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Brown Chair in English Literacy Celebrates First Anniversary of Community Literacies Collaboratory

This past academic year has been an exciting one for the Brown Chair in English Literacy and its signature program, the Community Literacies Collaboratory, which celebrated its first birthday on May 6. The program was launched one year ago by Eric Darnell Pritchard as founding director. Pritchard holds the Brown Chair in English Literacy and is an associate professor of English.  

After last spring’s launch, the 2022-23 academic year began with the Community Literacies Collaboratory’s first biennial symposium. Led by Pritchard and staffed by graduate assistants Jackie Chicalese and Jami Padgett, the symposium held an extremely well-attended, accessible, successful first biennial symposium, “Tracing the Stream: The Geographies of Black Feminist Literacies, Rhetorics and Pedagogies.” 

The symposium, attended by 367 people over three days, was organized in honor of Jacqueline Jones Royster, a trailblazing scholar in African American literacies and rhetorics and author of the award-winning book Traces of a Stream: Literary and Social Change Among African American Women — a landmark text in literacy studies, rhetorical studies, African American studies and gender studies. Royster delivered the symposium’s keynote address. Held in late October, the symposium was in conjunction with a brand-new graduate seminar in Black Feminist Literacies, Rhetorics and Pedagogies developed and parallel-taught by Pritchard and Carmen Kynard, the Lillian Radford Chair in Rhetoric and Composition at Texas Christian University. Pritchard will offer the graduate seminar again in fall 2023, and it is open to all U of A graduate students to enroll.

An attendee and moderator of the symposium, Tamika L. Carey, an associate professor at the University of Virginia, said, “I had not experienced this type of love and flower-giving before in an academic space. The ‘Tracing the Stream’ symposium has set a new bar for scholarly engagement, reflection and celebration.”

Available accommodations included access copies of all prepared comments, Communication Access Realtime Translation captioning, American Sign Language interpreters on screen always and break rooms with a carefully curated playlist and slideshow for people who wanted some contemplative time outside of symposium sessions. Maggie Fernandes, assistant professor of English at the U of A, said that she would be “forever impressed” by the event: “The ‘Tracing the Stream’ symposium was the most supportive, accessible virtual event that I have ever had the privilege to attend. I will forever be impressed by how the symposium conveners made possible a virtual environment of care and compassion that is too uncommon in academic spaces.” 

“The symposium was an invitation for every presenter and attendee, including myself, to use our restorative literacies to present our work, connect with one another, celebrate one another and to immerse ourselves in an enlightening and educational experience,” added Sharieka Botex, a featured panelist in the symposium. 

Co-convened by Pritchard and Kynard, the event featured 32 speakers and workshop facilitators. Professor Fernandes shared that “[she] felt deeply lucky to attend an event celebrating Dr. Jacqueline Jones Royster and the importance Black feminism in the fields of rhetoric and composition and to learn so much from the brilliant scholars who center Black feminist thought and practice in their research and teaching.”

Megan McIntyre, director of the program in rhetoric and composition at the U of A, said she often still thinks of what she gleaned from the symposium. “The thing that still strikes me six months later is the sense of love, care and community I felt in that space,” McIntyre wrote. “I remember Alexis McGee talking about how much ‘Tracing the Stream’ made her feel less alone, and I think the event brought the same energy to all of us who were lucky enough to attend.” 

In a time where social-justice-oriented education and curriculum is challenged, the symposium reminded many attendees of what is important and why they must persist in the work. 

The digital workspace co-created for the graduate seminar and symposium stores the scholarly and pedagogical resources for each and remains available—now with over 14K hits. Of the workspace, Botex noted, “Tracing the Stream is the living internet-archive of resources, music and information about scholars and their scholarship and the valuable, thoughtful and thought-provoking experiences, memories, interactions and presentations of self and scholarship that attendees and presenters shared and experienced in real-time.” Listen to the curated playlist for the symposium and grad seminar. 

In the months since the symposium, the Community Literacies Collaboratory saw a fruitful turnout for its first cycle of community literacies grants. Sponsored by the Brown Chair, the grants are awarded to organizations as well as independent researchers who are doing literacy work, with priority given to Arkansas-based organizations. A formal announcement of grant recipients for the first and second cycle of CLC’s grants is forthcoming. 

In March, the Community Literacies Collaboratory held its second Possibilities Hub seminar, titled “Coalitional Literacies: Strategies for Building Social Justice Initiatives Across Institutions.” Co-facilitated by Natasha Jones of Michigan State University and Laura Gonzales of and Victor Del Hierro, both of the University of Florida — all three of whom are award-winning, leading scholars in literacy, rhetoric, composition and technical communication. The led a weekly seminar for six weeks attended by 19 participants from institutions and organizations across the nation. The seminar also included guest speakers LeConté Dill of Michigan State University and Roberto, who joined the co-facilitators for presentations to expand on topics central to the seminar’s readings and discussions. The seminar was so successful and productive that, as it concluded, co-facilitators and participants arranged ways to stay in contact and continue their work into this summer. 

Concurrently, the Community Literacies Collaboratory hosted its second annual National Poetry Month with its two-day “Composing Kinship: Poetics and Community” event featuring a roundtable and workshop. “Composing Kinship” events were both virtual and — as with all Brown Chair-sponsored programs — free, open to the public, and had ASL interpreters and CART captioners to promote accessibility. The events were attended by participants from 12 different states, including Arkansas, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Minneapolis, among others, and from France. This is the second year of the Collaboratory’s National Poetry Month events. Last year, April 2022, the CLC hosted a poetry workshop facilitated by community-accountable, award-winning queer Black feminist, scholar and poet, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, who was also a featured speaker at the Tracing the Stream symposium. 

The “Composing Kinship” roundtable, held on April 14, brought poets together in conversation to examine how poets and readers turn to poetry to define, create, transform and historicize community. Poets Meg Day, Sequoia Maner, Nathan Alexander Moore and Jake Skeets each read original poems that conversed with the topic of community. The reading was followed by a discussion and audience question and answer session moderated by poet and scholar Tara Betts. The poets shared how libraries served as their earliest introductions to literacy, and they emphasized how poetry, by making identities visible and possible, creates a sense of community and futurity. 

Then, on April 15, the Community Literacies Collaboratory hosted a generative writing workshop facilitated by Palestinian-American poet George Abraham. The workshop centered on poetic lineage and prompted participants to explore what inspires them—literarily and otherwise. Participants were introduced to poems that inherited craft and forms from other poetry and left with the invitation to write their own centos and golden shovels. 

Also in April the Brown Chair and Community Literacies Collaboratory co-sponsored an event organized by Leigh Sparks in the U of A Department of English, hosting Susan Burton in Northwest Arkansas

Burton, founder of A New Way of Life Reentry Project, spoke at the Fayetteville Public Library on April 17. She shared her inspiring story of assisting and advocating for returning citizens in California after her success with her own reentry. Her advocacy for helping women coming out of prison has earned her accolades such as a CNN top 10 Hero profile, selection as a Soros Justice Fellow and the title of one of the new civil rights leaders by the Los Angeles Times, among other leadership and activist awards. 

As the Office of the Brown Chair and Community Literacies Collaboratory conclude this year, Pritchard, the CLC Advisory Board and staff look forward to the coming summer and academic year and all the many opportunities to continue leveraging its many resources to improve literacy in Arkansas and beyond.

To keep up with the Brown Chair, the Community Literacies Collaboratory and its programs and events, follow its Twitter and Instagram pages.

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