Merle Collins Selected as 2018-2019 Distinguished Scholar Teacher

April 3, 2018

This distinction honors faculty members who have demonstrated outstanding scholarly achievements, as well as exemplary contributions as teachers and leaders in their respective field.

Professor Merle Collins, Distinguished Scholar Teacher 2018-2019Professor Merle Collins is an esteemed scholar, internationally acclaimed poet, ground-breaking oral archivist, highly regarded documentary film maker, and a brilliant teacher, who over the course of her career has become one of the most influential figures in the field of Anglophone Caribbean literature and culture.

In addition to her exemplary scholarly contributions to Caribbean and Postcolonial Studies, Professor Collins is the author of several significant and influential creative works about the Caribbean, which includes​ two books of short stories, three collections of poems (some previously published by prestigious Caribbean, U.S. and diasporan journals), one biography, and the internationally acclaimed novel Angel, first published in 1987 and revised and reissued in 2011.

“Beyond the classroom” has been the signature of Professor Collins's pedadgogy:

  • She initiated the “Saraka and Nation” project, which traces the connections between cultures of Africans in the Americas and sites of memory in Africa.
  • Her documentary film on the importance of so-called “small islands,” Saracca and Nation (2009), was produced out of this collaboration. This documentary is now on graduate syllabi across the country. 
  • Produced with support from a MITH (Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities) Fellowship, Professor Collins completed a documentary on African Culture and Retentions in Grenada
  • In 2004, Professor Collins founded Caravision Community Theater in Prince Georges County, which produces Caribbean theatrical work throughout the Washington metropolitan area.
  • Each semester since 2004, at times working with Faedra Chatard Carpenter and/or of the University of Maryland’s Theater, Dance, and Performing Arts Department, Professor Collins has worked with students in producing community-based class projects on Caribbean-U.S. culture. 
  • Having been awarded a UMD Global Classrooms Initiative Grant, Professor Collins devised and taught a class on Caribbean and Latin American Oral Histories in coordination with a professor in the Department of Hispanic Studies, Birmingham University, UK.  She has since re-imagined this class and now teaches it is as part of outreach and assistance to a local community organization working with children from Prince George’s County schools.

Professor Collins is currently involved in three scholarly projects. She is editing “Expressions of the Self” for Caribbean Literature in Transition. She is also editing “Recovering Oral Histories,” a collection of work submitted by students in her 2015-16 English Department course ENGL361 on Caribbean oral history. This collection marks the culmination of work Professor Collins began in 2013 with a Research Continuity Micro-Grand from the University’s DRIF funds to develop oral histories of Caribbean and Latin American subjects living in Montgomery County. She has also begun research in Grenada and London for a forthcoming biography of Grenadian Louise Langdon Little, the mother of Malcolm X.

The international and transnational scope of Professor Collins’s interdisciplinary work and activism has been recognized by many grants and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship Memorial Award in 2000 to study “Slavery and Emancipation in the Caribbean.” For her work promoting links between the university and the community, she has received the ARHU Foxworth Initiative Grant to develop a new course on Caribbean literature and community outreach (2014); an English Department Center for Literary and Comparative Studies (CLCS) grant for a conference held in coordination with Howard University; Global Classrooms Initiative funding for developing a new course on Caribbean and Latin American Oral Histories (2014); and a Beyond the Classroom Grant from the English Department to organize an undergraduate symposium on Carnival and the Carnivalesque in Caribbean Culture (2017).

Professor Collins’s approach to scholarship, teaching, mentoring, and advising is shaped by a remarkable ability to move between the academy and communities beyond the academy, as well as across disciplinary fields. The red thread that runs throughout her career is a commitment to the Humanities in the fullest sense of what this discipline has to offer: the rich intersection of historiography, creative production, literary and cultural appreciation, and public engagement. 

Professor Collins joins other Distinguished Scholar Teacher recipients from the Department of English: Jonathan Auerbach (2014-2015), Theresa Coletti (2012-2013), Martha Nell Smith (2010-2011), Robert Levine (2007-2008), Jackson R. Bryer (2004-2005), Linda Kauffman (2000-2001), David Wyatt (1998-1999), Jane Donawerth (1995-1996), Susan Lanser (1992-1993), Susan Handelman (1989-1990), Samuel Schoebaum (1987-1988)