More Than a Degree: Alumni Yvonne Brown’s Journey after UMD

Bio at a glance:

Name: Yvonne Brown

Degree and Year: English BA, 2003

Current Position and Employer: High School English Teacher; Archivist, Toni Morrison Society; Executive Director, The Phoenix/Medina Writer's Project Inc.

Current Location: Washington, DC Metro Area

Other Degrees/Areas of Study: MA (in progress)

In choosing to be an English major at UMD, Yvonne Brown demonstrated not only her interest in the field but also her devotion to a teacher who did more than just improve her writing.  She explains, “In middle school and high school, my writing often stood out to my teachers and they took the time to nurture my talent. To be more specific, my high school English teacher, Sheila Jacobs, saved me from a life that was filled with turmoil and despair.  Hence the reason I chose to become an English teacher.”

While at Maryland, Yvonne encountered a handful of professors who would continue to provide memorable moments as teachers and mentors.  After studying Lucille Clifton with Professor Jonathan Auerbach, Yvonne had the kind of experience that often appears only in movies: 

A year later, I would see a lady struggling to walk up the steps from the parking lot heading towards Susquehanna.  I offered her some help up the steps and had a hunch it was Lucille Clifton.  I was correct and she was impressed that I could match her face from my studies.  Lucille Clifton and Michael Collier read from their works at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center later that evening.

Her path would cross Clifton’s again, as she recently participated in a choral reading of Beloved at a celebration of life for Toni Morrison by Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou where all of Morrison’s work were highlighted, including her foreword toThe Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010.

In Professor Carla Peterson’s class, Yvonne again found life inside and outside the classroom overlapping in unexpected ways.  Dr. Peterson’s class sparked Yvonne’s interest in Philadelphia and its historical use of fires as a means for destruction in the face of racial injustices.  As the class studied WEB Dubois, Yvonne learned that Dr. Bonita Valien, the elderly lady she helped in her spare time, was an instrumental part of many things discussed in class.  Dr. Valien was a Fisk Social Scientist who studied under WEB Dubois, author of topics relating to school integration and race relations in the South, artist, and inventor of the Dual Easel Support Frame, among many other accomplishments in her nearly 100 years of life. 

It was in Professor David Wyatt’s course that Yvonne encountered the works of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and William Faulkner for the first time.  Yvonne remembers, “I always looked forward to our Socratic Seminar style discussions and found that I learned more about American history in his class than in any history class or book I ever read.”  Her friendship with Professor Wyatt did not end after the semester, as he has since encouraged Yvonne to write her novel in the fashion of The Color Purple. 

In some senses, Yvonne’s path from UMD has been traditional: she’s now using her English degree to teach high school English, as she’s done since graduating in 2003.  But Yvonne’s path has also been marked by incredible experience reflecting both her own talent and the relationships she’s cultivated.  For example, in 2005, she was 1 out of 19 High school teachers selected from across the nation to participate in Language Matters II: Reading and Teaching Toni Morrison, an intensive week-long NEH workshop held July 9-17, 2005 at Northern Kentucky University. As part of the workshop, participants studied all of Morrison’s novels and children’s books under the guidance of leading Morrison scholars and master teachers, visited Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, attended the Cincinnati Opera’s premiere performance of Margaret Garner, and participated in the 4th Biennial Conference of the Toni Morrison Society.  Yvonne Brown and Toni Morrison

Yvonne explains that her teaching career has afforded her great opportunities such as being a Maryland Writers Project Fellow and a Toni Morrison Language Matters II Teacher, which was the stepping-stone to her current position as the Archivist for The Toni Morrison Society.   And if this weren’t enough to keep her busy, in 2008 she launched The Phoenix/Medina Writer's Project Inc. a non-profit organization that promotes literacy to disenfranchised individuals.  She is currently Executive Director for the organization. She is also preparing her first book, The Crying Girl, for publication and obtaining her master’s degree this December from The University of Maryland University College.  

All of these experiences have positioned Yvonne ideally for giving advice to the next generation of English majors:

Follow your favorite writers whether they are alive or not.  Get involved with their organizations and/or volunteer.  Tap into the wealth of knowledge that encompasses UMCP English Department and use all the writing resources available.  Participate and attend as many lecture series and/or programs.  UMCP invites a prestigious variety of authors, speakers, and other intellectual giants that will add to your understanding of the world.

As Yvonne continues her journey as an English alumni, it is clear that she has taken her own advice to heart.  

 Everything I do is related to English.  We had our first child in 2010 and our second child in 2011.  Our second child’s middle name is Love English.


For information about the Toni Morrison Society Officers, click here.  The Language Matters Program is also available online, and you can find more information about Yvonne's work Chasing Rainbows: The Quest for Peace (co-authored with Neville Adams) here.