Jerry W. Ward, Jr., Man of Letters

Cleophus Thomas, Jr. (left) and Jerry W. Ward, Jr. Photo: Justin A. Nystrom

In December of 2015, I received an email from poet and photographer L. Kasimu Harris asking about the Documentary and Oral History Studio and if I could somehow make possible an oral history interview with Dillard professor emeritus Jerry W. Ward, Jr., a poet and anthologist known widely as one of the top experts on the literary career of author Richard Wright. The driving force behind and interviewer for this production, a remarkable figure in his own right, was Cleo Thomas, Jr. Among many other things, Thomas is an attorney and legal scholar from Anniston, Alabama who in 1976 became the University of Alabama’s first black president of student government (a feat not replicated until 2015!) We finally brought these two gentlemen and assembled the production assets on January 21, 2016 in Studio C of Loyola’s Music / Mass Communications Complex.

It was particularly gratifying to be part of an exercise in which scholars could come together in order to discuss and reflect upon ideas merely for the sake of doing so. The following interview will be of interest to anyone who cares about American literature in general and African American literature in particular. Ward’s reflections edify the scholarly aspirations of this interview but viewers will find that they are also quite wise. Those wanting to enjoy a steady diet of Professor Ward’s work may wish to visit his blog site, or perhaps pick up a copy of his new volume of poetry, Fractal Song.

“That became a very serious matter for me when I took my first full time teaching job back at my alma mater Tougaloo College in 1970. And I said, ‘Oh I had such a wonderful four years here, I’ll give four years back, and then move on to something else.’ And my students kept saying each year, ‘But you can’t leave until I graduate!’ So I got suckered into staying there for thirty-two years with this whole excuse that I could not leave because they had not yet graduated. I’m very pleased of having invested that kind of effort in teaching and also in another part of being a professional. I wasn’t just simply a teacher. I thought that if I were going to be successful in teaching students something about language and literature, I had to also demonstrate my own skills.” – Jerry W. Ward, Jr.


Cleophus Thomas, Jr. interviews Professor Jerry W. Ward, Jr. from Loyola DOHS on Vimeo.

Bibliographic Citation:
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. Interview by Cleophus Thomas, Jr. Videorecording, transcript, January 21, 2016. Special Productions. Documentary and Oral History Studio, Loyola University New Orleans.

You may also find Dr. Ward’s interview in the Documentary and Oral History Studio’s public Zotero library.

Index terms:

19th century women novelists, 1967 Killens literary conference at Fisk University, African American identity, African American intellectual, African American – literary culture, African Americans – Literature, African Americans – Poetry, American identity, American poetry, American scholarship, Anthology, Baldwin, James (1924-1987), Bambara, Toni Cade (1939-1995), Bandung Conference (1955), Baraka, Amiri (1934-2014), Brooks, Gwendolyn (1917-2000), Callaloo (magazine), Classical education, Colorism, Cooper, Anna Julia (1858-1964), Cullen, Countee (Coleman Rutherford, 1903-1946), Cultural economy, Darwish, Mahmoud (1941-2008), Dent, Thomas (1932-1998), Dialect literature, Dialect poetry, Dickinson, Emily (1830-1886), Dillard University, Down By the Riverside (1938), DuBois, W.E.B. (1868-1963), Dunbar, Paul Laurence (1872-1906), Eliot, T.S. (1888-1965), Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1802-1882), Encounter (magazine), Exile, Expatriation and literature, Fanon, Frantz (1925-1961), Furious Flower Poetry Center, Grisham, John (1955-), Hansberry, Lorraine (1930-1965), Hawthorne, Nathaniel (1904-1864), Hernton, Calvin (1932-2001), Higher education, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hurston, Zora Neale (1891-1960), Independence of the Gold Coast, James, Henry (1843-1916), Johnson, James Weldon (1871-1938), Junior Year Abroad, Kent State Shootings (1970), Killens, John Oliver (1916-1897), Lazer, Hank (1950-), Literary canon, Marcuse, Herbert (1898-1979), Michener, James A. (1907-1997), Mississippi literature, Morrison, Toni (1931-), Native Son (1940), Negro Digest/Black World, Nkrumah, Kwame (1909-1972), OBAC, Pan-Africanism, Plantation poems, Polite, Allen (1932-1993), Pound, Ezra (1885-1972), Professorship, Rowell, Charles, Sanchez, Sonia (1934)-, Silt (1937), Spender, Steven (1909-1995), Tartt, Donna (1963-), The Katrina Papers (2008), The Man Who Saw the Flood (1937), The Outsider (1953), Thomas, Lorenzo (1973-2005), Tougaloo College, Umbra, Uncle Tom’s Children (1938), Vietnam War, Watkins Harper, Frances Ellen (1825-1911), Wells, Ida B. (1862-1931), Wheatley, Phillis (1753-1784), Women’s Liberation Movement (1970s), Wright, Richard (1908-1960)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.