In Memoriam: Professor Carmen Gillespie 

By Jess Kaplan, News Content Editor

Professor of English Carmen Gillespie, who was also the founder and director of the Griot Institute for the Study of Black Lives & Cultures, passed away on Aug. 30.

Since joining the University community in 2007, Gillespie used her deep passion for the arts and creativity to build and celebrate a more diverse campus. Her research, writing, and teaching focused on American, African-American and Caribbean literature and culture, which she used as a guide in building the Griot Institute. She authored five books, as well as numerous individual poem publications and scholarly articles. Gillespie also pioneered the Griot Project Book Series, published by the Bucknell University Press.

Gillespie was awarded the Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship for Excellence in Poetry, as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She was also a Cave Canem Fellow and a Fulbright scholar.

Associate Professor of History and International Relations Cymone Fourshey, who is also the interim director of the Griot Institute, admired Gillespie’s commitment to making the Griot Institute a center of critical engagement with Africa and its diasporas. “Dr. Gillespie used a framework of deep humanistic questions to frame conversations and the work of the Griot,” Fourshey said.

Fourshey also emphasized how Gillespie drew on her research on Toni Morrison to transform the Griot Institute into an “infrastructure and institution that will be enduring and continue to provide meaningful engagement with the issues central to both Bucknell and the Griot’s own mission to educate, to serve as a catalyst for scholarship and curriculum on Africa and its diasporas, to enhance Bucknell’s reputation, and to stimulate intellectual and artistic activity; just to name a few goals the Griot engages in.”

Gillespie also formed lasting connections with her students that empowered them to achieve academic excellence. University graduate Tyler Strobel ’19 notes that Gillespie maintained her high level of commitment even to students who have already graduated. “One day, I realized I needed a physical letter of recommendation. I emailed her and within six hours, she had sent me a PDF version of one to use. She gave me hope for a less esoteric, more holistic brand of learning,” Strobel said.

Sebi Herrera ’21 traveled with Gillespie to the Caribbean this past summer, where she led a class on the legacy of slavery in the region. “She was a truly wonderful person who wanted nothing but for me to have a great time and take away a better understanding of the legacy of slavery on the Caribbean,” Herrera said.

But above all, Gillespie was a beloved and cherished friend. Associate Professor of English Meenakshi Ponnuswami will remember her dear friend Gillespie as “someone who never forgot a birthday, who cared to remember small, silly things I mentioned in passing, and whose thoughtfulness and generosity knew no bounds.”

Ponnuswami is currently writing an obituary that will be sent out to the University community, and the University is arranging a memorial service to celebrate Gillespie’s life.

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