Guttman Professor’s New Article Analyzes African-Based Spiritual Traditions in Award-Winning Contemporary Fiction



July 3, 2019 | Faculty, Publication, Research

The digital journal Religions has recently published Dr. James Mellis’ article analyzing the National Book Award-winning fiction of two contemporary African American writers. In Continuing Conjure: African-Based Spiritual Traditions in Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing,” Dr. Mellis argues that both novels invoke African-based spirituality in order to create literary sites of resistance within their narratives and American culture at large. According to the article, Whitehead and Ward participate in the tradition of African American protest literature by engaging African-based spiritual practices – particularly Voodoo, Hoodoo, Conjure, and Rootwork – as ties to an originary African identity and, significantly, as sources of protection, power, and resistance to an oppressive society.

Before he joined Guttman as Assistant Professor of English in Fall 2017, Dr. Mellis taught at William Paterson University, Temple University, and St. Bonaventure University. He holds a B.A. in English from Colgate University, an M.Phil. in Anglo-Irish Literature from Trinity College, Dublin, and a Ph.D. in English from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Mellis’ research interests include Voodoo in African American literature, civic engagement in higher education, and strategies in teaching writing and rhetoric. He is currently editing a volume of original essays about Voodoo, Conjure, and Hoodoo in African American literature from slave narratives to the present.

At Guttman, Dr. Mellis teaches reading, writing, and composition in the First Year Experience (FYE), as well as higher level English courses. During Spring 2018, in the context of his Global Guttman course on New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Mellis led a week-long immersive trip to the ‘Big Easy,’ where students combined volunteer work with lectures, cultural excursions, and meetings with historians and social justice activists.