For the Fall 2017 semester, Juilliard professor, Renée Marie Baron, will cross Lincoln Center and teach a course here at Fordham, while Professor Anne Hoffman goes to teach at The Juilliard School. This collaboration between Fordham and Juilliard was the vision of Dean Robert R. Grimes, S.J., who began discussing the possibility with Joseph W. Polisi, president of Juilliard, back in 2000.
The two schools share some early history. In the late 1960s, professors from Juilliard taught liberal arts classes at Fordham, and some Fordham theatre graduates worked as crew members for Juilliard productions. This history inspired Dean Grimes to renew the exchange program. According to an article that appeared on Fordham News in 2010, the year the program started again, Dean Grimes said, “It always struck me as very odd that we sit staring at one another across Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and yet we haven’t cooperated in some time.” The exchange program has occurred biennially since its reinstatement.
Professor Baron, an expert in African-American and Caribbean literatures and cultures, will be teaching “Black Atlantic Literature: Imagining Freedom” at Fordham. She is a frequent presenter at scholarly conferences, and has presented papers at conferences in the U.S., Paris, Belize, and the French West Indies. The author of several articles and reviews, Professor Baron is currently writing a book on the relationship between African-Americans and Caribbean immigrants during the Harlem Renaissance. She has taught at Howard University and Hofstra University. Below she answered questions about her course and the program.
Q. What can students expect from this course and the material it covers?
A. In “Black Atlantic Literature: Imagining Freedom,” students can expect to read contemporary literature across place, that is by Black people in different places throughout the world. One example is Zadie Smith’s NW, a novel about contemporary London.
Q. Have you taught this course at Juilliard before? What was the experience like?
A. I taught an iteration of this course last year called “African American Literature: Contemporary Diasporan Black Experience.” Students were very happy to read texts that were contemporary and cosmopolitan; the books felt timely to them – relevant. For me, it was a great experience because it got me thinking about how contemporary Black authors are still preoccupied with the notion of freedom. Perhaps it’s not called that all the time, but the idea of freedom is at the base of their concerns. I started thinking about how contemporary authors – despite all our progress and setbacks – were having new versions of old discussions.vc
Q. How do you feel Fordham students could benefit from the unique experience of taking a course taught by a Juilliard professor?
A. I don’t really think my teaching style is unique because I teach at Juilliard. Professors always have to adjust to the interests of their students. At Juilliard, students discuss and “live” the performing arts more than the other places I have taught. Because of this, I have had to “keep up” with some of their interests and use them when applicable. For example, I can now use sonata form as a model when I am teaching essay format. When I taught at Howard University, students were passionate about black culture in ways I had never experienced, so I had to use that in my classes. I am looking forward to learning what interests Fordham students and discovering how to use those interests in making my course meaningful.