Texas A&M Hopes to Lure Faculty, Students with Acquisition of Black Literary Journal, Editor UVA official calls editor’s departure ‘painful.’
By Eleanor Lee Yates
COLLEGE STATION, Texas
Although Texas A&M University’s African American studies department is small — currently two assistant professors teach courses — university officials hope that having Dr. Charles Rowell and his award-winning African American literary journal Callaloo on board will be a catalyst for attracting more faculty and students.
It was Dr. Janis Stout, dean of faculties and assistant provost at Texas A&M, who got the ball rolling last year to lure Rowell to Texas from the University of Virginia (see Black Issues, Aug. 30).
“I remember it very clearly. There was an administrative retreat, and I’d taken copies of Callaloo. I said to the others that I’d really like to bring Dr. Rowell here,” Stout recalls. “As my colleagues sat around, there emerged a unanimous sense that if we could do this, it would have great impact on Texas A&M.
“We’re ecstatic. We think having Dr. Rowell and Callaloo here will provide a center of energy and intellectualism,” says Stout.
Dr. Charles Johnson, dean of liberal arts at Texas A&M, says supporting Callaloo underscores the university’s commitment to diversity, and feels that Rowell’s presence will broaden the scholarly vistas of undergraduate and graduate students.
In addition to directing Callaloo, Rowell will teach one African American or Southern literature course each semester.
“Callaloo will be appreciated and supported at Texas A&M,” said Rowell in a telephone interview.
Though Rowell refused to divulge figures, he says Callaloo’s budget would increase threefold and his quarters would be five times the size of its UVA space.
Throughout its 25-year history, the quarterly journal has featured such luminaries as Albert Murray, Gwendolyn Brooks, Alice Walker, Ernest Gaines and Amiri Baraka. It has helped launch the careers of Elizabeth Alexander, Carl Phillips, Brenda Marie Osbey, Thomas Glave, Kevin Young, Thomas Sayers Ellis and others.
Johns Hopkins Press will continue to print the literary quarterly, regarded as the premier African American literary journal as well as the oldest continually published African American literary publication.
One of Rowell’s stipulations to the move was bringing his managing editor Ginger Thornton. Thornton has been managing editor for over a year but has been associated with Callaloo since 1991.
“I’ll miss many people at UVA, but it’s nice to have a fresh start,” says Thornton. “With each move for Callaloo there has been a corresponding expansion in content. Exciting things seem to cluster around a move.
“This move will allow Callaloo to operate far beyond anything we’ve enjoyed in the past,” says Thornton, who is returning to her native state and will be a teaching assistant at Texas A&M. “It also changes the landscape of the African American program at Texas A&M and puts it within striking distance of having an incredibly rich African American program, which is hard to do these days.”
A Strong Asset
Callaloo’s departure was not exactly welcome news at UVA, says Dr. Michael Levenson, chair of the English department. He called Rowell’s departure “painful,” and says Callaloo had been a strong asset for the university.
“Charles has done a magnificent job, and we wish him well,” says Levenson. “This news is still very new. I knew other institutions were looking to hire him away, but this is a real disappointment.” He added that it is too early to say how the university may try to overcome the loss.
Levenson says it is ironic that the English department had recently beefed up its already strong African American studies area with the hiring of two noted professors from the University of Michigan, Drs. Marlon Ross and Ian Grandison.
Callaloo, which takes its name from a Caribbean stew made from greens, onions and crabmeat, has traveled geographically and internally. Rowell began the publication in 1976 while he was a professor at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La. A year later Rowell and Callaloo moved to the University of Kentucky. For awhile, the journal was a voice for Southern African American writers but then began to shed some of its Southern identity. It broadened its base to African American fiction, poetry and literary criticism from all over the nation and outside the United States.
“I was publishing it myself and distributing it out of my office,” recalls Rowell of the journal’s early years. Callaloo and Rowell moved to the University of Virginia in 1986. Through the years the journal enlarged its scope, also publishing African Diaspora and Caribbean works.
The journal’s move coincides with its 25th anniversary, which will be commemorated with the publication of The Best of Callaloo by St. Martin’s Press. Callaloo will continue what has become an annual fall event, a reading series at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York. This year the event features George Wolfe, Rita Dove and John Edgar Wideman. Later in the year Callaloo will sponsor a panel at the Modern Language Association Conference in New Orleans and will host readings from Ernest Gaines, Brenda Marie Osbey and Yusef Komunyakaa.
Rowell spent much of August packing up his books, preparing for the move.
“I’m going to miss the excellent students at UVA. They’re among the best I’ve ever taught. I’ve loved teaching here,” says Rowell. “I’ll miss the beautiful landscape, and I’ll miss my home.”
Rowell says he is looking forward to working with assistant professors Finnie Coleman and Kimberly Brown in building African American studies. He’s also excited about setting up Callaloo’s new office. All told, he is excited about this new chapter.
“This is an extraordinary time for African American writers and poets,” he says. “It’s a true renaissance.”
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