Audre Lorde was a black writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, teacher, and civil rights activist, who described herself as a “lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Her poems and prose largely dealt with issues related to civil rights, feminism, and the exploration of black female identity. Jerome Brooks says in Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, “Lorde’s poetry of anger is perhaps her best-known work.”

Lorde was born in New York City on February 18, 1934. Her parents were Caribbean immigrants who settled in Harlem. Lorde learned to read and write at a young age, and wrote her first poem when she was in the 8th grade. She went on to attend a high school for gifted students. It was during college that she came to identify herself as a lesbian and a poet.

She went on to earn a master’s degree in Library Science at Columbia University. She served as a librarian in New York public schools from 1961 through 1968, when her first volume of poetry, First Cities, was published. In 1962, Lorde married Edward Rollins, with whom she had two children and later divorced. She spent time as writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. Her second volume of poetry, Cables to Rage, came out of her time and experiences there.

Lorde went on to become a visiting professor in Berlin, Germany at the Free University of Berlin. While in Germany, she was influential in the start of the Afro-German movement. “Instead of fighting systemic issues through violence, Lorde thought that language was a powerful form of resistance and encouraged the women of Germany to speak up instead of fight back.” (Piesche, Peggy (2015). “Inscribing the Past, Anticipating the Future”). A documentary was made about her time in Berlin, “Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984-1992.”

Audre Lorde battled cancer for the final fourteen years of her life. She wrote The Cancer Journals, which won the American Library Association Gay Caucus Book of the Year Award in 1981. Lorde once said, “I have a duty to speak the truth as I see it and to share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigating pain.”

In 1980, she co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first U.S. publisher for women of color. She was also a founding member of Sisters in Support of Sisters in South Africa, an organization that worked to raise concerns about women under apartheid. From 1991 until her death in 1992, she was the New York State Poet Laureate. In 1992, she received the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from Publishing Triangle. In an African naming ceremony before her death, she took the name Gamba Adisa, which means “Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known.”

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Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes frankly about race in contemporary America, directly addressing timely issues from racial bias in urban policing to President Obama’s legacy as our nation’s first black president. The MacArthur Foundation, which granted Coates a Genius Grant in 2015, wrote that Coates’ work “subtly embeds the present—in the form of anecdotes about himself or others—into historical analysis in order to illustrate how the implications of the past are still experienced by people today.”

Coates’ two books of nonfiction, The Beautiful Struggle (2008) and Between the World and Me (2015), have been especially praised for their ability to blend intensive research with deeply personal reflection. Professionally, Coates works as a journalist and is a regular correspondent for The Atlantic. He has also contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Village Voice, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and Time Magazine.

Coates grew up in Baltimore. His father, William Paul Coates, was both a Vietnam War veteran and a Black Panther. Coates’ comic book series, Black Panther, was Marvel’s #1 bestseller in April 2016.

In addition to his Genius Grant and McArthur Fellowship, Coates has received numerous awards, including being honored as the Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Scholar at Massachusets Institute of Technology in 2012 and receiving the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2015.

Video: Advice on Writing From The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates. “The writer offers advice for eager young people.”

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Maya Angelou reciting her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at President Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993

Maya Angelou reciting her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

Writer, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou had a powerful story to tell. She led an enormously influential life, using her 1969 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings autobiography to share her personal experience with racism, trauma, family and journey of self-discovery.

Angelou was born in St Louis, Missouri in 1928. She was abused by her mother’s boyfriend, Freeman, who was murdered shortly after being released from jail. Following that incident, Angelou became mute for 5 years. As she explained it, “I thought my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone.”

But Angelou persisted, rediscovering her voice and using it to lead an impactful life and share her story. Her influence expanded far beyond her autobiographies, essays, and poetry. She’s credited with countless plays, movies and television shows as both an actress and a writer. She received dozens of awards and over 50 honorary degrees. Her role as a civil rights activist pushed her to the forefront where she served on both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter’s committee. At Bill Clinton’s inauguration ceremony, she read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning.”

