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Sharon Monteith

Sharon Monteith

Distinguished Professor

School of Arts & Humanities

Staff Group(s)
English, Culture and Media

Role

Sharon Monteith is Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Cultural History at Nottingham Trent University.  Her latest book,

SNCC's Stories: The African American Freedom Movement in the Civil Rights South (2020) is published by the University of Georgia Press in the series Print Culture of the South. She talks about it  here

For Ray Arsenault in Patterns of Prejudice, it is a “fascinating and important new book… All studies of SNCC involve the construction and interpretation of a string of stories joined together in a narrative arc. But the stories that interest Monteith the most do not appear in previous works of scholarship or memoirs; her stories are the largely forgotten ones imbedded in language and literary invention. […] The book begins with an apt quotation from SNCC’s first secretary Jane Stembridge: ‘We have written tales about ourselves and told them everywhere.’ As Monteith points out, however, as pieces of print and publishing culture, these tales have been all but ignored by civil rights scholars. This potentially revelatory culture includes… field reports, pamphlets and newsletters to literary creations including fiction, essays, poetry and plays. Taken together, this eclectic body of work propels Monteith down an innovative and imaginative road of discovery. Politics and literature, the personal and the collective: it all merges into a new way of understanding SNCC’s deep commitment to participatory democracy and the cultivation and empowerment of local movements. No other civil rights organization active during the 1960s produced anything approaching this level of introspection and deliberative self-analysis, which may help to explain why SNCC fragmented and foundered late in the decade. […] Monteith skilfully places SNCC’s print culture in the contexts of Black Power, the Black Arts Movement and the rising conscious[1]ness of postcolonial literature and the international African diaspora.”

For Emilye Crosby in the Journal of American Studies, “Monteith does a wonderful job with SNCC’s Stories, researching and analyzing the narrative culture of the young people who made up the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, adding another dimension to our understanding of their work and thinking. Though initially overlooked by those who approached the movement through the lens of major leaders and events, SNCC’s organizers are now well studied. And yet Monteith has unearthed additional sources and offered ways we might use them to extend our understanding of the tough questions that remain. In particular she suggests that by examining SNCC’s creative work we might better understand SNCC’s interior experience and the emotion of organizing. […] In Monteith’s hands, even writing we know, like Howard Zinn’s The New Abolitionists, reveals new insights…. Zinn was among a handful of professional writers, also including journalist Pat Watters, psychologist Robert Coles, and attorney Len Holt, whom Monteith includes in this discussion of SNCC’s narrative culture. All these authors were compelled by SNCC to push against the boundaries of their professional writing in an effort to capture the emotion and complexity of the organization’s story as it unfolded. […] SNCC writers ‘share anarchic, community stories and self-consciously extemporize about emotions that were hard to manage. They intervene in debates between professional historians, overtly and presciently, by refusing to separate what happened as history from how it was experienced.’ Thanks to SNCC writers and SNCC’s Stories we now know more of what SNCC did and learned and how they survived to carry on the struggle.”

For Steve Estes in The Sixties, “American Studies researchers and literary scholars will find much to like here... The field reports chapter will be particularly instructive for historians, who have been mining SNCC reports for decades to chronicle the movement on both the national and local levels. Here, Monteith considers the reports as a distinct literary genre that would influence the print culture of other New Left organizations and the underground press of the 1960s. [….]One of the stronger chapters in SNCC’s Stories locates antecedents for the Black Arts Movement in SNCC’s literary culture. Literary lions like Nikki Giovanni and Julius Lester cut their teeth in SNCC before writing incisive critiques of American culture (and the civil rights movement itself) in the late 1960s and 1970s. Monteith shows that SNCC poets like Charlie Cobb were mining Black Power themes before the heyday of the Black Arts Movement. This corrective feeds into a larger historiographical movement in the last few decades that blurs distinctions between civil rights and Black Power.[…] SNCC’s Stories concludes with a call for students and scholars to revisit the literary activism of the civil rights movement. I admire Monteith for her critical contribution to the resurrection of movement literary works, both famous and obscure. This book successfully marries deep historical research and thoughtful literary criticism in a way that should inspire and inform future works in the field”

Monteith is currently recipient of a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship and is writing about the US civil rights movement's literary histories She has supervised 37 PhD students to successful completion and welcomes applications from students who wish to research in any of the areas of her interest and expertise.

Career overview

Before joining Nottingham Trent University, Monteith was Professor of American Studies at the University of Nottingham

She was founding co-director, with Zoe Trodd, of the Centre for Research in Race and Rights.

