James Brister Society Faculty Leadership Awardee, Professor Herman Beavers



Penn Professor of English and Africana Studies, Herman Beavers, was honored last year with the 2016 James Brister Society Dr. Gloria Twine Chisum Award for Distinguished Faculty. A year after honoring Professor Beavers, we caught up with him to see how he is marking his 28th year at Penn. Professor Beavers is on sabbatical this year and plans to publish Geography and the Political Imaginary in the Novels of Toni Morrison with publisher Palgrave Macmillan. He also has a chapbook entitled Obsidian Blues coming out this Spring. He remains fully engaged with the Philadelphia community and recently did a poetry reading at the Free Library of Philadelphia. He also participated in the Philadelphia Writers Resist event in January at the National Museum of American Jewish History. 45 writers from the Philadelphia area came together to read documents that affirm freedom, equality and social justice; Professor Beavers read from Toni Morrison's Beloved. In his most recent "Introduction to African American Literature," Professor Beavers took an innovative approach to connecting with students. Sub-titled "The Color of Laughter," Beavers used current-day stand-up comedy as a tool to help students make connections on gender and race issues in traditional African American literature. Integrating videos of stand-up routines, Beavers was able to get the students laughing and then pause to dissect the intent behind the line of comedy. Comedians like Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and Monique are deeply involved in social commentary, particularly in the midst of the current political landscape, and Professor Beavers found using their work to be useful in developing his students' ability to understand the role satire plays in the political critique of racial and gender inequality. Professor Beavers' guiding principle as an educator is to be honest with his students. He tries to grade students' work accurately and to provide a realistic assessment of their skills. Some of Professor Beavers' favorite students have struggled to write essays for his classes, only to go on to pursue doctoral study and become professors themselves. In one freshman seminar, after seeing that the students' first essays were less than stellar, he brought in a chocolate cake to soften the impending shock of seeing low grades. One of the students in that seminar was Suzana Berger, who is now Professor Beavers' co-teacher in his "August Wilson and Beyond" seminar. So, a second and related guiding principle for Professor Beavers is to never give up on anyone, ever. He has lived this through the many hours of extra support and mentoring he has provided for students over his almost three-decade career at Penn.