With a national grant, a Virginia Tech professor is highlighting the work of a revered poet whose written word was shaped by and promoted a Black literary tradition.

Tyechia Thompson, assistant professor in the Department of English, has received the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) - Mellon Fellowship for Digital Publication grant. 

The grant seeks to support individual scholars who are conducting research projects that require digital expression and digital publication. 

Thompson will lead a project titled “Place, Memory, Poetry, and the James A. Emmanuel’s Papers at the Library of Congress.” She will conduct a documentary style analysis of 30 poems written by Emanuel in order to highlight his contribution and impact relevant to 20th century literary and cultural history. The focus will be on literature of the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements and Thompson plans to showcase the importance of  Emanuel’s role as an African American expatriate in Paris.

Q: What does it mean to you, both personally and professionally, to receive this grant? 

Thompson: Personally, because I worked with Emanuel when I was a program assistant for a study abroad program based in Paris and visited his home in Montparnasse, a neighborhood in Paris, it is a wonderful feeling to receive the green light from NEH and Mellon to bring more attention to the work and life of this great poet. Professionally, it feels like a long time coming; I appreciate my grind, and I have more work to do. 

Q: What are some of the responsibilities and/or opportunities that come with this recognition? 

Thompson: My biggest responsibility is to be intentional and rigorous about how I approach my scholarship on Emanuel and the design of the project, which go hand in hand. I am honored that his family - the custodians of his estate - granted me worldwide rights to make his papers at the Library of Congress available to the public and to provide an analysis of these materials. I am working through his archive with care and creativity. 

I want this recognition to get more exposure to James Emanuel’s work. I also want it to provide more opportunities for me to collaborate with people to share and analyze other kinds of stories in various formats. Stories of resilience, stories of joy, stories that connect us. 

Q: How has your experience at Virginia Tech helped you in your career so far? 

Thompson: Being hired as a Digital Humanities Postdoc in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Center for Humanities gave me the freedom to work as a transdisciplinary scholar and to collaborate with others. When I taught courses as a postdoc, I reached out to the department and pitched a class. Because I wasn’t siloed, I had proximity and access to people who are in different fields. It was an excellent experience in terms of understanding my strengths and doing things with others that I could not possibly do alone. The postdoc gave me a lot of agency in terms of the direction I wanted to go.

Thanks to the CLAHS research grant (Niles), the Juneteenth Faculty Scholars Fellowship, and support from my department, I was able to work on this project before applying for the NEH-Mellon Digital Publication Fellowship. I used these internal opportunities as stepping stones for the external grant. 

Q: What is the timeline related to this grant, and when do you plan to conduct your research tied to the grant funding? 

Thompson: The funding period is Aug. 1, 2023 to April 30, 2024. I plan to conduct my research during the first two months of the project, and the rest of the time will be project development. 

Q: What motivates you to pursue this type of research?

Thompson: One motivation to pursue this type of research is to “say it another way.” Sometimes in my classes and even in other contexts as well, I may express an idea and see puzzled looks on students’ faces, and I may say “let me say it another way.” Then, I may give a verbal example, show an illustration, or provide a source of someone expressing a similar idea. The point is, that information doesn’t always resonate initially. Sometimes, we need information expressed using different words, modalities, and even by different people. This project, in part, is an exploration of my motivation to say things in various ways. 

Read more about Thompson HERE

Some answers were edited and condensed for clarity.

Written by Emily Meade