Herman Beavers’ balancing act of creativity and educational innovation

Professor of English and Africana studies Herman Beavers seated in a chair in a university hallway.
Professor of English and Africana Studies Herman Beavers. (Image: Omnia magazine)

“A life is a series of stories,” reflects Herman Beavers, who wears enough hats to fill a rack. A professor of English and Africana studies, Beavers’ scholarly interests and courses focus on 20th-century African American literature and culture, jazz and the blues, and poetry and poetics. A published poet, his love and study of music infuse his works. Beavers’ career is also defined by his commitment to community building, whether it be finding exciting new ways to connect students with local residents, or discussing literature with veterans. His journey from a young academic to an accomplished scholar and teacher is one of intellectual and artistic curiosity, matched only by an enduring generosity.

Beavers’ first loves were writing and music. As an undergraduate, he chose Oberlin College because of its conservatory of music. While there, he saw jazz legends like Betty Carter, Art Blakey, and Sonny Rollins perform. After graduating from Oberlin, he took a leap of faith and bypassed his “safe” plan to attend law school. He instead chose the master’s writing program at Brown University. “I remember asking my advisor, ‘How come we don’t read African American writers in anthologies?’” says Beavers. “He said, ‘To answer that question, you have to get a Ph.D.’ So, that’s what I did.”

While Beavers was completing work on a second master’s in Afro-American Studies and said Ph.D. in American Studies, both from Yale, he began his teaching career at Sarah Lawrence College, which employs an unconventional grading system that requires all students to complete independent study programs. “I had a faculty mentor who said I should only devote 10 or 15 minutes to each student,” says Beavers. “But for me, those biweekly meetings turned into hour-long conversations and I came to understand that what happens in class has everything to do with what is happening in students’ lives. Part of your job as a teacher is to make sure your mentees are able to make their story what they imagine it to be.” This mantra would come to encapsulate Beavers’ career as a teacher and mentor.

This article is by Blake Cole. Read more at Omnia