English professor discovers, digitizes historic slave manuscript in Library of Congress

Katherine Bassard, a professor of African American literature in the Department of English, found the manuscript in a box tucked away in a forgotten corner of the Library of Congress labeled “African American miscellaneous.”

Fields Cook was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation in 1817, and though he died more than 100 years ago, his life and most intimate thoughts survive and were recently revived.

“A Scetch of My Own Life by Fields Cook” is one of the few, if only, surviving manuscripts written before the Civil War by a slave still in bondage. The historic document recently was discovered by Katherine Bassard, Ph.D., (M.A.’86/H&S). senior vice provost for faculty affairs and professor of African American literature in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences. She found the manuscript in a box tucked away in a forgotten corner of the Library of Congress labeled “African American miscellaneous.”

With the help of Joshua Eckhardt, Ph.D., associate professor of English, and two dedicated graduate student workers, Bassard is turning the manuscript into a digitized, searchable, and freely downloadable file.

“It’s the first enslaved writer of an autobiography, the first slave narrative with manuscript provenance, and the first African American writer writing primarily for an audience other than white northerners,” Bassard said.

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Theater professor honored with Tony nomination

Photo by Joan Marcus.

Toni-Leslie James didn’t cry 25 years ago when she received her first Tony Awards nomination. She did today, however, when she received her second.

James, associate professor and director of costume design in the Department of Theatre in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, walked into the theater department this afternoon as a newly minted Tony nominee for Best Costume Design in a Play for her work on “Jitney,” the critically praised revival of the August Wilson play. She immediately encountered such an onrush of congratulations and genuine elation from her colleagues and students that she broke into tears. She couldn’t help herself. They seemed about as happy about her honor as she was.

“I’m so lucky to work with the people I work with,” James said. “The kids are so excited. We’re basically having a lovefest over here.”

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After four decades, Everett Worthington, leading expert on forgiveness, set to retire from VCU’s Department of Psychology

Everett Worthington. Photos by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.

Taped to the office wall of Everett Worthington, Ph.D., a Virginia Commonwealth University counseling psychology professor and a leading scholar in the field of forgiveness research, is the staggeringly ambitious to-do list for his upcoming retirement.

Among the goals? Influence the way couples, countries, political systems, Christian denominations and cultures practice forgiveness.

“My mission,” the list reads, “is: ‘To do all I can to promote forgiveness in every willing heart, home and homeland.’ That mission MUST govern the content of my decisions.”

To achieve these goals, the list calls for Worthington to conduct at least 10 studies on forgiveness and humility, speak in at least 15 countries and author 10 papers with international scholars, write enough additional articles and book so his lifetime total is at least 500 articles and book chapters, and author enough additional books to reach a lifetime total of 50 books.

He wants to accomplish all this by the time he reaches 80 in 2026.

“I make lists,” Worthington said. “I don’t think retirement will really be that much more [work]. It’s pretty much the same pace I’ve always done.”

Early in the fall semester, Worthington, a beloved faculty member who has greatly influenced the understanding of forgiveness, couples counseling and much more, will retire from the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences after nearly four decades.

Over those years, Worthington developed a couples counseling intervention that has been implemented by marriage counselors around the world, saving numerous relationships; wrote 37 books (a rough estimate, he says); and mentored a generation of graduate students, quite a few of whom have gone on to become famous psychologists.

Yet, in that time, Worthington also suffered unthinkable tragedy.

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VCU poet David Wojahn shares insights into his latest collection, ‘For the Scribe’

David Wojahn, an award-winning poet who teaches poetry and writing as a professor in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences, is the author of nine poetry collections, including his most recent work, “For the Scribe” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017), which continues Wojahn’s explorations of the interstices between the public and the private, the historical and the personal.

“In his formidable ninth collection, Wojahn (‘World Tree’) catalogues extinctions personal, cultural, and ecological,” Publishers Weekly wrote in its review of “For the Scribe.” “‘Assume, dear vagabond, you are permitted/ One last survey,’ he writes in the opening poem, an elegy for his father. As longtime readers might expect, Wojahn’s own ‘last survey’ impresses with both its diversity and detail. Bristling with quotations and historical artifacts, his rhythmic lines capture bluesmen as well as they do woodpeckers. In the title poem, he writes ‘inscription/Is a form of weaving,’ and indeed, his brocaded compositions often have the richness of tapestry. Whether examining Glenn Beck or laundry robots, his ‘burnished effusions’ relentlessly hone in on the specific.”

