College of Liberal Arts

Black Studies Celebrates First Doctoral Dissertation Defense

Thu, May 4, 2017
Drea Brown
Drea Brown

Drea Brown made University of Texas at Austin history this spring as the first doctoral candidate to defend a dissertation in the Department of African & African Diaspora Studies.

The department, founded in 2010 under the direction of associate professor and chair Edmund Gordon, was the first doctoral program in Black Studies in the southern United States. In collaboration with the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies and the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, the department focuses on activist-oriented scholarship, cultural production and public policy research.

Brown’s dissertation, “Hush Somebody’s Calling My Name: The Haint Elegy and Black Women’s Poetry,” explored black women poets’ use of grief and memory as devices to reconstruct cultural histories and subjectivity. 

Her research imagined black women as categorically marginal figures, who appear in poetry as “the one haunted and the thing haunting,” which Brown refers to as the “haint.” By reckoning with the haints in these poems, black women rework the genre of elegy, challenging canonical ideas about who lives and who dies, who mourns and who remembers, Brown said. 

“Because we are haunted by a racial and sexualized past that continues to make itself known in the present, haunting is often an undergirding structure in our poetry, which makes a distinctive contribution to the genre of elegy, the poetry of loss and mourning,” Brown added. 

Her dissertation was inspired in-part by the research she conducted for her 2015 chapbook, Dear Girl: A Reckoning, which “reimagines the poet Phillis Wheatley through her experience of Middle Passage and its haunting resonance across generations” and won the 2014 Gold Line Press poetry chapbook competition.

“My academic practice thrives at the crossroads between the poetic, the scholarly and the pedagogical,” said Brown. “I am entranced by form and aesthetic, poetry as a vehicle of memory and recovery, and the ways in which black women in particular navigate between these lines.”

Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies Lisa B. Thompson and English and Women’s and Gender Studies Professor Lisa L. Moore oversaw Brown’s dissertation.

After defending her dissertation, Brown traveled to Barbados for an international residency program in partnership with Fresh Milk, a Barbados-based program supporting excellence in the arts through residencies and programs that provide artists with opportunities for development.

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