For James Coleman on His Retirement:
Having James Coleman as a colleague during the last phase of my academic career was such a gift. We met almost fifteen years ago on the stairway in Greenlaw Hall, where of course the most important faculty exchanges are always whispered. Though I can’t recall the exact topic of our brief exchange, it became immediately clear to me that we shared beliefs and commitments on all sorts of matters. No doubt about it, I remember thinking, I have a friend in this man. I would soon discover that I had lots to learn from James—from his insights about literature, to be sure, but even more from his remarkable balance of intelligence and humility, diligence and generosity, critique and kindness. Serving with him on more department committees than I can recall—tenure and promotion, peer evaluation, doctoral exams and dissertations—I came to admire James’s ability to conduct fulsome professional assessments while also finding the best to say about the work of each and every student and colleague. Once I had the pleasure of reading all of James’s books and articles as part of our faculty peer evaluation system—including his brilliant book Writing Blackness, on John Edgar Wideman and what James perfectly described as his “always experimental, difficult, very rich works,” and his groundbreaking book on Blackness and Modernism. While his scholarship impressed me immensely, it was James’s teaching that moved me deeply. I will never, ever forget his discussion of “rememory” in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and how carefully he explained to his students that we all have claims to the past, just as the past claims us—and his poignant remarks on the child Beloved’s claims to her mother’s love that unfolded, as he emphasized, “beyond reason.” When Toni Morrison died recently, the very first thing I did was get on email and write to James. Somehow he became her voice for me. And I am deeply honored to claim him now among the very dearest of friends and the most valued and cherished colleagues I’ve treasured over our long careers.