Njelle Hamilton / English

I’m honored and excited to be invited to be a Mead Honored Faculty for 2016-17. As someone who is still a relatively new professor at UVA, there is nothing I’d like more than to work closely with students outside the classroom, especially to develop and continue conversations begun in classes on music, race, gender and literature, and to support students of color in their co- and extra-curricular interests.

I’ve long been interested in the field that is now called Afrofuturism and have been looking for an opportunity to explore it as an academic, a creative writer, and a woman of color. I’ll be teaching a course in Spring 2017 called “Being Human: Race, Technology and the Arts,” but I think it would be wonderful to work even more closely with a small group of students who would like to think together about the ways that African diaspora peoples have engaged with technologies, science, science fiction, and fantasy in the past and present, and to encourage students to address representations of black peoples as technological in their artistic, academic or activist work.

My Dream Idea then is to host a yearlong series of meet-ups called “Who More Sci-Fi Than Us?”- to borrow a quote from Junot Diaz’s novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The aim is to engage 8-10 students of color who are interested in black sci-fi, Afrofuturism, or race and technology, and who might have an interest in the performing, literary, and/or visual arts.

I imagine us meeting once a month in the Woodson Institute’s lounge and conference room, dressed in black sci-fi/fantasy cosplay (say as Star Trek’s “Uhura” or Janelle Monae’s “Cindy Mayweather”) which we will have worn to classes that day to inspire the curiosity of the UVA community. In the Fall, I imagine that we’ll talk about race, technology and representation in a selection of seminal and contemporary Afrofuturist music, art, film, and literature. In the Spring, I envision our meet-ups to focus on discussing the challenges and rewards students are encountering as they take on the task of creating and/or curating Afrofuturist artwork, literature, performances, or public projects. I would also like us to host here at UVA a screening of the film Hidden Figures (Fox, January 2017), about a group of black female math geniuses working at NASA in the 1960s, with Mead participants leading a discussion after the screening. In the event that we are unable to secure the rights to screen the film at UVA, the alternate activity would be a trip to the new Museum of African-American History in Washington, D.C. to explore representations of African Americans engaging with science and technology. Near the end of the Spring semester, we would host an evening of excellence to showcase student’s creative and/or curatorial work as part of the project.

Proposed budget (for up to 10 students):

Light refreshments at monthly meetings: $600

Copies of the books that we will read in the Fall: Womack’s, Afrofuturism, and Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber (I either privately own or have access to UVA copies of the music and films we will discuss): $200

Support for students’ Spring creative/curatorial projects
(For materials or services toward the creation and execution of their projects)" $1,000

Trip to Museum of African-American History (end of Fall semester)             

            Train tickets x 11 @$60 RT= $660

            DC Metro RT x11 @$3.50= $ 40: $700

Hidden Figures movie tickets 11 @$12.50: $140

Evening of Excellence refreshments: $300

TOTAL: $2,940