By Hamilton, Kendra
Black Issues in Higher Education , Vol. 18, No. 25
There's good news on the job lists maintained by the Modern Language Association (MLA) for aspiring professors of African American literature and culture: The academy has a job for you. For the second year running, jobs in multiethnic literature have continued to rise, while the percentage of jobs in every other area tracked by the MLA has been declining.
An analysis of the October MLA Job Information List (JIL) -- traditionally the month where the largest number of ads, roughly half of the annual total, are posted -- shows that British literature continues to rule the roost, accounting for 19.2 percent, or 189, of the 983 jobs listed. And jobs in the teaching of writing -- rhetoric and composition -- are in second place with 17.2 percent, or 169, of the total. But those figures actually represent sharp declines from peaks of 24 percent and 21 percent, respectively, in those fields in 2000 (see chart below).
Multiethnic literatures, on the other hand, have been holding firm at around 11 percent of the total -- 108 jobs this year -- ahead of creative writing with 9.9 percent of the jobs, American literature with 7.8 percent, technical writing with 3.2 percent, and women's studies with 1.4 percent. Indeed, multiethnic literatures, which includes African American, Afro Caribbean, non-U.S. Anglophone literature, and Asian, Latino and Native American studies, are only a shade off their best year ever -- 1998 when the category accounted for nearly 13 percent of the 885 jobs offered in English departments. Even better, the numbers have been remarkably stable since 1995 when they surpassed the 10 percent barrier for the first time ever. And the numbers have yet to dip below the 10 percent mark.
Positions in African American literature have been at the forefront of the growth of multiethnic literature. In 1985, the year the MLA first began tracking jobs in the field, African American literature constituted around 1 percent of the 784 jobs offered in English departments. By 1988, jobs in African American literature were running neck and neck with those offered in American literature, and by the early '90s the subfield had surpassed American literature.
"That's not an unusual pattern for an emerging field," says Dr. Phyllis Franklin, the executive director of the MLA. "The study of African American literature is now a pretty mature field in which very important basic work has been done by scholars. We've seen the creation of important reference works, basic studies in key questions in the field, the development of anthologies."
Indeed, that very "maturity" seems to be what's fueling the growth of what's now known as multiethnic literature, as departments that don't offer the area or that don't have a specialist dedicated to its teaching increasingly see African American and multiethnic studies as essential to their missions rather than a marginal area of inquiry.
Dr. Hortense Spillers, F.J. Whiton professor of English at Cornell University and senior scholar on the MLA's Black Literature and Culture executive committee, however, doesn't see the move toward multiethnic literatures and "race" studies as a dilution or diminution of the goals of African American studies. Far from it, she says: "The field is renewing and reinventing itself. It's a measure of the way race has taken hold in the academy rather than a measure of its being displaced."
A TOUGH JOB MARKET
But it's widely known that overall English doctorates are experiencing what is rather euphemistically known as a "tough job market." One has only to consider the figures: The 2000 edition of the Survey of Earned Doctorates notes that between July 1, 1999, and June 30, 2000, there were 1,070 doctorates awarded in English language and literature. Set that figure beside the 983 jobs on this year's October JIL -- particularly considering the fact that the October list only represents about half of the yearly total -- and the disparity doesn't seem unmanageable. …