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Faculty Showcase to welcome new Emory faculty and showcase poetry of Jericho Brown

During the virtual Faculty Showcase on Feb. 22, Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown will read poems from his repertoire that he believes reflect movements and initiatives happening at the university. Following his readings, new faculty members from each of Emory’s nine schools and colleges will respond.

To help recently arrived Emory faculty get to know the community and one another in the time of COVID-19 required fresh thinking. The clinking glasses and tempting canapés of an in-person event may make a comeback when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, a creative, communal, virtual event — the Faculty Showcase — will take place Feb. 22 at 4 p.m. using poetry as its nexus.

And not just any poetry, but rather that of Emory professor Jericho Brown, who received the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his third book, “The Tradition,” which the Pulitzer board called “a collection of masterful lyrics that combine delicacy with historical urgency in their loving evocation of bodies vulnerable to hostility and violence.” Brown is the director of the Creative Writing Program and Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing.

Sponsored by the Office of Faculty Affairs, the Faculty Showcase celebrates Black History Month through the extraordinary research, creativity and diversity of Emory’s new faculty. Some 388 strong, this new cohort of faculty who joined Emory during the 2020–2021 academic year constitute “expertise across a range of disciplines, bringing a wealth of experience and training that will advance the university’s mission ‘to create, preserve, teach and apply knowledge in the service of humanity,’ especially as we work to advance Emory to an institution of inclusive eminence,” says Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Tim Holbrook. 

Nine brave souls and nine unforgettable poems

The event, which is open to all members of the Emory community and the general public, will feature Brown reading nine poems to signify the number of schools and colleges at Emory. Nine new faculty members representing those units then will engage with Brown following his reading. A web page for the event features those faculty members, providing short descriptions of their research interests.

Asked about faculty who might be nervous at the thought of going toe to toe with a Pulitzer Prize winner, Brown is certain that he will be the nervous one, saying, “The faculty who respond to my poems will be able to ask me whatever they want; it’s on me to provide convincing answers. And here’s what I know for certain about my colleagues — ain’t no Emory faculty scared of nobody.”

When Brown chose what he will read, his goal was to reflect movements and initiatives going on in the schools and colleges. Asked if there would be any new poems in the lineup, he gave a shoutout to two Emory poets, claiming, “I would never subject my colleagues to anything too new for an event as important as this one. Now, if I were Heather Christle or Robyn Schiff, maybe I would because even their first drafts are brilliant. But no one should ever have to read my work in its early stages but me. We’ve all suffered enough.” 

Brown acknowledges that the selection process was hard given that, in some cases, two or three poems seemed right for a single school. That led him to break any logjam by deciding as if these were the last nine choices he would ever make. Laughing, he admits, “Poets are pretty dramatic in their heads, but don’t worry because we’re generally quite sheepish in person.”

New forms of community

Being in an interactive session with Brown surely will become a brag point for the new faculty. Holbrook acknowledges the degree of innovation required of him and his staff in this “no-longer-new normal” that the entire world looks forward to leaving behind. 

He notes, “It has been a challenge for new faculty to start effectively in a virtual world, which is why Faculty Affairs spread out the new faculty orientation sessions over the year. As part of engaging with the COACHE survey results, we have convened meetings that allow new faculty to interact with the broader community. This semester, I will gather faculty in smaller groups. And, of course, we hope that events such as this one will bring our community together.” 

Of the many possibilities for how to engage this group of faculty, poetry ended up being chosen because, says Brown, “Poetry always reaches out to other disciplines, as it must be about something other than itself. Poetry shifts the lens through which we see our pursuits, whether they are academic or not.”

And then there is the undeniable “Brown factor,” which the humble poet would not address but which Carol Flowers St. John, assistant vice provost for Faculty Affairs, did, saying, “Brown’s work is thought-provoking and mesmerizing, and the new faculty who are sharing the spotlight are also talented scholars in their fields. We hope there is a deeper appreciation for the brilliance at Emory and also hope to provide space for people to reflect about the ways we are interconnected, even across difference.” 

Something fun and memorable is in the cards when the Faculty Showcase gets underway. As noted, although the event is open to all, participants must register. For those who can’t join the event, the video will be available on the Faculty Affairs website afterward. And, who knows, someone might just write a poem about all they hear and see during this unique session.

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