Mellon grant to transform research and scholarship into African poetry | Nebraska today

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a grant of $ 750,000 to an international team led by Kwame Dawes, professor of English, and Lorna Dawes, associate professor of university libraries, to develop an online portal for African poetry.

Initially established in 2017, the African Poetry Digital Portal documents the work of African poets and provides digital access to related artefacts, materials and creative and intellectual research. It is currently made up of two main sections, “Contemporary African Poets” and “African Poets and Poetry in the News”.

The three-year Mellon Foundation grant supports the portal’s next phases: expanding research and scholarship relating to African poetry and joining with other institutions to create a digital collections center that will provide access to materials held by institutions around the world.

“Poets have always understood that they are part of an ancient tradition that dates back to antiquity,” said Kwame Dawes, English teacher George Holmes, Glenna Luschei editor of Prairie Schooner and editor of the African Poetry Book series published by University of Nebraska Press. . “Unfortunately, racism and other forms of power dynamics have limited our understanding of the threads of this tradition in those parts of the world that have been exploited. The point is that rich and sophisticated poetic practices and traditions have always existed in African societies and continue to thrive in Africa.

“Our work, we hope, will bring this to light, and in doing so, give poets a chance to engage this tradition as part of their understanding of poetic form and practice,” he added. . “It has been a tremendous honor to form partnerships with people from such venerable institutions around the world.”

The portal project has attracted an impressive number of partners from Africa and beyond: the University of Cape Town in South Africa, the University of Lomé in Togo and the University of Ghana; University of Oxford and University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom; and Northwestern University, the University of Michigan and the Library of Congress in the United States.

Chancellor Ronnie Green said he was excited about the academic work that will be made possible by the Mellon Foundation grant – and what the project could mean for Husker students and students around the world who will access the digital portal. .

“Through poetry, humanity has a special power to express our deepest thoughts and strongest feelings,” he said. “I am delighted that the Mellon Foundation shares our recognition of the understanding of the importance of African history through poetry.” The portal is closely associated with the African Poetry Book Fund, an ambitious publishing company that has produced numerous volumes of the best poetry composed by African poets. In partnership with the University of Nebraska Press and Akashic Books, the fund has published nearly 100 African poets in six years. The fund has also created poetry prizes that change the landscape of poetry.

Lorna Dawes said the Mellon Foundation grant will support six doctoral research assistants, three digital humanities research grants, and 78 student and research fellowships. It will also fund a four-person technology team from the Nebraska Center for Digital Research in the Humanities to develop the new portal prototype and support 11 undergraduate research grants at collaborating institutions.

Kwame and Lorna Dawes worked closely with staff at the University of Nebraska Foundation, with assistance from the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities and the Office of Research and Economic Development to prepare the grant application. final.

“Thanks to the visionary and long-standing leadership of Professor Dawes, the English Department of ONE has established itself over the past half decade as one of the absolute best places in the we to study African poetics, ”said Marco Abel, English chair in Nebraska. “With Mellon’s support, this project is now ready for massive institutional transformation.

Lorna Dawes will oversee the work of the Collections Team in planning the Collections Center, with Archivist Mary Ellen Ducey, Metadata Librarian Margaret Mering and Copyright Specialist Paul Royster serving as advisers.

Mark Button, dean of the Nebraska College of Arts and Sciences, and Claire Stewart, dean of libraries, said generous support from the Mellon Foundation will lead to more scholarships and information on African literature.

“We have a remarkable opportunity to overcome distance, unifying in one place information about African poets and poetry, and connecting the collections that house their work in Africa and the Diaspora,” said Stewart.

Button said the portal advances the core priorities of the College of Arts and Sciences by providing equitable public access to creative works and research on African poetry, contributing to undergraduate research experiences and advanced training. graduate students, and by putting the university’s strong commitment to the fight against racism. practice.

He predicted that the portal would become “a signature intellectual and creative project within the College of Arts and Sciences for many years to come.”

The team members of the partner institutions are:

  • University of Cape Town in South Africa – Nikki Crowster, Director of Information Systems and Resources; Michal Singer, Senior Archivist, Primary Collections, Special Collections; Mandy Noble, Senior Librarian, Special Collections, Jagger Library.
  • University of Lomé in Togo – Hongma Enyonam (Célestine) Mérat, Deputy Director, UL Library and Archives; Sponsor KoKou Henkou, director, UL Library.
  • University of Ghana – Samuel Owusu-Ansah, Head of Digitization and Institutional Repository, Balme Library.
  • University of Oxford – Lucy McCann, Senior Archivist, Bodleian Libraries.
  • University of Cambridge – Jenni Skinner, Library Director, African Studies Library, Center for African Studies; Elleke Boehmer, professor of world literature; Director, Oxford Center for Life Writing, Department of English.
  • Northwestern University – Esmeralda M. Kale, George and Mary LeCron Foster Curator, Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies.
  • University of Michigan, Loyd Gitari Mbabu, Librarian, African Studies; collection coordinator, International studies.
  • Library of Congress, Lanisa S. Kitchiner, Chief, Africa and Middle East Division.

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