For James Coleman on His Retirement:
Professor James W. Coleman, PhD from the University of Chicago and teaching at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill since the early 1990s, is the author of at least five books: Blackness and Modernism: The Literary Career of John Edgar Wideman (University of Mississippi Press, 1989); Black Male Fiction and the Legacy of Caliban (University of Kentucky Press, 2001), which won an Outstanding Academic Title Award; Faithful Vision: Treatments of the Sacred, Spiritual, and Supernatural in Twentieth-Century African American Fiction (Louisiana State University Press, 2006); Writing Blackness: John Edgar Wideman’s Art and Experimentation (Louisiana State University Press, 2010); and Understanding Edward P. Jones (University of South Carolina Press, 2016). At UNC Chapel Hill he has taught graduate seminars on African American literature and undergraduate courses on twentieth-century African American literature, US literature more generally, and literature and cultural diversity.
Students, both undergraduate and graduate, who have taken his classes have told me that they had their eyes opened by Professor Coleman’s scholarship, by his selection of assigned novels and short stories, and by his method of teaching. This method of teaching entails posing questions through deliberateness—slowly and carefully considering and weighing the consequences of language and how we frame our questions about literature and the world around us of which we are a part. This pace of thought—this deliberate pace refusing to be hurried—is a hallmark of Professor Coleman’s approach to teaching and scholarship. I have admired it ever since I met him back in the winter of 1999 when I was a job candidate on my campus visit to UNC Chapel Hill’s then-English Department (before it became the Department of English & Comparative Literature). Dr. Coleman was one of the people with whom I had lunch at the Carolina Club in the George Watts Hill Alumni Center.
I recall that some people had to leave right after lunch to teach but that Dr. Coleman and I stayed on for a while longer, conversing. He had shown genuine interest in my research for what was to become my first book, Spain’s Long Shadow: The Black Legend, Off-Whiteness, and Anglo-American Empire (University of Minnesota Press, 2005), and in my upcoming job talk on John Rechy’s 1963 novel City of Night. The conversation took us, by several converging pathways, to the subject of black existentialism and black spirituality in a postmodern context. This conversation has stayed in my mind for over twenty years and now, in 2019, it seems more relevant than ever.
I am deeply grateful that Professor Coleman was one of my lunchtime companions on my winter 1999 campus visit and, indeed, that he has been my colleague these past two decades. I have been on many committees with him, especially graduate student exam, prospectus, and dissertation defense committees. I have always come away from those experiences having acquired a more nuanced, dimensional perspective through his fine art of slowing us down to see what lies before us.