesthetic. In “Anne Spencer: Letters and Legacy” I will focus on Spencer’s mentoring of Johnson, Sterling Brown, Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, and other lesser-known women writers of the period, using the letters I collect and annotate to re-frame and develop our understanding of the poet and her life. This new work on Spencer will place the poet at the center of conversations about black life and art in the early twentieth century, and demonstrate the writer’s influence on the Harlem Renaissance from her home and garden in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Life and letters projects have the dangerous potential to renew racist, elitist, and patriarchal assumptions about culture and literature. For example, Spencer, who had substantial correspondence over almost two decades with James Weldon Johnson, has been described as his mentee, while he has been credited with making her career as a writer. The model of “influence” has been used by literary scholars far too often as a way of devaluing original work, and of describing women’s authorship as a passive receiving of someone else’s superior wisdom and standards. I will connect Spencer to Johnson, Brown, and others not reductively or passively—“Spencer was influenced by Johnson”—but by showing that Spencer’s life, words, and example shaped what we perceive as the Northern, metropolitan phenomenon of the Harlem Renaissance.  Studying Spencer in this innovative way revises our idea of what the Harlem Renaissance was, how it drew on the sensibilities of writers from without its narrow definitions, contemporary and current. By understanding Spencer’s life, I will argue, our understanding of this significant modern moment in the American nation is changed. Such an argument should suggest further scholarly work that can be done by challenging conventional critical frameworks and their often dismissive treatment of women writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

This work on Spencer draws on my knowledge of the Harlem Renaissance era, my interest in black feminisms, and my commitment to reflecting on the practice of African American biography. I organized a panel for the upcoming American Literature Association on this topic, which will be addressed by prominent women writers in the field, including Joanne Braxton, Carla Kaplan, Emily Bernard, and myself.

Dr. Morrissette holds a Ph.D. in African American Studies and English Literature from Yale University, and her M. Phil in African American Studies and English Literature, and her M.A. in African Studies from Yale. She teaches African American Literature: American Modernisms; Race, Gender and Sexuality; African American Writers after the 1920s; Themes in Literature: The Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age; and Major American Authors: Realist to Modern at UNCG.

Other Carlisle Awards Winners

1995 Dr. Hephzibah Roskelly
Department of English
“Widening the Circle: Group Learning for Change”
1996 Dr. Paige Hall Smith
Public Health Education
“Seeking Shelter: A Contextual Analysis of Decision-Making by Women Experiencing Battering”
1997 Dr. Jude Rathburn
Bryan School of Business
“Women Working Together as Friends and Collaborators: Building a Community of Scholars”
1998  Dr. Leandra A. Bedini
Leisure Studies
“Differentiating Perceptions of Entitlement to Leisure of Caregivers of Older Adults”
1999-2000  Mary P. Erdmans
Department of Sociology
“Oral Histories of White, Working-Class Women”
2000-2001  Lucinda Kaukas
Department of Housing and Interior Design
“Re-Placing Women in the History of Modern Architecture and Design”
2001-2002  Katherine M. Jamieson
Department of Exercise and Sport Science
“An Assessment of Physical Activity Patterns Among Immigrant Adolescent Latinas in North Carolina”
2002-2003  Ann Dils
Department of Dance
“Doris’ Children: History, Tradition, and the Humphrey Line”
2003-2004  Karin Baumgartner
Department of German and Russian
“Letters From Paris: A German Woman’s View from Post-Revolutionary France”
2004-2005  Juana Suarez
Department of Romance Languages
“From the Brigades: Critical Essays on Columbian Cinema”
2005-2006  Elizabeth Keathley
School of Music
“The Feminine Face of Musical Modernism: Schoenberg’s Women Collaborators”
2006-2007  Jody Natalle
Department of Communication
“Jacqueline Kennedy as International Diplomat”
Jennifer Keith
Department of Music
“The Poems of Anne Finch: A Critical Edition”
2007-2008 Alexandra Schultheis
Department of English
“The Songs and Sentences of the Drapchi 14”
2008-2009  Michelle Dowd
Department of English
“Adam's Rib: An Anthology of Early Modern Women's Writing on the Fall”
2009-2010  Stephen Sills
Department of Sociology
“Impact of Global Downturn on Filipina Factory Workers”
2010-2011  Lisa Levenstein
Department of History
"Don't Agonize, Organize" Displaced Homemakers and the Decline of the Family Wage in the Postwar United States
2011-2012 Elizabeth Bucar
Department of Religious Studies
"The Islamic Veil: A Beginner's Guide"
2012-2013 Christine Woodworth
Department of Theatre
"From Pantomime to Propaganda: Actress Kitty Marion and Birth Control Reform"
2013-2014 Noelle Morrissette
Department of English
"Southern Modernisms: Anne Spencer's Letters and Legacy"

Carlisle Research Award Description

(more info above)

Linda Arnold Carlisle Faculty Research Grants are awarded to UNCG faculty to support research or creative activity related to women's and gender studies. All full-time faculty who have not received the Carlisle Grant within the past three years are eligible to apply. Grants are awarded based on the quality and completeness of the proposal, significance of the project, its implication for women's and gender studies, and the significance of the project to the applicant's career and future plans

Carlisle Faculty grants provide a stipend of $1000 to support tenure-track faculty research. These awards have contributed to other awards and honors for faculty. Michelle Dowd, for example, later won the Sara A. Whaley Book Award from the National Women’s Studies Association for Women’s Work in Early Modern English Literature and Culture, 2009.

Applications are available electronically at our web site, and may be submitted via email, with subject line "LAC Faculty Grant Application," to cllindse@uncg.edu or printed and delivered in hard copy to the WGS office, 336 Curry Bldg. All applications must be received by 5PM on March 25.

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