Current Fellows

For the 2019-2020 academic year, the James Weldon Johnson Institute is pleased to welcome 9 visiting scholars for all or part of the academic year.  We owe our growth to a number of sponsors: the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the United Negro College Fund, among others. Navigate the tabs below to read about each of our remarkable fellows.

As a result of the continued support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we are pleased to host three distinguished scholars of all ranks to Emory to complete a project of their choice:

Dr. Courtney R. Baker (University of California)

Courtney R. Baker is Associate Professor of English at University of California, Riverside. She earned her B.A. in Women’s Studies from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in Literature from Duke University. Her book, Humane Insight: Looking at Images of African American Suffering and Death,was published in the New Black Studies series by the University of Illinois Press in 2015 (a paperback edition was published in 2017). Her research focuses on blackness and the visual representation of humanity. Her articles have been published in the Journal of American Cultureand Parallaxand in the online journals ASAP/J, Avidly, Huffington Post: Black Voices, and New Black MAN.Her chapter on African American visual culture in the 1970s will appear in the volume Black Cultural Production after Civil Rights, edited by Robert Patterson, to be published in 2019 by University of Illinois Press. Her current manuscript project, entitled “Tyranny of Realism: Twenty-First Century Blackness and the Ends of Cinema,” examines formalist techniques in recent American and British Black films in order to re-center film art as a site of Black politics and expression.

Dr. Kyle T. Mays (University of California, Los Angeles)

Kyle T. Mays (Black/Saginaw Anishinaabe) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of African American Studies and the American Indian Studies Center, at the University of California, Los Angeles. He earned his Ph.D. in the Department of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2015. He is a transdisciplinary scholar of Afro-Indigenous Studies, Indigenous popular culture, and urban history. He is the author of Hip Hop Beats, Indigenous Rhymes: Modernity and Hip Hop in Indigenous North America (SUNY Press, 2018). He has a book currently under review titled, Aunt Judy’s Detroit: Indigeneity and Belonging in the Motor City, under contract with the University of Washington Press.

During his fellowship year at Emory University, he will be writing a book that explores the relationship between Black Americans and Indigenous people in the U.S. Moving from the formation of the United States until the present, and using case studies, this book uses critical ethnic studies approaches, historical archives, and cultural studies methods, in order to analyze the relationship between Indigenous dispossession and anti-Blackness. Importantly, it also considers how these two groups might move forward to end their oppressions, together.

Dr. Shante Paradigm Smalls (St. John's University)

Shanté Paradigm Smalls is a scholar, artist, teacher, and writer. Smalls’s teaching and research focuses on Black popular culture in music, film, visual art, genre fiction, and other aesthetic forms. Dr. Smalls recently finished their first scholarly manuscript, Hip Hop Heresies: Queer Aesthetics in New York City, which won the 2016 CLAGS Fellowship Award for best manuscript in LGBTQ Studies. Hip Hop Heresies is the first of its kind—placing queerness, hip hop, and black aesthetics in conversation with one another to argue that New York City hip hop cultural production from the 1970s to the mid-2010s inherently employs “queer articulations” of race, gender, and sexuality.

Hip Hop Heresies is under contract with NYU Press’s Postmillenial Pop series and is forthcoming in late 2020.

Smalls’s writing has appeared in The Black Scholar, GLQ, Women & Performance, Criticism, Lateral, American Behavioral Scientist, Suspect Thoughts, Syndicate Literature, and The Oxford Handbook of Queerness and Music. Dr. Smalls is currently an Assistant Professor of Black Literature & Culture at St. John’s University in New York City. Dr. Smalls received their PhD in Performance Studies from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, their MA in Performance Studies from NYU, and their BA in English and Theatre from Smith College.

To see more, go to Dr. Smalls’s website:


Magana Kabugi (Vanderbilt University)

Magana Kabugi is a PhD Candidate in English at Vanderbilt University. His research and teaching interests include African American literary and cultural studies, the history of Black education, and the sustainability of black institutions, with a particular focus on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). While in residence, Magana will be completing his dissertation, The Souls of Black Colleges: Cultural Production, Ideology and Identity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which examines the pivotal role that cultural production (such as literature, art, and publishing) played in shaping national and global conceptions of the HBCU mission, as well as sparking radical cultural and ideological shifts within HBCUs themselves.

