||Professor Pamela Newkirk
||Columbia M.S. 2001
Doctoral Candidate, Teacher's College, Columbia University
||New York University
After ten years working as a daily journalist Pamela Newkirk joined the New York University journalism faculty in 1994 determined to challenge the pervasive images of African American dysfunction, buffoonery and underachievement in popular culture.
Her first book, WITHIN THE VEIL: BLACK JOURNALISTS, WHITE MEDIA, mapped the uphill battle of African American journalists to integrate the news media and shed light on the difficulty they faced attempting to depict the multidimensionality of black life. While the book won the National Press Club Award for media criticism, Newkirk's next two projects turned her gaze away from the media to the archives to unearth the letters of African Americans over the past three centuries.
In 2004 her efforts resulted in A LOVE NO LESS, a collection of African American love letters inspired by Newkirk's love of letters and quest to highlight a facet of black life that often goes unnoticed in popular culture.
Her latest book, LETTERS FROM BLACK AMERICA, published in February by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, expands on that theme by presenting more than two hundred letters written by African Americans from the 1700s to 2008, covering black family life, romance, politics, war, education, and art and culture.
The book contains the correspondence of ordinary and extraordinary African Americans including the enslaved, soldiers, poets, politicians, entertainers and rebels. Among them are the personal and public letters of historical giants like Benjamin Banneker, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Doublass, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as Harlem Renaissance figures like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Countee Cullen. Contemporary contributors include Colin Powell, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.
The book, the first historical narrative of black life through letters, has received glowing reviews in a range of publications, from Essence, Ebony and the Chronicle of Blacks in Higher Education to the New York Post, Booklist and USA Today.
Newkirk has been featured on television (NBC New York)
and radio (On Point Radio) and has traveled across the country to college campuses, book fairs, and talks organized by groups like the Black Ivy League.
In July the actors Ruby Dee and Anthony Chisholm breathed life into the letters at a standing-room-only reading at a Barnes and Noble store in New York City, On November 17th Newkirk will be a featured author at the National Press Club Book Fair in Washington, D.C.
Newkirk said she has been moved by the letters and e-mail she has received from appreciative readers from across the country who have been inspired by the poignancy and immediacy of these missives from the past.
Newkirk said because the letters of African Americans have long been undervalued by scholars, many African Americans are oblivious to their historical significance. As a result many important letters have been discarded. She said she hopes the volume will inspire custodians of these important documents to insure their preservation for future generations.
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