Maryemma Graham

2004 EP. NO. 7
WHEN MARYEMMA GRAHAM read Margaret Walker’s famous poem “For My People” in high school and Jubilee as an undergraduate, it never occurred to her that one day Walker would become her mentor. In 1983, when Graham began teaching at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Walker invited her for a visit to Jackson, Mississippi, where Walker taught at Jackson State University. Over time, Walker asked Graham to work with her on several projects and during the 1980s and 1990s, Graham helped Walker edit her final works.

Graham provided editorial assistance by serving as editor of two of Walker’s later books, How l Wrote Jubilee and Other Essays on Life and Literature (Feminist P. at CUNY, 1990) and On Being Female, Black, and Free: Essays by Margaret Walker, 1932-1992 (Univ. of Tenn. Pr., 1997). How l Wrote Jubilee is Walker’s first collection of essays that recount the personal history of a woman for whom individual expression is an essential form of the struggle against racism, sexism, and classism. On Being Female, Black, and Free consists of 30 thought-provoking essays, culled by editor Graham from speeches and other writings spanning six decades of Walker’s fertile life.

Since Walker’s death, Graham has edited Fields Watered with Blood: Critical Essays on Margaret Walker (Univ. of Georgia Pr., 2001), constituting the first critical assessment of the full scope of Walker’s literary career; and Conversations with Margaret Walker (Univ. Pr. of Mississippi, 2002), which presents interviews ranging from 1972 to 1996 that captures Walker’s voice as she discusses an incredibly wide range of interests. Currently, Graham sandwiches trips between semesters to the Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center at Jackson State University to read through Walker’s personal journals in preparation for the biography, The House Where My Soul Cries: The Life of Margaret Walker, a work-in-progress.

In addition to working closely with Walker, Graham has published more than twenty-five journal articles and essays, and six critical studies, including edited collections on nineteenth- and twentieth-century American and African American literature and pedagogy. She is the editor of Complete Poems of Frances E. W. Harper (Oxford Univ. Pr., 1988); co-edited with Amritjit Sing Conversations with Ralph Ellison (Univ. Pr. of Mississippi, 1995); and co-edited with Marianna Davis and Sharon Pineault-Burke, Teaching African American Literature: Theory and Practice (Routledge, 1998), which offers groundbreaking methods to bring the distinguished tradition of African American literature into the classrooms. Her latest publication, The Cambridge Companion to the African American Novel (Cambridge Univ. Pr., 2004), presents newly commissioned essays that examine eighty African American novels.

Graham is the cofounder of the Richard Wright Circle; founder and director of the Project on the History of Black Writing; director of the Langston Hughes International Symposium; former Hughes Centennial Committee co-chair and symposium director; founder and director of the Langston Hughes National Poetry Project; President of the Toni Morrison Society (2002-2005); and is one of the founders of the Lawrence African American Families Oral History Group. During her sabbatical in 2004-2005, she was the John Hope Franklin Fellow at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina where she worked on her biography of Margaret Walker. Among her past awards and honors are: the 2005 Steeples Award for Service to Kansans; 2004 KU Woman of Distinction and 2002 KU Women’s Hall of Fame inductee; the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships from NEH; the Ford Foundation; the Smithsonian and the New York Public Library. Graham, who frequently participates in seminars and public symposia, has been at the University of Kansas since 1998 when she was invited as the Langston Hughes Visiting Professor. She currently teaches African American and 19th Century American literature, history of the book, and cultural studies at the English Department.

Graham encourages students to engage in lifetime learning outside the classroom by offering opportunities to attend lectures, events and conferences for both undergraduate and graduate students. And as Margaret Walker was to her, Graham remains committed to the lifelong success of each of her students.

Last updated 2009.

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