|photo: Tiffany Stubbs
Cynthia B. Dillard (Nana Mansa II of Mpeasem, Ghana, West Africa) has been appointed dean of Seattle University's College of Education. Dillard currently serves as the Mary Frances Early Professor in Teacher Education at the University of Georgia. Two of her books, On Spiritual Strivings: Transforming an African American Woman's Academic Life and Learning to (Re)Member the Things We've Learned to Forget: Endarkened Feminisms, Spirituality and the Sacred Nature of Research, were selected as Critics' Choice Book Award winners by the American Educational Studies Association. Her latest book is The Spirit of Our Work: Black Women Teachers (Re)Member (Beacon Press, November 16, 2021), an exploration of how engaging identity and cultural heritage can transform teaching and learning for Black women educators in the name of justice and freedom in the classroom.
On your nightstand now:
Brittany Cooper, Chanel Craft Tanner and Susana Morris's Feminist AF: A Guide to Crushing Girlhood. This book is a whole bridge for embracing Black feminism and Black girlhood together. I also have We Do This 'Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba, a brilliant guide to the deeper meanings and principles of our carceral systems, abolition and freedom that many of us are fighting for in the U.S. and around the world and needed language to describe our work. Finally, there's William Barry and Robert Doherty's Contemplatives in Action: The Jesuit Way. I am finding so much resonance with Jesuit teachings and my spirituality as a Black women, especially as I prepare to take up the position of dean of the College of Education at Seattle University. Definitely reading to get ready!
Favorite book when you were a child:
Surprisingly, I didn't really like reading very much as a child and have very few memories of books that I liked. That might be a common theme for my generation of Black people who grew up in the era of the Sally, Dick and Jane. But now as a teacher educator, I have access to all of the incredibly culturally diverse children's literature and use it to teach future teachers how to teach through the cultures, identities and spirits of their students. A few of my favs: I Saw Your Face by Tom Feelings, Skin Again by bell hooks, and Kofi and His Magic by Dr. Maya Angelou.
Your top five authors:
I have been influenced by so many authors! So the criteria for my top five authors is an extension of the books that I am an evangelist for! The clarity of Audre Lorde has taught me that my silence does not protect me and that speaking is necessary to live. Octavia Butler teaches me over and over that past is prologue and that Black women are magic. Ghanaian author Ayi Kwei Armah (re)minds me that African people have ways of knowing and being that existed long before encounters with Europeans and that those ways are still in our memories and our DNA: They are our inheritance. My brilliant sister Bettina Love gives me vivid examples of Black life and love that I may not have not lived but that have always lived within me. And every word in breathtaking prose that nayyirah waheed writes of Black experience gives me wisdom and beauty that are a praisesong to the ancestors. These authors give me wings as an author!
Books you faked reading:
All of the European classics that we were required to read in high school!
Books you are an evangelist for:
The Sovereignty of Quiet by Kevin Quashie. This book changed my entire world! Quashie (re)claims the powerful ways that Black life holds space for our vocal public struggles against oppression and also embodies equally powerful acts of quiet within that struggle that are sacred, spiritual and critical to a full reading of Black liberation and freedom. I have recommended this book SO often to my students and others engaged in educational (re)search that is about addressing Black life in its wholeness. Quashie's analysis is brilliant and my own writing about the nature of spirituality in teaching and learning has been transformed deeply by this book.
Books you've bought for the cover:
Not to brag, but my book, The Spirit of Our Work: Black Women Teachers (Re)member is one of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen. I sometimes just gaze at the cover and smile: it captures the spirit of the book in a way that makes me breathe more deeply.
Books that changed your life:
Among so many, there are two books that transformed me from the inside out. The first was This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Women of Color Feminists. This book was written by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa and was the primer for my own emerging consciousness as a Black woman. This was the first collection of writings that articulated feminism as cultural and intersectional praxis and struggle for women of color. I pulled up a chair, sat down at that table, and to this day, have never left.
The other book that changed my life was Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow, a stunning story of the ways that memories and (re)membering who we were as Black people can heal our minds, bodies and spirits in places that we didn't even know were broken: The main character speaks to the important distinction between nostalgia and memory: the former is sweet but keeps us stuck in time, while the latter can be useful because it always makes a demand on the present.
Favorite line from a book:
From Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters:
"Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?... Just so's you're sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you're well."
Five books you will never part with:
Every book listed above (!), along with Maya Angelou's All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes. This brilliantly personal autobiography of Dr. Angelou's time and work in Ghana in the late 1950s explores what it means to be an African American and the ways that her experiences in Ghana allowed a longer, deeper identity both connected to and distinct from Africans on the continent.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Every book I have ever read! For me, reading is a sacred act, a kind of prayer. Each time I (re)turn to a book, I am a different person, body, mind and spirit. So I always see, hear, feel and experience something new between me and the words on the page. That is the true gift of (re)turning to a book: That act allows you the beautiful opportunity to (re)member.