Posted by: gdevi | April 29, 2015

Awesome news!

Awesome news! Congratulations, Sharon! Distinguished Professor, richly deserved!  Good photo; I miss Merrifield Hall and the English office!  Thanks, Birgit, for nominating Sharon, and for asking me to write a recommendation letter.  I am so delighted. Here is the letter I wrote for your nomination in February, Sharon; hush hush and on the QT:

Dr. Gayatri Devi

Department of English

Lock Haven University

Lock Haven, PA 17745

Tel: 570-484-2284

Email: gdevi@lhup.edu

February 23, 2015

To Whom It May Concern:

I am delighted to write this letter in support of Professor Sharon Carson, Professor of English, and Professor of Philosophy and Religion, at the University of North Dakota, on her nomination for the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship. I studied with Professor Carson in the 1990s. Professor Carson was a member of my doctoral dissertation committee, and my interactions with her both in and out of the classroom, as well as on my Ph.D. advising committee have confirmed Sharon’s esteemed standing in my eyes as an exemplary teacher, scholar, and social and community activist. The UND English department is home to several great teachers and scholars, and I have had the great honor to study with several of these noteworthy men and women. Professor Carson, Sharon, is definitely one such esteemed scholar, who has irreversibly shaped the intellectual, academic, and cultural ethos of the UND English department, indeed UND campus, and the greater Grand Forks community in highly visible, important and enduring ways. I fully support Professor Carson’s nomination to the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship.

Professor Carson and I started our work at UND roughly at the same time: 1990-1991. Though I was not an Americanist—I studied Humor Theory with Michael Beard—I took two classes with Professor Carson that doubtlessly influenced my intellectual development as a scholar and teacher. One was an upper level seminar on African American Literary Theory, and the other was a course on the Homeric epics. As a brand new Assistant Professor, Sharon did something quite extraordinary in that time and place in 1990s North Dakota to offer a seminar on race relations, both contemporarily and historically. We read the most up-to-date scholarship on conceptualizing and problematizing the mythical narratives about slavery, social justice, and individual explorations that traversed race, gender, class and other vectors of social identity. It was an incredible class with like-minded students and a highly knowledgeable, nurturing and challenging teacher. Years later, as a young faculty member at the University of Texas at Dallas, I had a graduate student approach me to do an independent study with her on the concepts of Negritude and African-American literary theories. It was a great course, and I rediscovered the links between my own course and Sharon’s course explicitly as I guided my student through foundational research in the field from Sharon’s well-crafted reading list and bibliography. In many ways, I am still participating in the dialogue and conversation Sharon started all those years ago about race, gender, and now, transnationalism.

The second course that I took with Sharon was a seminar on the Homeric epics where we read the entire Iliad and parts of the Odyssey, and magnificent commentaries on both. Reading Homer is a life-changing experience because of the sheer density of human experience packed into these texts. Again, years later, one of the first seminars that I taught at Lock Haven University was Women Writers and Peace, and we read selections from the Iliad and also Simone Weil’s classic The Iliad, Or The Poem of Force. Sharon introduced me to that book. I teach the Homeric epics to undergraduate students, and Sharon taught me a way to make these ancient texts relevant to modern times. One of the best comments that I got from a student, for instance, who was in my Greek myths class was this: “You make texts that are thousands of years old feel as if they are from yesterday.” I learned to think along those lines in Sharon’s class, to some extent. The scholar/activist in me shares that context with Sharon.

Thus, Sharon’s contributions to the intellectual life of the department, its students, and colleagues are vast and deep and long-lasting in terms of the programs she designed and taught, and the dedicated attention she paid to graduate students in mentoring us for conferences, for job search and campus activities. I should point out here Sharon’s dedicated publication history, whose explicit focus is to bring back into intellectual and critical conversation not only notable figures in African-American history, theology or labor history, but also little known and perhaps unknown figures in these areas, whose contributions Sharon interprets for us with historical and contemporary exigency. Sharon’s work in independent radio in the tri-state area, as well as her work for the Prairie Independent newspaper merit recognition in this context as well, as does her work in new media forms such as the aesthetic and intellectual cross-pollination of traditional humanities with multi-media platforms, digital, and web-interfaced formats. Sharon’s most recent invitation to book reviewers for the North Dakota Quarterly, for which she serves as the interim editor, and I as a reviewer, makes this goal for greater connectedness evident: “We also hope to increasingly review literature, creative nonfiction, poetry, scholarship, essays, translations, and multi-media performance projects produced by writers and artists working anywhere in the world, with an invitation to our reviewers to use these pieces to illuminate regional links and interconnections. Our audience will remain varied as we work to make our interpretive lenses international and transnational: we want NDQ to be a journal that contributes to public humanities and international civic life.” I applaud Sharon for leading this initiative to widen the reach of UND Humanities in all its contemporary variety and diversity.

Moreover, Sharon practiced what she preached, and I have followed her work on behalf of the Sioux people to remove their forcible abjection as a team mascot with great respect. It takes courage to speak the truth, however unsavory the truth might be. It takes courage to speak about race-relations, racism, corporate malfeasance, LGBT rights and other challenges that need ethical resolution. Sharon has voiced her ethical concerns clearly, loudly, visibly, and oftentimes, humorously. In this respect, Sharon’s leadership and activism in the greater community of Grand Forks, and indeed the states of North and South Dakota are remarkable. Sharon’s commitment to making the UND campus a safe place for all students, staff and faculty is underwritten in the role she played in co-authoring the Report of the Special Task Force on Critical Incidents, her membership in the Campus Committee for Human Rights, faculty advisor to UND Black Students Association, faculty team coordinator for the Sjodin investigation, editorial board services for the Indians Into Journalism initiative and several other educational and social issues. These engagements profile Sharon to be an exemplary scholar/activist who reminds us that everything human is the proper domain of those of us who work in the humanities.

The above achievements I have discussed give a small glimpse into the powerhouse of credentials and accolades that have come in search of Professor Carson during her tenure at UND. Professor Carson has served the University of North Dakota with great dedication, distinction, courage, collegiality and boundless love for her students and her chosen field of work. For these reasons, and many others, I fully support Professor Carson’s application, and wish her every success as a candidate for the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship. Should you have any questions about this letter of support, please contact me at gdevi@lhup.edu or 570-484-2284.

Thank you.

Sincerely

Gayatri Devi

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Responses

  1. Gayatri, my warmest thanks for this wonderful letter….

    • You are welcome, Sharon. It is all true. Gayatri


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