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Interview with Retiring Professor Merle Collins

May 19, 2021 English

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Distinguished Grenadian poet, short story writer, and Guggenheim Fellow Merle Collins will retire from the University of Maryland in spring 2021

During her 26 years at the university, Merle Collins was selected as a Distinguished Scholar Teacher and published several works including short stories Rain Darling and The Ladies are Upstairs, and works of poetry including Lady in a Boat.

headshot of Merle Collins

When did you start working at UMD English? What connected you to working here?

In January 1995, I was appointed professor in Comparative Literature and English. I had published novels, poetry, and critical perspectives on Caribbean literature, and came to Maryland from a job teaching Caribbean Literature in the UK. All those things - Creative Writing, Caribbean Literature, Literature of the African diaspora connected me to UMD's developing interest in African Diaspora literature. In fact, as a Caribbean creative writer, I had been invited by UMD's English Department to read my work. Professor Mary Helen Washington was the contact. After that visit from the UK, I applied to UMD and that's how the story of another transatlantic movement to UMD began.

What do you consider your biggest/most challenging project while working here?

Hard to say. There have been many challenging projects. Learning, developing new perspectives, engaging with student ideas - all of that is challenging. Every five years or so the challenge becomes different. I can highlight two from recent times ... incorporating the digital into my approaches to research and teaching, and learning from the ideas of an interdisciplinary group of students (including students from English and Comparative Literature - along with those from Urban Planning, History, Spanish and Portuguese, French and other disciplines) to bring on stream an interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

What have been some of the highlights of your time here?

In the early days, various readings connected with the Creative Writing program. An early (1996? 1997?) Study Abroad Course in Mexico. Study Abroad courses in the UK and Grenada. In the last few years, I've really enjoyed working with the Global Classrooms Initiative Program of the Office of International Affairs and reconnecting with international students whom I've taught in the English Department over the years. Teaching and learning from students in the Comparative Literature program of the late 90s and early 2000s; devising an undergraduate course to work with a community organization. Directing dissertations. And more. Many highlights.  

What will you miss most about working at the University of Maryland?

Perhaps mentoring and learning from students. I've had some special relationships with students/alumni who have become good friends over the years and whose work I now follow - wherever they are, locally and internationally, in and out of tenure-track jobs. I'll also miss the opportunity to develop with others ideas for public-facing scholarship and see the university find ways to work more closely with the community within which it is located.

What's next for you?

Next is research and writing. One might say more of the same. I'm excited about that. There are many projects I want to finish - research projects and creative writing.

Research: the mother of Malcolm X, who was from Grenada. Grenada and Cuba. After 26 years at Maryland, I'm excited to have more time to work on a variety of creative writing and scholarly projects.