Iliana Rodriguez (Yale University)

Iliana Rodriguez is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Studies at Yale University.  Her interdisciplinary research examines processes of Latinx community formation in the southern U.S. during the late 20th and 21st centuries. Specifically, she looks to Metro Atlanta’s Mexican community to ask how Mexican migrants made use of local, national, and transnational resources and experiences to create spaces of belonging in the region. Through questions about labor, race, ethnicity, (il)legality, and culture, she traces the recent history of Mexican Atlanta to illustrate the everyday work of placemaking in a metropolitan region with little historical presence of Latinxs. Her research takes a migrant centered approach, as she makes extensive use of (in)formal interviews and oral histories to tell the story of Mexican Atlanta from the bottom up. In the historical and contemporary context of an increasingly anti-immigrant state, she argues that these everyday Mexican experiences show how migrants worked to expand their own civic participation and membership across Metro Atlanta.

The Mellon Foundation supports a semester-long visiting scholars program for faculty of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This year, we are pleased to welcome one faculty fellow from Spelman College.

Dr. Sarah RudeWalker (Spelman College)

Sarah RudeWalker is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Spelman College. Her research focuses on the ways Black activists have used art, and literary texts in particular, as rhetorical vehicles for social change and the disruption of institutionalized practices of White supremacy. Her forthcoming book, “Revolutionary Poetics: The Rhetoric of the Black Arts Movement,” is a critical reassessment of the aesthetic, social, and political impact of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) of the 1960s and 1970s. She is currently working on a second book project, “Black Women Writers and the Rhetorics of Black Power,” in which she investigates the ways Black women writers of the 1960s and 1970s complexly negotiated being caught between two movements that were purportedly working in their interests, Black Power and Second-Wave Feminism, by working within Black nationalist movements to change prescriptive attitudes about gender and sexuality. Dr. RudeWalker’s scholarly and creative work has appeared in CallalooComposition Studies, and Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture.

Dr. Shanya Cordis (Spelman College)

Shanya Cordis (Black/Warau and Lokono) is an Assistant Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology at Spelman College with a focus in Native American & Indigenous Studies and African & African Diaspora Studies. A first generation Guyanese-American of black and indigenous (Warau and Lokono) heritage, her research focuses on indigeneity across the Americas and the Caribbean, black and indigenous political subjectivities and social movements, gendered violence, and critical feminist geographies. Her forthcoming manuscript, Unsettling Geographies: Antiblackness, Gendered Violence, and Indigenous Dispossession in Guyana is a critical feminist ethnography of the relationships between indigenous land dispossession, antiblackness, and gendered racial violence in Guyana.From multiple perspectives—indigenous grassroots organizations, government and civil society, everyday Amerindians, and African and Indian descendants (collectively known asCreoles), the book traces the racial and gendered colonial logics that undergird Guyanese statecraft and engender multiples forms of dispossession, rendering indigenous lands/bodies—and its impoverished Guyanese citizenry more broadly—to intensified precarity.

With support from Emory's Laney Graduate School, JWJI provides one competitive fellowship for an Emory graduate student studying race.

Justin Shaw (Emory University)

Justin Shaw is a doctoral candidate in English Literature at Emory University. His dissertation, “Race and Melancholy in Early Modern English Literature,” analyzes literary texts from the late 16th through 17th centuries and argues that early modern English subjects imagined, articulated, and enforced racial difference through evolving knowledge about melancholy. The project develops a theory and praxis for examining race through the history of medicine and science as expressed by writers such as Christopher Marlowe, John Donne, Aphra Behn, and William Shakespeare. The implications of this literary and historical work anticipate the tenuous constructions of race, disability, gender, and medicine in today’s world as well. His essay on whiteness and the history of science appears in the forthcoming volume, White People in Shakespeare, edited by Arthur Little, Jr., while his article on disability and care ethics in Othelloappears in a forthcoming special issue of Early Theatre. He is a former Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Intern at the Michael C. Carlos Museum and has managed the digital humanities project, Shakespeare and the Players.