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University distinguished professor of English to deliver inaugural lecture

Monday, March 23, 2015

LAWRENCE — Maryemma Graham, university distinguished professor of English at the University of Kansas, will present her inaugural lecture at 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 23, in the Bruckmiller Room of the Adams Alumni Center. The lecture, “Incidents in the Life of a Genre: Autobiography and Self-Invention,” focuses on the boom in autobiography and memoir as both the oldest and newest trend in books.

Graham is an internationally recognized scholar on African-American literature and founder and director of the Project on the History of Black Writing (HBW). The Project has been at the forefront of inclusion efforts in higher education since its founding more than 30 years ago. It is the only archive of its kind dedicated to literary recovery, professional development and the public humanities.

Widely known for her pioneering work in digital humanities, Graham’s first National Endowment for the Humanities project, A Computer-Assisted Analysis of Black Literature, was the forerunner to HBW.

Graham has been with the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences since 1998, including one year as the Langston Hughes Visiting Professor. She is the author or editor of 12 books, including "The Cambridge History of African American Literature" (with Jerry W. Ward Jr.), the first comprehensive African-American literary history to be published in the 21st century. In January, Graham published “Toni Morrison: Au-delà du visible ordinaire / Beyond the Ordinary Visible.” Working with Andree-Anne Kekeh from the University of Paris and Janis A. Mayes of Syracuse University, Graham and her colleagues believe that Morrison provided an opportunity for an innovative project in trans-Atlantic collaborative scholarship, which they define as multilingual, multivocal and multigenre, taking into account a range of different registers of languages, in both French and English.

Graham has thus advanced her thesis that breaking down barriers requires crossing borders geographically, historically, socially and linguistically — something she hopes to do as co-editor of a new book series with Ashgate Publishing on transcultural mobility. In 2016, Oxford University Press will release her long-awaited biography, "The House Where My Soul Lives: the Life of Margaret Walker."

She is perhaps best known for her public outreach in the humanities, where she has facilitated inter-institutional networks of peers nationally and globally, and coordinated large-scale public programs that extend the reach of academic scholarship.

At KU, Graham founded the Langston Hughes National Poetry Project and is currently working with Associate Professor of History Jacob Dorman on a Langston in Lawrence project, which builds upon the work of numerous Lawrence residents and KU faculty. While president of the Toni Morrison Society, she created Language Matters, an international National Endowment for the Humanities-supported teaching initiative to bring together scholars from three continents. More recently, she convened the Haiti Research Initiative, a network of scholars whose visit and published report helped to re-establish lines of communication to a country with which KU has had a long-standing relationship. She served as co-chair of the inaugural KU Common Book Committee and routinely teaches first-year students at KU. Recognition at KU includes induction into the Women's Hall of Fame and the Steeples Service to Kansas Award.

Graham has been inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent, is a fellow of the American Antiquarian Society and received the Darwin Turner Award for outstanding contributions to scholarship from the American Literature Association. She has been a John Hope Franklin fellow at the National Humanities Center, an American Council of Learned Societies fellow, a Hall Center fellow and a recipient of more than 15 grants from the NEH, the Ford Foundation and the Mellon Foundation.

Graham also is distinguished visiting professor at Harbin Engineering University and Central China Normal University. She will visit annually to work with Chinese scholars of American and ethnic literature and help set up exchange programs between the universities and KU.

Graham received a bachelor's degree in English and journalism from the University of North Carolina, a master's in English from Northwestern University, a master's in Africana studies from Cornell University and a doctorate in English from Cornell.