In 2010, President Barrack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

President Barack Obama presenting Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2011

President Barack Obama presenting Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2011

When Angelou passed away in 2014, she left behind nothing but support for telling her story and the stereotypes she spent her whole life fighting against. CNN called her a “woman who pushed for justice and education and equality.” Obama said that the world lost “one of the brightest lights of our time—a brilliant writer, a fierce friend and a truly phenomenal woman. She inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya.” Angelou’s works and her actions still speak for themselves.

It seems fitting to let Maya Angelou to have the last word. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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Malcolm X was a strong voice for human rights activism and an African-American Muslim minister born in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. He laid the foundation for the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 70s. Unlike Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent protests, the Black Power movement incited more violence and asked for immediate radical action.

But Malcolm X’s early life wasn’t as outspoken. His father, a Baptist preacher, was killed when he was six and Malcolm was put in foster care. By the age of 20, he was in prison serving time for larceny and breaking and entering. It was after his release the he joined the Nation of Islam, an African-American political and religious movement, and became a powerful leader.

This strong foothold in the civil rights movement came at a cost: Malcolm X became a target. He survived multiple assassination attempts, forcing him to travel with a team of bodyguards. In 1965, his family’s home was firebombed (fortunately, with no injuries). Just a week later, he was assassinated in the Manhattan Audubon Ballroom. An astounding fifteen hundred people came to his Harlem funeral.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965, the result of a collaboration between himself and journalist Alex Haley. Eliot Fremont-Smith, reviewing The Autobiography of Malcolm X for The New York Times that same year, describes it as “extraordinary” and says it is a “brilliant, painful, important book.” The words Malcolm X left behind still resonate today, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement: “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.”

Video: A short biography of Malcolm X, from Bio.

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Nearly 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, the nation still celebrates the impact he made fighting against black discrimination. For MLK Day on January 16th, over 1000 people showed up in Old Town Fort Collins to join in the MLK Day March [source]. The March ended at CSU with powerful poetry and essay readings, showing that King’s dream is still alive today.

CSU MLK Day Celebration

CSU MLK Day Celebration 2017

Martin Luther King Jr. was born Michael King Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia in 1929. King was an American Baptist minister but is better known for his role as a civil rights activist who practiced nonviolent protesting. In 1955, he led the Montgomery bus Boycott and founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference just two years later.

King’s speeches and letters, including the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, still have a lasting influence among the literary community. During the 1963 March on Washington, King spoke about his longstanding dream and the future he saw for America: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

One year after the March on Washington, President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibited racial discrimination. That same year, King won the Nobel Peace Prize for his civil rights activism and fight against the Jim Crow laws. He was the youngest man to receive the Nobel at the age of thirty-five.

Martin Luther King Jr had a dream that saw all men as truly equal. His words still incite passion and the hope of one day fulfilling his dream.

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'Old School' research in the library. Remember catalog cards? 1975. University Historic Photograph Collection

‘Old School’ research in the library. Remember card catalogs? 1975. University Historic Photograph Collection. (Image shared by the Morgan Library on Facebook last week).

  • On Thursday, February 9, the Community Literacy Center hosted Kay Adams, Founder and director of the Center for Journal Therapy in Denver as part of their spring SpeakOut! facilitator training event. Fourteen students, faculty, and community members participated in dialogue on writing through times of chaos.
  • Beth Lechleitner’s collaborative poetry/visual art piece “Mettle” has been accepted into the CSU Art and Science exhibition at the Curfman gallery.  The show opens Feb 21 and runs through March 24.
  • Todd Mitchell attended and presented two sessions at last weekend’s 50th Anniversary CCIRA Conference in Denver. One grimly packed session on “Teaching Dystopian Fiction,” and a second on “Using Writing Games to Develop Literacy and Creativity.”
  • Claire Boyles (second year MFA candidate in fiction) has been accepted to the Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference in fiction and awarded a Katharine Bakeless Nason scholarship to attend.
  • Bill Tremblay’s memoir on jazz “The Music While the Music Lasts” will appear in Brilliant Corners in the Summer, 2017, issue.
  • Slope Editions announced that Felicia Zamora’s (MFA ’12) book, Instrument of Gaps, was selected for publication from their Fall 2016 Open Reading Period. Read more information on the Slope Editions news page. She also has a poem accepted in Beloit Poetry Journal, her poem “A long road never takes us” is out in the Winter 2017 edition of North American Review, and she participated in a Parlor Press reading in D.C. for AWP on Thursday, February 9.

