Glenda Dickerson First WOCAP Shirley Verrett Awardee

It was with pleasure that in 2011, the Women of Color in the Academy Project (WOCAP) announced the establishment of the Shirley Verrett Award in honor of the internationally acclaimed opera legend. It is with sadness that we recognize the recent passing of our inaugural awardee, Glenda Dickerson.  On November 6, 2011, Glenda Dickerson, Professor of Theatre and Drama in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, was honored with the inaugural Shirley Verrett Award. Established by the Office of the Senior Vice Provost in partnership with WOCAP to honor Ms. Verrett’s legacy, the $5000 award recognizes a faculty member whose work–teaching, performance, scholarship, or service–supports the success of female students of faculty in creative fields who come from diverse cultural and racial backgrounds, and promotes diversity as a central part of the University’s educational mission.

Shirley Verrett has been described by the New York Times as a “remarkably complete and distinctive operatic artist,” and performed over 40 roles all over the world during the course of her illustrious career.  As the James Earl Jones Distinguished University Professor of Voice at the University of Michigan, Ms. Verrett also touched the lives of countless students, one of whom said of her commitment to teaching: “Professor Verrett would have walked the world over for her students.” 

It was especially fitting that Glenda Dickerson was the first person honored with the Shirley Verrett Award as these two women shared some wonderful qualities: both wereinternationally acclaimed artists, and were influential mentors and role models for students and fellow artists–especially women of color.  Those who had the pleasure of seeing them perform also know that Glenda and Shirley shared another quality–a gift that one of Glenda’s long-time colleagues called a “public calmness.” Whether performing at the Met, on Broadway, or in a more intimate stage or classroom setting, both women captivated and moved audiences with their charisma and serene presence. 

Glenda Dickerson was a director, folklorist, adaptor, writer, choreographer, actor, black theatre organizer and educator. Over her career, she used the context of history and culture to increase awareness and understanding of women of color throughout the world. Her many prestigious awards, including an Emmy and a Peabody, were testament to how successfully she accomplished this. One of her more recent projects, Kitchen Prayers: Performance Dialogues, perfectly embodied that spirit–by giving voice to black women and celebrating their stories and strength. 

At the University of Michigan, Ms. Dickerson established and directed the African American Theatre minor. She was also the founding director of U-M’s Center for World Performance Studies, an interdepartmental and interdisciplinary center that has united artists, scholars, and the community through the international language of the arts. A charismatic teacher and inspiring role model for women of color, and according to one colleague, Glenda, “brought light into countless lives of those who have struggled throughout the years to become professional artists.”

There will be a memorial service honoring Glenda Dickerson at the Arthur Miller Theater on Thursday
April 19 at 4:30pm. For more details, please contact the WOCAP Project Coordinator, Ching-Yune
Sylvester at yunecs@umich.edu.

Women of Color in the Academy Project “Write-ins”

Our lives are so busy with constant emails, texts and knocks on the door. When writing is integral to your work, how do you find the time to get it done? Particularly as faculty, it is so easy to get caught up in the immediate demands of teaching, traveling, and meetings, that making the time to write–journal articles, books, grant proposals–often falls by the wayside. 

The Women of Color in the Academy Project (WOCAP) initiated a new series of bi-weekly “writeins” targeted to women of color faculty and postdoctoral scholars. Every other Friday during the past academic year, the women met on campus for coffee, tea, and uninterrupted time to write–no phone calls, no visitors, no expectations for socializing. These “write-ins” have been a wonderful opportunity for academics to schedule time to write away from their offices, knowing that they will be in the company of others who are also committed to writing. At the end of last semester, participants gathered for an informal dinner to allow everyone who had been sitting together all semester, working in silence, a chance to get to know each other. 

This initiative has been a wonderful way to meet WOCAP’s mission of supporting the professional success and well-being of women of color academics at the University. This summer, WOCAP will hold a 2-day writing retreat that will address issues of how to write effectively and will allow plenty of time to work on individual writing projects and to get to know each other. In the Fall we plan to launch structured writing groups in addition to the “write-ins” for those who prefer to have more interaction, collaboration and accountability.