Cheryl Clarke: The Never-Ending Resource that is Black Queerness
I stayed in the academy so that I could do my work outside of it. (I needed to pay my rent and later my mortgage.) During the 1980s my work in the academy was more of a “job.” Something I did so that, as I said, I could do my writing, my work with Conditions, travel, serve on boards that needed commitment (e.g., New York Women Against Rape, New Jersey Women and AIDS Network, Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, Astraea Foundation for Social Justice, and now the Newark Pride Alliance). So, Rutgers was not my primary identity for many, many years. For many, many years, it was the lesbian feminist work that kept me going. However, Rutgers was a good place to network, and I always liked and respected many of the people I worked with. And I always tried to have a progressive stance around issues of freedom of expression, that is standing up for my beliefs, job equity, disenfranchised students issues, public programming reflective of underrepresented concerns, teaching courses on black women’s writing, black queer writing, the black freedom movement, and introductory women’s and gender studies courses, establishing our social justice learning community, and for 17 years directing the office for services to LGBT students. So, Rutgers at once gave me a platform for my work as well as a place to be just an administrator. Being in the academy has enabled me to do my work for the most part, because I have never taken my place within the academy too seriously. And believe me, I have had some setbacks there. Between 1998 and 2002 I worked for a very homophobic vice president and worked under the leadership of a very homophobic and conservative university president for 12 years. This was not fun. We had to deal with Republicans in Washington during the 1980s; and, at Rutgers, since everything comes to the academy later, we had to deal with Republicans at Rutgers in the 1990s. This was very impactful. During this whole time I, of course, continued to write, continued to study, and published my critical study of the Black Arts Movement, “After Mecca,” and my collected works The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry, 1980-2005. I received my doctorate in 2000, which made me very happy. I worked for it from 1991 to 2000 in the English Department at Rutgers, but actually, I started in 1969 and stopped in 1974. Those nine years of study during the 90s were some of my happiest times. So, really it took me 15 years to finish, but I like to say 30 years. I think that’s somewhat of a record. But writing that dissertation gave me the opportunity to make a contribution to African-American literary criticism.
The hardest part about writing is, as you know, to keep doing it. I have just finished my last edit of my manuscript of poems, which I have been trying to publish since 1993—well, only some of the poems; I have written new ones. I hope to have another book of poetry published before I die. I also hope to have another critical study of black writing done before I die. With all the work we have to do for our communities, taking that space to think and write is difficult, but must be done for it satisfies the soul—not just my soul but other souls as well. I have a difficult enough time trying to prepare for my classes. And teaching is another commitment of mine which I wish I could perform better.