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~from intern Katie Haggstrom

Name: Tiffany Akers [I ran into Tiffany in the basement of Eddy in the Writing Center].

What is your major/program in the English Department?
I am a first year TEFL/TESL graduate student.

How do you spend more of your time in Eddy Hall?
Most of my time in Eddy is spent working in the Writing Center.

As a TEFL/TESL student, where else do you spend a lot of your time, if you’re not in Eddy?
As a full-time grad student working two jobs and freelance copy-editing, I spend copious amounts of time in my home or the library between commitments. I also enjoy volunteering with INTO and working on professional development actives around Colorado. When I’m not married to my career/studies, I am committed to rugby. So, I’m either in Boulder for practice or traveling for games/tournaments.

Describe Eddy Hall in one word.

Finally, what’s your favorite book, poem, quote, lyric, genre, author?
Wow, this is really hard to decide!!

  • Reading romance novels from the authors Terry Spear and Karen Moning is a guilty pleasure.
  • I love classics, such as The Odyssey and The Count of Monte Cristo.

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~from intern Joyce Bohling

Often, when I tell people I’m an English major, I’m met with everything from genuine curiosity to outright dismay about my job prospects.

In these conversations, I’m often reminded of the opening line from one of my favorite musicals, Avenue Q: “What do you do with a B.A. in English?”

Sometimes, people just assume that I plan to become a teacher–even if I haven’t given any indication that I’m a teaching assistant and actually really enjoy teaching.

Of course, teaching is a very important, skilled profession, and a great option for English majors. But it’s not by any means the only option.

So I decided to do some investigating. What do you say when someone asks, “What on Earth can you do with an English degree?”

To find an answer to my question, I sat down with Katie Russo, the CSU Career Center’s Career Education Manager for the College of Liberal Arts. Ms. Russo serves as the liaison between the College of Liberal Arts and the Career Center. She also counsels liberal arts students on job searches, grad school, resumes, and career development, among other career-related topics, putting her in a unique position to comment on the career opportunities available for English majors.

Katie Russo

Katie Russo

According to Russo, students in the liberal arts often “aren’t fully aware of all of the transferable skills they have and possess” as they enter the job market. These skills include critical thinking; interpersonal skills; teamwork; and research, problem-solving, and analytical skills.

“I see a lot of students who love their major, love their classes, but don’t see their value in the professional world.” In response to these concerns, Russo thinks of herself as a kind of “cheerleader.”

In fact, she said, not only are there plenty of jobs available for English majors, but some of those jobs pay well, too. Although students with liberal arts degrees often have lower initial starting salaries, many eventually out-earn their STEM counterparts. “There’s data to prove it.”

Russo said that, because liberal arts degrees don’t always lead directly to an obvious choice of career, the way a pharmacy degree leads to a job as a pharmacist or a social work degree leads to a job in social work, much of what she does with liberal arts students is career exploration.

Some of the top fields in which CSU English alumni now work, according to LinkedIn, include:

  • Marketing and public relations
  • Copywriting and editing
  • Non-profit and social services work
  • Business development

“It really comes down to what you’re passionate about and what you’re interested in,” said Russo. When students come to her, she asks them, “What do you like doing?”

Here are some of the top skills Russo encourages English majors to put on their resumes and to emphasize in job interviews:

  • Writing and/or communications skills, written and verbal: Russo sees these skills as more important than ever, what with new technologies and social media. Even in technical fields, she said, an employee with an English degree can often “be that person who can break it down” for an audience without technical knowledge. English majors know how to connect with an audience, and that’s valuable, she said.
  • Interpersonal skills: A liberal arts degree often emphasizes collaboration and working with others. “I think that’s hugely important in the workplace today,” said Russo.
  • Critical thinking and reading: English majors are asked to think carefully and critically about texts. “What’s the message that you’re communicating through the language that you’re choosing?” asked Russo. The ability to communicate that message is valuable in all kinds of fields and professions.

Although Russo counsels students to explore their passions and interests to find the career that’s right for them, she also believes that finding a dream job is a process that continues after graduation.

