Before she was interested in television, Tananarive Due was interested in writing. Authoring her first book, Baby Bobby, at age 4, she caught the writing bug and it became the medicine for her soul. Some four decades later, Due is not only an award-winning author, but her talents have brought her to be named the 2012-2013 William and Camille Cosby Endowed Professor in the Humanities at Spelman College.
For Due, this is a major opportunity and blessing. For Spelman, it’s something much larger. “It means our students are intersecting history,” said Tarshia Stanley, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the English department. “Due is a pioneer in Black speculative fiction, a journalist and a screenwriter.”
Demure and friendly, the author of 12 novels and a civil rights memoir is teaching screenwriting and journalism, and planning programming events that will bring the who’s who in writing talent and entrepreneurship to Spelman. Due helped to popularize the Black speculative-fiction genre, taking the baton from heavyweight Octavia Butler. She and her husband, science-fiction writer Steven Barnes, met at a speculative fiction conference at Clark Atlanta University in 1997, which Butler also attended.
While working as a journalist and columnist for the Miami Herald, she wrote her first novel, The Between, in 1995. However, it wasn’t until the middle of her second novel, My Soul to Keep, that she sold her first book. In writing for what would become the popular African immortal series, Due developed the male hero, Dawit, with Blair Underwood in mind. Like many who read her work, Underwood also became a fan. Their relationship blossomed into a partnership and trio-writing collaboration between Due, Barnes and Underwood, creating the Tennyson Hardwick mystery novels.
Due came to the College in 2011 to teach English composition and grammar. Once the year was winding down, she went to see Johnnella Butler, Ed.D., Spelman provost, to explore 2012 opportunities.
“I met Ms. Due at Founders Day, 2010 and thought then that she would be an excellent Cosby Chair. She gave me a signed copy of the book she and her mother wrote. Once I sought more information about her, I was eager to bring her to Spelman in some way,” said Dr. Butler. “Before I could suggest it, the English department requested her for a one-year appointment, and Dr. Tarshia Stanley nominated her for the Cosby Visiting Professorship last spring.”
Due’s journey to Spelman is bittersweet. She, her son and husband, came to Atlanta in the spring of 2011 to care for her ailing mother, civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due, who passed away in February. “I was just thrilled to end up teaching at Spelman College, even though my mother was ill. One of the very last lucid moments I had with her was when I told her I would be teaching at Spelman.”
Dr. Stanley thought the stars had aligned when she found out that the woman named after Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, was in Atlanta and interested in Spelman.
“I am a fan of her work in speculative fiction. This is a secondary interest of mine,” said Dr. Stanley, who teaches courses in film and media studies, particularly as it pertains to images of women of African descent. “She and I were introduced at a writer’s conference. When I heard that she’d moved to Atlanta and was interested in Spelman, I thought it serendipitous.”
As Cosby Chair, Due said she will program a lecture series that focuses on one of her and the English department’s priorities – bringing recognition to Spelman as a destination school for people who want to write. First up in the series is Ava DuVernay, American filmmaker, writer, producer and entrepreneur, Sept. 27. “Ava DuVernay is here as a screenwriter because I would be remiss as a screenwriting instructor in teaching to say, ‘This is how you write a script,’ and give them the expectation that Hollywood is going to open the doors,” said Due, who plans on having each student work on their own screenplay as an assignment. “Ava DuVernay is my first guest because I think she encompasses the full picture of what an artist and entrepreneur is and how to take your work through a process that leads to success.”
With at least one more in the lecture series before her culminating event in 2013 that will bring tribute to Butler, Due’s stint as Cosby Chair will be nothing less than spectacular. “Tananarive is an absolute pleasure to work with. She is meticulous, enthusiastic and excellent at what she does,” said Dr. Stanley, who jokes that it took her a few weeks to ask Due for her autograph. “She is living the life for which many of our students strive.” – Renita Mathis is director of Interactive Communications and associate director for the Office of Communications at Spelman College.