From 2013-2016, she was founding Director of the Midlands3Cities-AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership (a consortium comprising of University of Nottingham, Nottingham Trent University, De Montfort University, University of Leicester, University of Birmingham, Birmingham City University and multiple creative industry partners). Prior to that she was Associate Dean of the University of Nottingham Graduate School with responsibility for the Faculty of Arts.

For REF 2014 she was a member and assessor for two  subject areas in Sub-Panel D: History and English.

Research areas

Professor Monteith's interdisciplinary research focuses on literary activism, African American and Black British print and visual culture, the American South, the US civil rights movement and massive resistance to civil rights, the 1960s, African-American and Black British history, American literature and culture, feature film, documentary and art cinema, journalism and media cultures,  contemporary fiction and comparative contexts of class, race and ethnicity. Her most recent book is SNCC’s Stories: The African American Freedom Movement in the Civil Rights South (University of Georgia Press, 2020) in the series Print Culture of the South. It recovers the print and publishing culture of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and its activist literary history, notably in writing of Charlie Cobb, Jane Stembridge, Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Jean Wheeler Smith,  Bill Mahoney, Maria Varela, John O'Neal, James Forman, Gloria House, Worth Long, Peter De Lissovoy,  Gloria Wade Gayles, Julius Lester, Richard Hall,  Kathleen Collins, Jimmy Garrett, Denise Nicholas,  and Mitchell Zimmerman. It examines how journalists, historians, lawyers, and psychologists, some of whom joined SNCC, championed the organisation in their writing, including Len Holt, Joanne Grant, Howard Zinn, Robert Coles and  Pat Watters.

She is currently recipient of a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship and is writing about the civil rights movement's literary histories.

She has supervised 37 PhD students to successful completion. She is currently supervising students working on social justice in various ways: in the context of African American women's internationalist thought in Freedomways magazine; in the context of massive resistance to the civil rights movement; in First Nations women’s writing in Canada and the US that focuses on testimony and epistemic injustice; the decolonisation of YA fiction with focus on First Nations authors in the US and Canada; Black and white women's activism in the East Midlands via practice-led documentary art filmmaking; Nottingham's African Caribbean community heritage through archival study and an original poetry collection; and a practice-led CDA  on how Nottingham Playhouse engages the city's diverse communities . Some examples of previous doctoral projects supervised include:

  • 2021 Lauren Eglen, ’The Heart of the Collective’: Freedomways Magazine and Black Women’s Intellectual History, 1930-1985
  • 2021 Bradley Phipps,  Motherhood and Manhood: Gender in the White Citizens’ Councils
  • 2020 Scott Weightman on The Outward Face of Massive Resistance: Segregationist Media Strategies in the 1950s and 1960s; now working for UNISON.
  • 2019 Tomos Hughes on America’s Imagined Revolution: Narrative and Politics in the Historical Novel of Reconstruction. Key writers examined range from the progressive to the radical: George Washington Cable, Albion Tourgée, Charles Chesnutt, Frances E.W. Harper and W.E.B. Du Bois, now a Leverhulme Postdoctoral Fellow;
  • 2017 Rose Pearce on the emotions history of African Americans enduring racially segregated travel in the US; now Learning Technologist in the Learning and Teaching Support Unit at NTU;
  • 2015 Madalina Stancileaneu on the myth of postracialism and the racial controversies facing Barack Obama during his presidential campaign and first term (now assistant for the Public and Political Affairs Unit, University of Nottingham);
  • 2014 Rachel Sykes on The Quiet Contemporary American Novel (Manchester University Press, 2018); now Senior Lecturer in English at University of Birmingham;
  • 2013 Nick Witham on U.S. cultural radicalism and the Central America Solidarity Movement, 1979-1992: The Cultural Left and the Reagan Era: US Protest and Central American Revolution  (I. B. Tauris, 2015). Now Senior Lecturer in American History, University College London;
  • 2012 Francisca Fuentes on the funerals of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Jr.; now American Studies Librarian at The Eccles Centre, The British Library;
  • 2009 Donna Peberdy on Baby Boomers and ageing in cinema (Masculinity and Film Performance: Male Angst in Contemporary American Cinema published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2011). Now Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at Southampton Solent University;
  • 2008 Ceri Gorton on contemporary US writer Kingsolver (formerly with Arts Council England, and Cultural Development Manager, Oxford City Council, now a freelance creative consultant (Bird and Gorton);
  • 2007 Yan Ying on contemporary Chinese and Chinese-American literature ; now  Lecturer in Translation Studies, University of Leicester;
  • 2007 Sinead Moynihan on 21st century fiction, published as Passing into the Present: Contemporary American Fiction of Racial and Gender Passing (Manchester University Press, 2012). Now  Senior Lecturer in American Literature, University of Exeter;
  • 2005 Karen McNally on Frank Sinatra in cinema: When Frankie Went to Hollywood: Frank Sinatra and American Male Identity published by University of Illinois Press, 2008, reprinted 2015). Now Reader in Film Studies, London Metropolitan University;
  • 2005 Champa Patel on Ralph Bunche and Malcolm X's activism in Africa; formerly Director of Programmes for Amnesty International and ‎Head of Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs and now Director of Innovation and Deputy Director of the Future of Conflict programme at International Crisis Group;

