The Montgomery Fellows Program this fall is welcoming a noted cultural and literary critic whose academic work over the past four decades broke new ground in amplifying the lives and voices of Black women.
The Montgomery Fellow in residence at Montgomery House starting this month is Hortense Spillers, the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor Emerita from Vanderbilt, who will be affiliated with the Department of English and Creative Writing.
The program will also host Atifete Jahjaga, the former president of Kosovo, as a Montgomery Fellow this winter, followed by a short stint on campus this spring by George Takei, the former Star Trek actor who has become a well-known social justice activist.
The author of the 1987 essay “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” and the 2003 book Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture, among other publications, Spillers will be teaching a course on The Idea of Black Culture, cross-listed with the departments of English and African and African American Studies.
She also plans a lecture on campus Oct. 11 on Fabrics of History, the Rhetoric of Sermons and the Problem of Black Culture.
Spillers, who recently retired from Vanderbilt, says she is looking forward to talking to Dartmouth students in her class about such “canonical” works as The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois, The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James, and work by thinkers like Denise da Silva.
“For people in the humanities, the chance to talk to people who are taking up problems that you’re taking up, I mean, it’s just one of the most glorious adventures I think you can have as a human being,” Spillers says. “It’s been sustaining for me for nearly 50 years.”
Music professor Steve Swayne, the Montgomery Fellows Program director, says Spillers is known for having a “vast reach” in her field and that students and faculty will be able to interact with her during her time on campus this fall.
“I think in many respects, Dartmouth having her here is having academic royalty in terms of the ways that she has affected the field,” Swayne says.
He also notes that Spillers will be on campus just as Dartmouth has launched the new Institute for Black Cultural and Intellectual Life, a cultural hub for the Black community at Dartmouth.
Kimberly Juanita Brown, the director of the institute and a professor who specializes in the intersection of African American/African diaspora literature and visual culture studies, says she has long been influenced by Spillers’ work, including talks she made at Futures of American Studies workshops held at Dartmouth in the summer.
“It’s just so timely that it’s coming together right now at this moment, and that we can actually be in conversation with her during the course of this term,” Brown says, noting that Spillers’ academic work showed her that scholarly inquiry could be “writerly” and also “deeply interdisciplinary.”
“She moves through psychoanalysis and historical archives to tell the story, or the stories, of how Black women occupy space,” Brown says of the “Mama’s Baby” journal article by Spillers.
Jahjaga, the former president of Kosovo, will be a Montgomery Fellow in winter term. The first female head of state in the modern Balkans, Jahjaga has been active in empowering women and supporting survivors of wartime sexual violence. She is the founder of the Jahjaga Foundation and will be a visiting professor in the Program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
Jahjaga was also a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth in 2016.
And Takei will be on campus for a few days in the spring term as a Montgomery Fellow.
Known for portraying Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek, Takei as a boy was forced along with his family to live in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II and has become known as a prominent spokesperson for social justice issues, including the Human Rights Campaign’s Coming Out Project.
He has appeared in more than 40 feature films, written several books, including the bestselling graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy, and has more than 3.3 million followers on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Takei’s visit in the spring will also coincide with the 25th anniversary celebration of the Dartmouth Asian Pacific American Alumni Association, where he will be a guest speaker.