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Many feats of work lead to Feast of Words, the annual celebration of Emory authors

One guest invited to Emory’s 20th-annual Feast of Words celebration of faculty and staff authorship was excited to be there for the first time. 

President Gregory L. Fenves told the celebrants in the Jones Room of the Woodruff Library that he recently queried Provost Ravi V. Bellamkonda about whether Emory had a tradition of honoring its authors.

Pleased at the affirmative answer, he arranged to be personally on hand to offer the traditional toast and express his admiration for the breadth of Emory’s scholarship on Dec. 5. 

This is at the core of what a great university does,” Fenves said, recalling that at a previous institution, he had created such an annual occasion. To nods from the crowd, he added: “I am so heartened to know that we are way ahead of the game, having had this event now for two decades.” In the course of that time, Emory authors have published more than 2,000 books. 

A year’s worth of worthy reading 

Hosted by the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence (CFDE), Emory Libraries and the Emory Barnes and Noble Bookstore, the event celebrated the publication of 82 titles published between Sept. 1, 2022 and Aug. 31, 2023.

Beyond the impressive numbers is the audaciousness of the intellectual terrain. Here is a glimpse of some of the content areas the books cover: Germ theory. New Testament women. Animals, plants and fungi that drill, break and scrape to shape the earth. Self-delusion. Debates in the digital humanities. Dispatches from the AIDS pandemic. Rap music in Taiwan. Brazil’s green revolution. Rotational motion.

A feast of facts and figures 

  • 82 total titles
  • 50 faculty authors
  • 36 faculty-edited or co-edited titles
  • Nine faculty members with multiple works published
  • Five faculty members served as translators or had their own works translated, including Lisa Dillman, professor of practice in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, who was a National Book Award finalist for her work translating “Abyss,” by Pilar Quintana, from Spanish to English
  • 40 volumes by Emory College of Arts and Sciences faculty
  • 14 volumes by School of Law faculty
  • 11 volumes by Candler School of Theology faculty
  • Nine volumes by School of Medicine faculty
  • Six volumes by Oxford College faculty
  • Five volumes by Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing faculty
  • Two volumes by Rollins School of Public Health faculty
  • Two volumes by Emory Libraries staff
  • Six volumes by emeriti faculty

Six of this year’s authors relied on the CFDE’s Scholarly Writing and Publishing Fund, which provides faculty members small grants to hire an editor to help take a manuscript from one stage to the next.

Writers needed — and appreciated

Pearl Dowe, vice provost for faculty affairs and Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Political Science and African American Studies, kicked off the proceedings, sharing a quote included in the last book Toni Morrison published before her death in 2019, “The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations.” In the prologue, Morrison states, “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are a necessity.”

When Valeda Dent, vice provost of libraries and museum, came to the podium, she took a moment to acknowledge that Dowe is among the faculty authors this year, with her newly released book, “The Radical Imagination of Black Women: Ambition, Politics, and Power.” It is a work that, as noted on the Oxford University Press website, “reveals the complex dynamics through which Black women emerge as candidates and engage as politicians.” 

Dent spoke with a deep personal understanding of an author’s journey, having published, earlier in her career, one of the most comprehensive books on rural African libraries: “Rural Community Libraries in Africa: Challenges and Impacts.”

“For those of us who have been in your shoes and have spent many hours writing and researching, we all understand that the work of being an academic author is not a solo endeavor. Your department participates, perhaps your mentor, as well as your family, friends and colleagues. We understand that this is a passion and provides a foundation of learning for our students. Equally important is the ability to celebrate what we know are extraordinarily relevant contributions to academic literature,” Dent noted. 

Timothy Fields (left), author of “The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions,” engages Megan O’Neil, who co-edited “The Science and Art of Maya Painted Ceramic Vessels.”

Admission dean commits his wisdom to a book 

A member of the admission staff was among the authors and editors celebrated at "Feast of Words," having co-authored a book whose success, since its publication in September 2022, has prompted a forthcoming second edition. Timothy L. Fields, senior associate dean of undergraduate admission, wrote “The Black Family’s Guide to College Admissions: A Conversation about Education, Parenting, and Race” with Shereem Herndon-Brown.

Fields, who has served in the Emory admission office for more than a decade, described the racial reckoning of 2020 as a pivotal moment: “My co-author and I wanted to move the narrative forward on improving the lives of Blacks in America, and we fundamentally feel that college is still the best way to narrow the wealth gap in the U.S. for Black families. Thus, we wanted to create a resource to help in that effort.” 

“While the immediate benefit was to help Black students and families navigate the college admission process, the book’s most significant impact was for allies and non-Black college counselors and educators who, because of the book, have been better able to understand the Black experience as it pertains to college admission and the complexity surrounding it given the history of race in the U.S.,” Fields added. 

And he’s humble, acknowledging: “In the process of writing and researching the book, I have also learned how much I did not know about the educational experience for many students in this country.”

Provost Ravi Bellamkonda and Vice Provost Pearl Dowe have a look at the rich fare provided by this year’s Emory authors, one of whom is Dowe, who wrote “The Radical Imagination of Black Women.”

What better holiday gift? 

Before making his own remarks, Provost Bellamkonda carefully looked over the display of faculty books made possible by the Emory Bookstore. The title of psychology professor Greg Berns’ latest book — “The Self-Delusion: The New Neuroscience of How We Invent, and Reinvent, Our Identities” — had him intrigued.

His praise, though, extended to every project. “This scholarship adds to our greater understanding of the world, and it is amazing to see it come to fruition,” he said.

View the full list of titles.

Photos by Sarah Woods, Emory Photo/Video.

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