Professor Monteith welcomes PhD applications and email enquiries from prospective students in any area that relates to her research interests. Further information may be obtained from the NTU Doctoral School.

External activity

November 1, 2021 Presentation of SNCC's Stories  at the James Weldon Johnson Institute, Emory University, Atlanta

http://jamesweldonjohnson.emory.edu/home/about/news-events/index.html?trumbaEmbed=view%3Devent%26eventid%3D155399723

November 25, 2021 Contributor to the British Academy's Thinkers in Our time series Thinkers for our time: W.E.B. Du Bois | The British Academy

Freedom Reads  (Summer 2021) at the \national Justice Museum organised by Nottingham City of Literature and English PEN

Welcome to the Summer of… | Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature (nottinghamcityofliterature.com)

Professor Monteith’s recent collaborations include:

Nottingham Black Archive for the AHRC World War I Hidden Histories network.

National charity Journey to Justice as city lead to bring its exhibition on US and UK civil rights to the city of Nottingham. The exhibition at the National Justice Museum involved city-wide partnership working with Midlands3Cities, Nottingham City Council, and multiple community and arts organisations, colleges and schools, as well as Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham. Alongside the exhibition, local people and university students worked together on human rights initiatives by recovering and reclaiming stories that demonstrate history of rights and justice in Nottingham.

Sponsors and collaborators

Professor Monteith's research has been supported by the Leverhulme Trust, the AHRC, the British Academy, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

In 2017 she was Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, University of Mississippi for The Radical South: Southern Activism, Past and Present.

In 2016 she was the PI for a British Academy Landmark Conference Grant when the BA held its first and only three-day conference. It focused on Civil Rights Documentary Cinema and the 1960s: Transatlantic Conversations on History, Race and Rights. It brought together civil rights activists, documentary filmmakers, historians and cultural critics in the US and UK and involved a public event to commemorate the life of former SNCC activist and Head of the NAACP, Julian Bond.

In 2013, she co-organised a conference devoted to hidden histories of individuals at the March on Washington in 1963. Reviewed here https://blog.notbemoved.com/post/61912784083/memorials-monuments-and-memory/embed

Professor Nahem Yousaf (NTU) and Professor Monteith co-edit the Manchester University Press series Contemporary American and Canadian Writers which publishes the work of established and emerging scholars to reflect the breadth and diversity of contemporary North American writing.

Publications in this series include David Brauner, Philip Roth (2007); Mark Brown, Paul Auster (2007); Andrew Tate, Douglas Coupland (2008); Sinead Moynihan, Passing into the Present: Contemporary American Fiction of Racial and Gender Passing (2009); David Stirrup, Louise Erdrich (2010); Joe Bray and Alison Gibbons eds. Mark Z. Danielewski (2011); James Peacock, Jonathan Lethem (2011); Andrew Taylor and Simon Malpas, Thomas Pynchon (2013); Maria Holmgren Troy, Elizabeth Kella, Helena Wahlström, Making Home: Orphanhood, Kinship, and Cultural Memory in Contemporary American Novels (2014); Cindy Hamilton, Sarah Paretsky (2015), Rachel Sykes, The Quiet American Novel (2018), Zalfa Feghali, Crossing Borders and Queering Citizenship: Civic Reading Practice and Contemporary American and Canadian Literature (2019), Lydia Cooper, Cormac McCarthy: A Complexity Theory of Literature (2021) Michael Kalisch, The Politics of Male Friendship in Contemporary American Fiction. (2021), Rachel Sykes et al, Marilynne Robinson (2022) Please address emails about proposals for new titles to both editors.

Press expertise

  • Literary activism in the US and UK
  • The American South
  • The U.S. civil rights movement
  • American literature, journalism, film and media
  • The American 1960s
  • Race, rights and social justice in a variety of national and international contexts
  • The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
  • Documentary cinema
  • Literary and cultural history from the nineteenth century to the present
  • African American and Black British Print and Visual Culture
  • Archives
  • contemporary fiction, US, UK and in comparative perspectives