Lecture continues 10th anniversary of African American Studies celebration at MSU

Contact: Sarah Nicholas

Black Arts Movement graphic

STARKVILLE, Miss.  – In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the African American Studies program at Mississippi State University, distinguished author James Smethurst will discuss the black arts movement in the South.

Professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Smethurst will give a lecture Wednesday [Sept. 27] at 7 p.m. in Fowlkes Auditorium of the Colvard Student Union.

Smethurst investigates the origins, development, maturation and decline of the black arts movement in the South, and his lecture will focus on the grassroots impact and lasting influence that this movement left on the region, particularly in Mississippi.

“Nowhere did black arts have more grassroots impact and a greater lasting influence than in the South, including Mississippi, birthplace of the Free Southern Theater, one of the first major Black Arts institutions,” Smethurst said.

“Black arts in the South gave, and continues to give, much to black expressive culture in general,” he added. “As the poet, critic, and political activist Askia Touré observed, the Southern Black Cultural Alliance was the largest grassroots black cultural organization in the United States during that era—really it was unique in its regional coverage.”

Smethurst will recount how the black arts movement changed American thought about what constitutes art and how the movement made Southern cities like Atlanta, Houston, Miami, New Orleans and Nashville major arts centers. 

Smethurst said some of the most recognizable names and faces of contemporary African American expressive art, such as Pearl Cleage, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee, were nurtured by the movement.

“Dr. Smethurst epitomizes the scholar-intellectual-activist that is at the center of the African American Studies critical enterprise,” said Don Shaffer, associate professor of English and African American studies and mentor to MSU Presidential Scholars.  

“Dr. Smethurst’s work has illuminated the crucial intersections between African American literary production and political-social activism in America.  His work is especially relevant as we celebrate 10 years of African American Studies at MSU,” Shaffer said, adding “Smethurst’s work has shaped the discipline in profound ways and continues to do so.”

Smethurst’s primary research areas include African American literature, culture and intellectual history from the late 19th to late 20th centuries, with a particular emphasis on black cultural and political radicalism.

He is author of “The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946;” “The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s;” and “The African American Roots of Modernism: Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance.”

Smethurst received his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Southern Maine, his master’s degree in English from the City College of New York, and his Ph.D. in English from Harvard University. Prior to teaching at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, he taught at the University of North Florida. 

For more information, contact LaShundra Townsend in African American Studies at 662-325-0587 or ltownsend@aas.msstate.edu.

Part of the College of Arts and Sciences, MSU’s African American Studies program offers courses leading to a minor in African American Studies. For more, visit www.aas.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.