IRAAS Newsletter - Winter 2016 Edition IRAAS Newsletter Winter 2016 - Page 8

I! N S! I! G H T IRAAS student Elizabeth Sarah Ross ’16 recently interviewed Professor Marcellus Blount, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at C o l u m b i a U n i v e r s i t y. Professor Blount was recently named Director of Graduate Studies of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies. !What drew you to American and African-American literary and cultural studies? As an undergrad I had no idea that I wanted to go to graduate school. Then when I got to graduate school, I had no idea that I wanted to get a PhD. I went to graduate school and really fell in love with my seminars, with faculty, but mostly with my cohort of other students. I thought, I am not clear about what I want to do with the rest of my life, but this is the space that I want to be in. So, I end up getting a Master’s in African American Studies at Yale and then went on to the PhD in American Studies. !H o w did you become involved with IRAAS? I arrived at Columbia in the fall of 1985. I was a young, frail thing and I was faced with the task of integrating the English Department. There were no African American faculty when I arrived and very few in the Arts and Sciences. For a time I was Chair of a very small committee of faculty [who] were able to lobby for an African Studies major. It was finally when we were able to hire Dr. Manning Marable that IRAAS was founded. So, I am a part of the pre-history of the Institute and have always worked in teaching in IRAAS, working with students, and being involved in programming. !Y o u have coedited Representing Black Men, and, more recently, you completed "Listening for My Name: African American Men and the Politics of Friendship." What did you discover in this research? In my work, I have discovered that African American men need to be liberated from gender ideologies. Part of what I do in looking at literature, film, and other cultural texts is to see what I call an extravagant masculinity and how we might deconstruct that to achieve a sense of the male interior. My work probes the black male interior. !Your current project is a study of issues related to race and marriage equality. What can you tell us about that project? What my project is arguing is that we have to think about sexual orientation differently with respect to African American culture. Looking at marriage equality is a way of my using a particular instance to test my theory about how, in fact, African Americans are more progressive than we are often told in the media. But, the ways in which we express our ideas about sexuality are often times culturally specific. The project that I am working on is about language, so it is connected to work that I’ve done in the past, but it’s more explicitly about social institutions.