David Lionel Smith

John W Chandler Professor of English, Emeritus

Teacher. Scholar. Poet. Translator. Disc jockey. Mentor. Mensch.

“Professor” barely scratches the surface.

Since 1980, you’ve taught hundreds of students and mentored many theses. Led creation of the Sterling Brown Visiting Professorship and recruited Bolin Fellows. Served as dean of the faculty and imbued the Afro-American Studies program with an internationalist bent as program chair. But all of that constitutes just one facet of your wonderfully multifaceted life.

Another is your scholarship: A specialist on Mark Twain, Southern literature, nature writing and the Black Arts Movement, you co-edited a landmark five volume encyclopedia of African American culture and history. A former student describes your meticulously curated Southern Fiction syllabus as “a work of art.”

Still another is your life in the arts: your poems and translations have been widely published and anthologized. For 38 years you hosted a campus radio show that was a master class in its own right, tracing the cultural and creative flow between jazz, blues, rhythm and blues and genres like folk, country and classical. In the classroom, your total focus on the craft of teaching has been compared to the famous image of Miles Davis playing with his back to the audience. And as a board member or consultant you’ve advised arts and cultural organizations ranging from the Smithsonian, Folger Shakespeare Library and Mark Twain House to our Schumann Performing Arts Endowment and ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance.

Finally, there’s your caring side: For years, your and Vivian’s home and table were centers of life for students and young faculty of color. Entire genealogies of academics and public intellectuals trace back to you. In Latin, the term professor was often used to signify a teacher of the highest rank. Although the word only captures one aspect of your multifaceted life, we can’t imagine a more apt title for you now.

I hereby declare you the John W Chandler Professor of English, Emeritus, entitled to all the rights, honors, and privileges appertaining thereto.

June 4, 2023