Change Text Size
Email Columns Print page
Columns: The Online newspaper for the University of Georgia community
Show Index
April 5, 2004   Columns Articles | Faculty Profiles | English professor helps students traverse the ‘road…
Magnify McKnight, Reginald-h.portrait

English professor helps students traverse the ‘road to discovery’

April 5, 2004
Share    

Reginald McKnight is not the English instructor who forced you to diagram sentences. He is UGA's first Hamilton Holmes Professor, a new chair that honors the legacy of one of the first two African Americans to integrate UGA in 1961. When McKnight, an acclaimed author and winner of the Pushcart Prize, jokes with his class, which is often, his eyes squint with glee, and he is genuinely in on the joke. His presence is relaxed, avuncular.

"It's easy to teach writers to write, but nearly impossible to teach those who can't," says McKnight, who also teaches African literature. Among his favorite classes are "White Writers, Black Characters" and "Cross-Racial Literature," because they force students to step outside their comfort zones.

"As the teacher, you're always tempted to just write the story for the student, but you can't-because every story is a road of discovery," he says. "There's a kind of spiritual element to all mediums of art. Besides, this is not a trade school and we're not here to put out craftspeople. We're in the business of creating better readers-whether they be of literary stories, news broadcasts, or political debates."

When these modern students, whose minds are often trapped in a labyrinth of GREs, LSATs, MCATs and future dollar signs, shed their grade-point pressures in pursuit of ­humanistic and artistic deliberation, it is a tribute to McKnight. It is also precisely why UGA lured the author of two novels, three short story collections and two edited volumes from the University of Michigan to fill an academic chair that represents the university's dedication to diversity and openness.

"He allows us to think for ourselves," says Melissa Golden, a sophomore international affairs major from Atlanta. "And because of that, you don't kill yourself to meet the highest expectations. He just makes you want to get there for yourself."

After Hamilton Holmes integrated UGA, earning both a Phi Beta Kappa key and a bachelor of science degree cum laude, he went on to integrate Emory's medical school and later served as its associate dean. For the entirety of his life, until his death in 1995, Holmes placed a high priority on scholarship.

For McKnight, the Holmes appointment is significant for both historical and personal reasons.

"As a kid, I marveled at the courage of pioneers like Holmes and [Charlayne] Hunter-Gault," he says. "Holding this chair is like rubbing elbows with the greats."

By the time he was 16, McKnight had attended 15 schools, mostly in the western United States, around the Air Force bases where his father was stationed. But he was also schooled in the deep South, where he attended one segregated school and others that he and his three ­siblings integrated.

"America has made blacks the spokespeople for race-but that's not my role," he says. "When I write, I am typically writing to one person, be it my mother or someone else. I use a bow and arrow rather than a shotgun approach when identifying my audience. I've lived a very peripatetic life. I have gained a lot of friends and lost quite a few, and sometimes it feels like my writing is simply a message in a bottle and the hope that those friends get it."

Asked about his next book, McKnight will only say (for fear of losing steam with too much talk) that it will be set in the 1940s, different from his past work.

On the subject of where he thinks he is as a writer, he replies, "I get better book after book. I still haven't reached my potential-but I think talent is finite. I think I have about five books left in me. After that I'm going to do like Artie Shaw and turn my clarinet into a lamp."

(Note: This profile was adapted from a story published earlier in Georgia magazine.)

More from this issue

  • April 5, 2004

    Symposium will celebrate the state’s contemporary authors

    The Creative Writing Program will host a symposium modeled on the anthology After O'Connor: Stories from Contemporary Georgia, edited by Hugh Ruppersburg. The symposium will be held in the Chapel April 8. Continue

  • April 5, 2004

    Safe shelter

    Oysters are important to Georgia's coastal waters for many reasons besides the fall oyster roast on the beach. Oyster reefs attract other commercially useful marine life such as crabs and fish, they filter algae and pollution from the water and they protect against shoreline erosion. Unfortunately, the popularity of oysters as food has jeopardized oyster reefs in the intertidal waters of Georgia's coast. Continue

  • April 5, 2004

    Law school commemorates 50th anniversary of landmark court case

    To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision, the School of Law will host a program on April 7 to reflect on the past, evaluate the present and discuss the future of educational integration, specifically at the UGA law school. Continue

  • April 5, 2004

    An ear for news

    A new local news program will hit the Athens airwaves beginning April 8 at 4:30 p.m. Athens News Matters, produced by local public radio station WUGA-FM 91.7/97.9, is a weekly program featuring media professionals discussing issues important in and around Athens. The journalists will also discuss how their publications choose to cover the news and what news to cover. Continue

  • April 5, 2004

    Former CDC communications director joins university faculty

    Vicki Freimuth, former director of the Office of Communication at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has joined the health communication faculty at UGA. She holds joint professorships in the speech communication department and in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass ­Communication. Continue

  • April 5, 2004

    ‘Electronic media’s best’: 2004 Peabody winners announced

    The winners of the 63rd annual Peabody Awards were announced last week by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The 29 award winners for excellence in electronic media, chosen from more than 1,100 entries, included an Individual Peabody to Bill Moyers, the first Peabody given to a Web site, joint recognition of MTV and the Kaiser Family Foundation for public service, and BBC America's comedy The Office. Continue

  • April 5, 2004

    Three undergraduates win prestigious Goldwater Scholarships

    Three UGA students have been named recipients of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, one of the nation's top academic awards for undergraduates. Continue

  • April 5, 2004

    Expanding

    Ideas for Creative Exploration-ICE-is an interdisciplinary program for advanced research in the arts. The first ICE project was the Web site (at www.ice.uga.edu), which launched in fall 2001. Columns talked to assistant director Mark Callahan about ICE's first two years. Continue

FOR MORE ONLINE
Columns is produced by the University of Georgia | Division of Marketing & Communications | Feedback