UI professor a 'walking encyclopedia' of African-American novels

BY REBECCA MORIN | MAY 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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After teaching a course about African-American novels in the Reagan Era, Michael Hill published a scholarly study this semester of the trend of prizewinning writers from 1977 to 1993.

“There is not a ton of African-American writers,” he said. “There were 16 African-American writers during the Reagan Era, and out those, 12 of the writers won an award; I just wondered why that was the case.”

Hill, a native of Georgia, began working at the University of Iowa in 2006 in the English Department with a joint appointment in African American Studies.

Hill is also the president of the UI African American Council. He currently teaches a course on rap music and hip-hop culture in the 1980s, said Horace Porter, a professor of English and American Studies.

Hill began researching for his first book, The Ethics of Swagger, in 2008 after a course he taught piqued his interest in the book’s topic.

Through funding from the English Department and several grants, Hill traveled to Harvard University, Emory University, and several other schools to conduct in-depth research on several African-American novelists, such as Alice Walker and John Wideman.

Professor Claire Sponsler, the head of the UI English Department, said she was delighted to find ways to support Hill in his travels to research for his book.

“The Ethics of Swagger is a book anyone interested in the novel, the culture of literary prizes, or African-American writing will find deeply rewarding,” she said. “We hope it will spur further research by scholars in the field.”

Hill’s findings revealed that many African-American writers in the Reagan Era consulted with each other.

“The group of writers in [the Reagan Era] gave one another the chance to give feedback and gave potent critiques of one another’s work,” Hill said. “They wanted to effectively and innovatively capture the black culture.”

Sponsler said the book’s topic is groundbreaking.

“A book like this one has never been written before, but clearly should have been,” she said. “Writing a good scholarly book is a long and painstaking process, but the payoff can obviously be well worth the effort.”

Hill and his wife are working on editing a book called Invisible Hawkeyes under contract with the UI Press. It will focus on fine arts and performing arts from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Hill’s colleagues in the English Department say they are proud of his accomplishments and believe they are lucky to have him in their department.

“Professor Hill is an invaluable colleague,” Porter said. “He is a walking encyclopedia on African-American novels.”

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