Cultivating New Voices among Scholars of Color
Two years of support, mentoring, and networking opportunities for early career scholars of color.
New CNV Co-Director Announcement
Congratulations, Latrise and Leigh!
For the first time in CNV’s history, the program will be supported and strengthened by two public intellectuals, Dr. Latrise Johnson and Dr. Leigh Patel. In addition to providing our brief bios, we have included a dialogue that lifts up the collaborative nature of our directorship.
Latrise P. Johnson is a writer, scholar, mother, teacher, and intellectual. She works as an associate professor of Secondary English language arts and literacy at the University of Alabama (UA). Before joining the faculty at UA, Dr. Johnson taught middle and high school language and literature in Atlanta Public Schools. She is an equity-oriented scholar whose research examines the literacy practices of historically marginalized youth in and outside of school. Her articles, “Writing the Self: Black Queer Youth Challenge Heteronormative Ways of Being in an After-School Writing Club” and “The Human and the Writer: The Promise of a Humanizing Writing Pedagogy for Black Students” (the latter coauthored with Hannah Sullivan), published in Research in the Teaching of English (RTE), both received the Alan C. Purves Award (2018 and 2020, respectively) for their impact on literacy education. She served as Professor in Residence at a local high school, conducting research, teaching classes, sponsoring student groups, and working closely with students and teachers. Dr. Johnson serves the literacy field as associate editor of the Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice journal; as a member of the Language Arts, RTE, and Equity & Excellence in Education editorial boards; and as Past Chair of English Language Arts Teacher Educators (ELATE). Dr. Johnson was a CNV Fellow (2010–2012). Dr. Johnson teaches yoga to her friends and family, and her anthem is Q.U.E.E.N by Janelle Monáe, featuring Eryka Badu.
Leigh Patel is an interdisciplinary educator and researcher. Her focus is on the ways that schooling acts as the most efficient delivery system of oppression but also always has the ability to be a tool for liberation. She has written for academic outlets as well as publications that reach wide audiences, including The Atlantic, The Feminist Wire, Truthout, and Beacon Broadside. She is an elected member of the National Academy of Education as well as a proud member of the grassroots organization Education for Liberation. Dr. Patel’s most recent work addresses what education can learn from the pedagogies found in social movements and includes a team research project archiving the ways in which caregivers of color experience a range of challenges and obstacles during the ongoing global pandemic. Her most recent book is No Study without Struggle: Confronting Settler Colonialism in Higher Education. Dr. Patel was a CNV mentor for three cohorts. Her walk-on song is “Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest.
What have reading and writing meant to your life?
Latrise: Growing up, there were always texts in the house—picture books, encyclopedias, handwritten notes, romance novels in the bathroom, posters on the wall, magazines—that made our home a print-rich environment. And when my twin sister and I would claim to have nothing to do, our mom would say, “Read a book.” She would leave notes and draw pictures of smiling stick figures giving us directions for what to do (and not do) when we got home from school if she was not there. So reading and writing have always just been a part of my identity—not just in a do-well-in-school-to-get-a good-job-later kind of way, but as a part of what we did every day.
Leigh: There’s an interesting overlap in our experiences. I always had books around me, but they were almost exclusively library books. My mother, who taught herself this new logographic system, would take my sister and me to the public library, wherever we lived, and wait while we chose piles of books to take home. As a language arts teacher, I did not have a classroom that was rich in resources, but it overflowed with books because of partnerships with librarians.
Where does storytelling have a place in your world?
Latrise: Our dad told the best stories. He was 60 when we were born and had experienced so much in his life before my sister and I came along. He would tell us about making soap with ash. He would tell us about growing up without electricity. Now, I think of storytelling as the way that we all become a meaningful part of our world. It is in the stories we tell and even make up that we find meaning and connection.
Leigh: I will never forget the feeling of sitting in my mother’s lap, when we visited India and I was about five years old. We would go from home to home in the farming village where my mother grew up, and the women would gather and tell stories. I was mesmerized by the emphatic, loud proclamations, the laugher, the gentle scolding. I learned to love story first through the communal practice of oral storytelling.
What is a book that you would not be the same without?
Latrise: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison is my all-time favorite. I first read it in college in a Black Women Writers course and was captivated by the story, but also by Morrison’s writing. The story is about love and pain that felt so real to me. And the way it was written, I felt like I was hearing the story from an amazing griot.
Leigh: Every December, when I lodge my grades and exit my last meeting for the semester, I re-read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. This ritual of reading, of course, holds different meanings for me each time I read it. It also grounds me in the reality that Hurston’s life and her amazing offerings were not celebrated during her lifetime. This fact is both demoralizing and a constant reminder that oppressions have rarely taken a day off.
What attracted you to take on the CNV directorship?
Latrise: CNV was integral in cultivating my own voice when I was a Fellow. I met some amazing people and was able to share in the struggle and triumphs of thinking about how we might illuminate the literate lives of people of color and improve the world through our inquiry and questioning. I feel that the time was right to give back to CNV what it had given me—a community of intellectuals and access to spaces where I have been able to engage in work that matters.
Leigh: Similar to you, Latrise, CNV has been for me a crucial space where my own analysis was supported, sharpened, and welcomed. My career has undeniably benefitted from being a mentor, learning from senior scholars, particularly women of color whose work had impacted my own in deep ways. I also take mentoring seriously and as a long-term commitment.
What is something that you would like all teachers of language and literacy to know?
Latrise: I want teachers of language and literacy to know that they don’t know the future. Instead of trying to convince young people that knowing how to read and write well will somehow serve them in their future careers, we should show youth how reading and writing serve them in the present—how they might read and write themselves into the(ir) worlds today. We must communicate to them that they are important parts of the world already.
Why did you choose your anthem? What does it do for you?
Latrise: “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monáe, featuring Eryka Badu, is about a woman who does not fit into a box. Her identity is fluid, and she is a rule breaker. It is also a great tune for jamming!
Leigh: “Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest is a song that makes me happy, moves me to dance and even strut a bit. It’s from an era (the early ’90s) where so many artists were crucial teachers about power and struggle. It also reminds me that I can, in fact, kick it, so I better do so!
What future worlds are you building through your work?
Leigh: In my work, I am answerable to the communities that I am part of, the legacies that make it possible for me to be alive, and I am answerable to the generations to come. I am answerable to nothing less than freedom. I strive to write, as Toni Cade Bambara invoked us, so that revolution is irresistible.
Latrise: Like Leigh, I am accountable to my communities. I do work that I am called to do and believe that we are responsible to and for our planet and our people—even in the smallest of ways. I want to build worlds—though writing, research, yoga, teaching, mentoring, and loving— that are a little better because I was a part of them.