Clemson English professor first holder of endowed chair
Michelle Martin, a Clemson University English professor who specializes in children’s literature and African-American children’s literature and community literacy programs, has been named the first holder of the Augusta Baker Chair in Childhood Literacy.
Martin, who knew Augusta Baker as a child, will conduct research on literacy and oversee outreach programs for the literacy community throughout the state. According to Kim Jeffcoat, the executive director of USC’s School of Library and Information Science’s South Carolina Center for Children’s Books and Literacy, Martin will work closely with the center on developing family literacy programs.
The center plans to approach literacy in a more holistic way, addressing financial literacy, nutritional literacy, as well as health care literacy. Jeffcoat calls Martin an expert in successful literacy outreach and says Martin will also assist with the center’s existing programs like the nationally recognized Cocky’s Reading Express, a collaboration between Student Government and the School of Library and Information Science that serves students in 4-year-old kindergarten through third grade.
Martin said that she sees the chair as a way to help stamp out illiteracy in South Carolina and also plans to create an umbrella for literacy programs that will enhance them and minimize duplication.
The Augusta Baker Chair, is the first endowed chair in the state named for a black female.
Baker was a children’s librarian and storyteller who served as USC’s storyteller-in-residence for 14 years. Thomas Cooper Library holds a collection, which goes by the full name of the Augusta Baker Collection of African-American Children’s Literature and Folklore and was donated by Baker’s son.
“The Augusta Baker Collection is very much a live and dynamic collection,” said Elizabeth Sudduth, a librarian at Thomas Cooper. “We’re continually adding to it.”
The collection originally held more than 1,600 books but now is composed of more than 29,000 books. According to Sudduth, this collection is frequently used by researchers as well as students. The collection includes titles from Baker’s personal and working library as well as stories used by Baker during her career as a storyteller.
While performing her duties as chair, Martin will also continue teaching children’s and young adult literature courses like ones on The Picture Book, The Newbery and Caldecott Awards, the Coretta Scott King Awards and Ethnicity and the Child. Next year, Martin also plans on finishing her current book on the children’s literature of Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes, works that are not very well-known.
Martin has also used Baker as a base before, when she was compiling information for her book “Brown Gold: Milestones in African American Children’s Picture Books 1845 – 2002,” which drew from the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African-American children’s books that Augusta Baker established in the Countee Cullen branch of the New York City Public Library.