In other words, you don’t need to land your dream job as soon as you get your diploma. Rather, Russo encourages students to start looking for the kind of job that sets them on a path that could eventually lead to a dream job. “You want to find something—if not a foot in the door, then a nudge at the door.”

“A career is constant self-reflection and exploration,” and each job, said Russo, “gives you greater insight” into the kind of work you most want to be doing.

The CSU Career Center is a free service for all CSU students. The Center has drop-in advising sessions from 10 am to 2 pm, Monday through Friday, as well as appointments for help with everything from specific job searches to more general career exploration. “I’m really front lines for students,” said Russo.

Russo encourages students to come see her and her colleagues early in their college careers. “It’s better to come here early rather than later. We’re here every step of the way.”

When the Career Center is closed, students can access resources, such as career tools, handouts, and the Handshake job board through the Career Center website.

Finally, students can attend the Center’s many events, including the Career Fair. The Career Fair for students in Communications, Business, Social Services, Liberal Arts, Hospitality/Tourism and Health/Wellness is this Wednesday, February 15, from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm in the LSC Grand Ballroom.


“I just want to re-iterate how valuable liberal arts students are in the workplace,” said Russo as we wrapped up our interview. “There’s very much a place for them in the professional world.”

And in fact, she finds her own profession working with liberal arts students to be inspiring. “Almost all the students I see want to make a difference…They really want to be someone who’s made an impact in some way. How can I walk away from that meeting not feeling inspired?”


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Author Octavia Butler paved the way for African-American science fiction authors. Born in 1947 in Pasadena, California, Butler conquered obstacle after obstacle, from losing her father, living with dyslexia, and fighting stigmas against both women and African American writers. At the young age of 10, she begged her mother for a Remington typewriter so she could write out her own stories.

Her first novel, Patternmaster, was published in 1976 and followed a group of telepathic individuals known as Patternists, a story that eventually expanded into a larger series. By 1979 and the publication of Kindred, she was firmly established as an African American writer.  The protagonist of Kindred is an African American woman, and the story is part slave narrative, part time-travel tale. Through Kindred, she brought together critiques of both past and present societal hierarchies, both blended together in the science fiction genre.

Called the “grand dame of science fiction,” Butler fearlessly crossed many lines. She used her novels to challenge our way of thinking and show that humans, regardless of race, deal with the same problems across all history and time. In an interview with Charlie Rose, she said, “I write about people and the different ways of being human.” Her work has been categorized as Afrofuturism, but her works often revolves around a multi-ethnic, or multi-species, world.

In 1984, Butler won both the Hugo Award for Best Short Story and the Nebula Award for Best Novelette. By 1995, she was the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grant.

Butler changed the way we look at science fiction, as well as proving that African American Literature isn’t limited to certain literary genres.


Video: Octavia Butler interviewed by Charlie Rose in a show that aired June 1, 2000. Find the transcript of the full video here:

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Although Zora Neale Hurston is most known for her novel Their Eyes Are Watching God, published in 1937, she authored numerous works of literature in the first half of the 20th century, including novels, short stories, plays, a collection of southern African-American folklore, and an autobiography.

Hurston was born in January 1891 and grew up in Eatonville, Florida, an all-black community near Orlando. She said that she had a very comfortable, happy childhood until her mother died in 1904. After her father remarried, Hurston was shuffled between various family members until she left home to work as a maid to a troupe of travelling performers. She lied about her age throughout her life, starting when she reported her birth year as 1901 in order to complete high school, because, at age 26, she would have been too old to qualify for free public schooling.

Hurston went on to attend Howard University and Barnard College in the early 20s, around the same time that she started publishing short stories in literary magazines. She began to receive wide-spread recognition for her work after a short story, “Spunk,” and a play, Color Struck, received second place in a literary contest from Opportunity magazine.

Even during her lifetime, Hurston was considered to be one of the most influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance, befriending literary greats such as Langston Hughes. Despite her success as a writer, Hurston nonetheless lived most of her life in poverty. Because of this, her grave was unmarked until Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, installed a headstone in 1973.

Walker campaigned for a revival of Hurston’s work, bringing her into the literary canon. Today, Hurston is read widely by students and scholars.

Video: Zora Neale Hurston – American Folklorist, from Bio.

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