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John Accordino named dean of VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

John Accordino, Ph.D.

After a rigorous national search, Virginia Commonwealth University has named John Accordino, Ph.D., as dean of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, effective March 1. Accordino has served as interim dean of the Wilder School since last July.

“John Accordino has a well-earned reputation for excellence in research, teaching and community engagement,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “His leadership, vision and enthusiasm will advance the Wilder School’s commitment to preparing the next generation of leaders to solve complex societal problems, advance research to inform public policy and decision-making, and collaborate with communities to enhance the quality of life.”

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‘Support for NPR comes from … ’: VCU’s Chioke I’Anson named a voice of NPR

Chioke I’Anson, Ph.D.

Chioke I’Anson, Ph.D.

Listeners of NPR stations across the country are now hearing the voice of a Virginia Commonwealth University faculty member introduce the underwriting credits — the credits that start with “Support for NPR comes from … ” — for NPR’s newscasts and podcasts.

Chioke I’Anson, Ph.D., an instructor in the Department of African American Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, joins Jessica Hansen as one of NPR’s two voices of underwriting. His voice started airing Nov. 28.

“I’ve been a public radio fan for a good 15 years,” I’Anson said. “[Underwriting announcers have been among] the most present, iconic voices on all of NPR. They are at the end of every newscast, of every show, and at the beginning of every podcast. They are as recognizable as Robert Siegel and Audie Cornish. The credits they read are essential to keeping the lights on, so to speak. It is a very nerdy dream come true to join Jessica as a voice of NPR.”

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Peter Buckley named dean of VCU School of Medicine and VCU Health executive VP for medical affairs

Peter Buckley, M.D.

Peter Buckley, M.D.

Virginia Commonwealth University announced today that Peter F. Buckley, M.D., has been

appointed dean of the VCU School of Medicine, effective Jan. 17. He also will serve as VCU Health System executive vice president for medical affairs, overseeing the 600 physician-faculty group practice of the academic health sciences center.

Buckley comes to VCU from Augusta University in Georgia where he is dean of the Medical College of Georgia and executive vice president for medical affairs and integration. A psychiatrist and expert in schizophrenia, Buckley also is a professor of psychiatry, pharmacology and radiology at MCG.

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Professor’s new book helps children better understand dementia

Paul Gerber, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the School of Education and former Ruth Harris Professor of Dyslexia Studies, has authored a children’s book illustrated by his wife, Veronica Geran Gerber, which serves as a vehicle for discussion and understanding of loved ones who suffer from dementia.

Ferguson the Forgetful Frog: A Story about Dementia,” is written for children ages 5 to 8 and provides an age-appropriate format for dealing with a family member with dementia. Gerber and his wife produced the book after experiencing dementia among family members.

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NPR backs podcast co-created by VCU faculty member, will explore people’s paths not taken

A podcast co-created by a faculty member in the Department of African American Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences is one of only three in the country to win funding from the NPR Story Lab, NPR’s idea hub that creates pilots for radio shows, launches new podcasts, and introduces new voices to the public radio network.

In the podcast, “Do Over,” Virginia Commonwealth University faculty member Chioke I’Anson, co-host Kelly Jones and producer Claire Tacon will tell stories of pivotal moments in people’s lives and explore what might have happened had they made a different decision.

The idea, I’Anson said, is for “Do Over” to examine the “real fake story of what your life would be like if you had made a different choice that one time.”

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Psychology faculty members promoted to Commonwealth, University professors

Faye Belgrave, Ph.D., left, and Albert Farrell, Ph.D.

Faye Belgrave, Ph.D., left, and Albert Farrell, Ph.D.

Two faculty members in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences have been promoted to the prestigious ranks of University and Commonwealth professors.

VCU has promoted Faye Belgrave, Ph.D., professor of health psychology and social psychology and director of the Center for Cultural Experiences in Prevention, to University Professor, and Albert Farrell, Ph.D., professor of clinical psychology and director of the VCU Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development, to Commonwealth Professor.

Faculty members nominated for University Professor must either teach or conduct research that crosses discipline boundaries. These individuals must have an established prominence in multiple fields of study, with national or international recognition in at least one field of study.

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