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Tara A. Bynum, 2008, English and African American Studies

I am a recently hired (as of fall 2020) Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Iowa. I am a scholar of early African American literary histories before 1800, and I learned how to be a teacher-scholar (or, at times, a scholar-teacher) as an Assistant Professor of English at Towson University. In the spring 2008, I was hired “all but dissertation” to teach their introductory and topical courses in African American literature.

I defended in the fall of the same year while teaching three classes for the first time. Over the next seven years, I learned how to teach. I honed my craft, teaching three or four courses a semester, and I learned too why storytelling and teaching literature matters, particularly, in the twenty-first century. Both storytelling and teaching matter because stories—individual and collective—help society and culture make its meaning. My lessons in teaching helped me to reimagine my dissertation and to develop a research agenda that would, ultimately, turn its revisions into a monograph, Reading Pleasures (U of Illinois Press’ New Black Studies Series).

Since I left Towson University, in 2015, I have pursued opportunities and fellowships—in various positions at Rutgers University, College of Charleston and Hampshire College as well as at different archival libraries—that have helped me achieve my research-related and publishing goals. With every opportunity, I have been able to take the time that I needed to delve deeper into my work on eighteenth-century African American literary history. I have traveled and fellowshipped at libraries and universities, such as the Library Company of Philadelphia, the John Carter Brown Library or the American Antiquarian Society and Washington College; and in so doing, I have explored how eighteenth-century enslaved and/or free men and women feel good or experience pleasure in spite of the privations of slavery, “unfreedom,” or white supremacy.

It is a pleasure that isn’t beholden to social expectations or systemic oppression, but instead is experienced because of an individual’s commitment to religious faith, friendship, or community building. This work is part of a larger, ongoing project that examines how black communities in the early republic made and shaped the very meaning of nation-building in the greater New England area and beyond. It’s a work that seeks to tell a new kind of story about the origins of the African American literary tradition.

No part of this academic journey has been linear, directed, or predictable. I have meandered my way to find a career that allows me to gather and tell stories in print and in the classroom. Even as it’s taken me to locales far and near, my aim is simple: to tell stories that help my readers and my students see their world anew.