English professor to research African American writers as Harvard Fellow

Dr. Martha Patterson writing book on Harlem Renaissance newspapers

A McKendree University English professor will continue her study of Harlem Renaissance literature as a Fellow of The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University during the fall semester.

Dr. Martha Patterson will be completing her book project, entitled “The Harlem Renaissance Weekly.” It examines the work of major and minor African American writers who published their work serially in popular black newspapers during the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s.

“My research process has uncovered African American writers and works lost or forgotten in the pages of what most considered an ephemeral medium—newspapers,” Patterson said. “The stories these newspaper writers tell were, most often, written quickly and under deadline with the objective of selling papers and making a living. At the same time, many of these writers were vitally engaged with pressing civil rights struggles and literary debates of their day. Some published books, won prizes, and became part of what we know now as the Harlem Renaissance literary canon. Others did not. But, regardless, given the limited opportunities for black writers in the period and the critical avenue for publication that newspapers provided, understanding the literary work in these papers will, I hope, provide an important contribution to African American studies and American literature more broadly.”

Patterson is a professor of English and the coordinator of prestigious scholarships and fellowships at McKendree. For many years, she has researched the influence of African American newspapers on American culture. In addition to her book project, she is collaborating on a series of essays with Henry Louis Gates Jr., a renowned scholar of African American writing and director of the Hutchins Center at Harvard.

Patterson will be the Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow of the W.E.B Du Bois Research Institute in the Hutchins Center. The center supports research on the history and culture of people of African descent and provides a forum for collaboration and exchange of ideas. Fellows participate in activities including workshops and a weekly colloquium, sharing their work with Institute colleagues, Harvard faculty, graduate students and others. The fellowship program will adapt to a virtual format this fall due to the Covid-19 pandemic and give Patterson remote access to Harvard’s library and other resources.

“Being part of a Hutchins Fellowship community of scholars will offer me an invaluable intellectual environment and the time necessary to complete a project that highlights one of the most important vehicles for black protest, affirmation, and literary accomplishment—the immensely rich landscape of American black newspapers,” she said.

PHOTO: Henry Louis Gates Jr., a renowned scholar of African American writing and the director of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, and Dr. Martha Patterson, professor of English at McKendree University.

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