DURHAM -- The Herald-Sun
recently caught up with Maurice Wallace
, a Duke graduate who returned to teach at his
alma mater. Wallace, an English professor who takes on a host of social issues in his work, won an award this year from The Modern Language Association of America for his book, "Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African-American Men's Literature and Culture, 1775-1995." He
will travel to San Diego on Dec. 28 to accept the William Sanders Scarborough Prize. In excerpts from a 10-question interview, Wallace talks about issues ranging from his duties as a scholar to writer James Baldwin to his special relationship with Home Depot.
...Maurice Wallace: I was a graduate student at Duke between 1990 and 1995.
: The question might best be posed as "who" convinced me to return to Duke
while at Yale
.The simplest and most honest answer would be my wife.She
was, and remains, a hospital administrator at Duke
University Medical Center.
...Wallace: The roots of my scholarly interests are in a love of reading, a profound admiration for the intellectual depth and social consciousness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and the writer James Baldwin.
: Professor Dyson is not wrong, but I am just as interested in bringing the masses -- the mass voice, the history of the masses, and our culture -- inside the walls of academia to keep the academy honest.
: I am very explicit in my book's introduction that its chronology, 1775-1995, is not a continuous history but an episodic one.
: I'm thrilled by it.
: Ahh.Not far enough.Actually, I've got a bit more research to do on his
life in Istanbul, Turkey.Of course, global politics being what they are today, completing that part of my research may go even slower now.
H-S: You've written about Baldwin several times.What about his
work and his
life make him such an interesting literary and social figure? Wallace
: Well, he
was enormously prolific.A novelist, a playwright, a short story writer and essayist par excellence.I think it's the force of his
essays that really inspires me.His
relationship to a church he
officially repudiated, but clearly never left in spirit, intrigues me.The audacity of criticisms of Cold War America, its self-delusions and hypocrisies were matched only by his
eloquence in articulating them.Clearly, too, he
loved language.As I do.There is something always faintly Baldwinesque as well in Toni Morrison's fiction when I read it.She
said so many times.
H-S: Are you teaching any of his
works in your African-American literature class this semester? Wallace
: I'm teaching a survey course on African-American literature from the colonial period to the 20th century.
: Biography might be too strong a word.
: This may be the hardest question of all, because I am one of those rare birds who actually gets paid to do what I love to do.