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Professor puts 60s and 70s in dialogue with 21st century

December 12, 2017 GMT

On the first day of class as an introduction, professor Margo Natalie Crawford asks students to write on the board in one word what they consider home.

“When you think about race and ethnicity, it’s so important for people to say who they are,” said Crawford from her office in Fisher-Bennett Hall on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus. “You want to get to know students through how they identify. We need to let students say who they we are.”

Crawford is wrapping up her first semester at Penn teaching in the college’s English Department. Her studies include 20th and 21st century African American literature, visual culture and global Black studies. She came to Philadelphia after teaching at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. for the past eight years.

“Penn’s English Department and [Department of] Africana Studies is really situated to be one of the prime departments and prime universities that are doing the most energized work in this field,” she said. “Other universities like Princeton, Yale, and Columbia, and others, know how crucial it is to kind of honor how vibrant the field itself is.”

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Crawford received her undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College and her master’s and doctorate degrees from Yale. She said teaching courses such as African-American literature attracts both English and Africana majors.

“The class breaks the boundaries between the study of literature and Africana studies,” she said. “The class speaks to all students regardless of their majors. It doesn’t alienate the students who are English majors. It’s bridging the gap.”

Most recently, Crawford penned, “Black Post-Blackness: the Black Arts Movement and Twenty-First Century Aesthetics,” that was released in July. The book delves into the Black consciousness movement of the 1960s and the 1970s up against the 21st century.

“The book connects the 1960s and 70s Black arts music and 21st century Black art,” said the Chicago native. “The book is putting the 60s and 70s in conversations with the 21st centuries.”

Although the book is not taught in her own courses it is being taught at other universities.

Crawford is working on her next book, “What is African American Literature?,” in response in some ways to a book that was published in 2011 entitled “What was African American Literature?” by Kenneth Warren.

As a future course, Crawford plans to teach Black Literary Mixtape, which will incorporate jazz, blues, hip-hop and R&B. Crawford says Black music is connected to literature. She plans to give students a CD mixed with the different genres of music.

Additionally next semester, Crawford will teach 21st Century African-American literature and Black Public Art, focusing on Philadelphia.

“I’m catering to students in some ways,” she said. “I really intend to give them a CD. I think it’s an interesting way for them to understand hip-hop and to revitalize it as it shapes culture as a whole.”