The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

Class of 1994

Melissa Harris-Perry (’94) lands her own show on MSNBC

Rising media star, Tulane political science professor and Wake Forest alumna Melissa Harris-Perry (’94) makes her debut with her own television show on MSNBC from 10 a.m. to noon ET on Feb. 4. It will air Saturdays and Sundays.

Melissa Harris Perry shines in the media and the classroom

MSNBC President Phil Griffin said in a news release this week, “Melissa’s thoughtful analysis has been an incredible addition to our primetime programs and I’m thrilled to have her join our expanded weekend line-up.”

In the news release Harris-Perry called it “an extraordinary opportunity….All I’ve ever wanted to be is a teacher. Phil Griffin and MSNBC are giving me the chance to have a much bigger classroom.”

Harris-Perry’s show has no name yet, which prompted a flurry of tweets among the professor’s 57,647 Twitter followers to help her name the show. “Since we follow ‘Up w/Chris’ I’ve been lobbying for ‘Uppity w/Melissa,'” she joked in a Tweet. (Chris Hayes will continue to lead weekend programming with his “Up” show, airing from 8-10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.) Among the Tweets in which followers offered names: “Making the Grade,” “News Lockdown,” “Get Schooled,” “Chalk Talk w/MHP” and “Who Dat? It’s Melissa,” with its distinctly New Orleans flavor, lit up the Twitter accounts. I particularly liked the Tweets that said “Class — fine for a teacher and your approach” and “‘Melissa’s News Hootenanny.’ You don’t see enough hootenanny in politics.”

Harris-Perry has been a frequent guest commentator and stand-in host on MSNBC. Aside from teaching at Tulane, she is the founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race and Politics in the South  and the author of “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America,” her newest book, which Yale University Press published last year.

Wake Forest Magazine also featured her in Lisa Kline Mowry’s (’82) article “Teaching It Forward” about distinguished professors nationally who recalled how their undergraduate days inspired them in their profession.

All best wishes to Professor Harris-Perry as she leads a national political discussion in what promises to be a hootenanny of a presidential election year.

Melissa Harris-Perry (’94): a ‘marquee name’ at Tulane

You won’t want to miss The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune’s in-depth profile of Melissa Harris-Perry (’94), who, after four years at Princeton, is now a tenured professor in her first year of teaching at Tulane University. The piece refers to her as a marquee name. “She’s a public intellectual,” says Tulane Provost Michael Bernstein.

Melissa Harris Perry shines in the media and the classroom

Aside from her 47,741 Twitter followers, Harris-Perry has viewers, listeners and readers across the country paying attention. She has been a guest host for “The Rachel Maddow Show” and “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” on MSNBC. She has appeared on “Real Time With Bill Maher,” writes a column for The Nation magazine and regularly comments on NPR and online on issues involving race, religion, politics and gender.  “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women in America,” her newest book, was published last month.

“Women in Politics, Media, and the Contemporary United States” is the political science course she teaches this semester in what sounds like a lively classroom with lots of back-and-forth questions and cultural references. “When she’s speaking, she owns the room,” Cara Fonseca, one of the students, told The Times-Picayune’s John Pope. “But she makes the environment so comfortable, bringing in pop culture. That’s what keeps students engaged, the balance between academics and pop culture.”

The Times-Picayune also mentions Harris-Perry’s time at Wake Forest. You’ll see more about that in the fall issue of Wake Forest Magazine, due in alumni mailboxes this month.  The article by Lisa Kline Mowry (’82) features a selection of professors around the country who recount experiences in their undergraduate days that sparked their interest in an academic career. Watch for those magazines soon — and Melissa Harris-Perry — and follow updates online at magazine.wfu.edu.

What’s so special about Wake Forest?

I traveled to Charlotte this week to interview Phillips (’93) and Leslie McLean Bragg (’91) for a story I will be writing about their mentoring and partnership with a Lost Boy of Sudan who has called Charlotte home since 2001. Together they are raising money for a school to be built in one of the most impoverished areas of southern Sudan, in the home village of James Lubo Mijak. (They will be featured in the summer issue of Wake Forest Magazine. Don’t miss it.)

Leslie is an assistant teacher in a ninth-grade English class at the Community School of Davidson High School, a charter school in Davidson. She mentioned in our conversation about how another Deacon, Carter Cook, had sent a wonderful e-mail answering a ninth grader’s queries about what makes Wake Forest “a special college.”

I got permission from Carter, who graduated in 1994 with a double major in history and business and earned his law and MBA degrees in 1998, to quote from the e-mail Leslie referenced:

“There are other places where you can attend small, intellectually stimulating classes taught by bright, experienced instructors who will know your name and remember you years after you graduate, even if you weren’t the best student.   There may be other places where undergraduates are able to work directly with their professors on major research projects and earn grants or have their work published.  There are certainly other places with a major college sports program that can successfully compete at the highest levels of the NCAA in several different sports.  I’m sure there are other places with a small enough student body that you can get to know many of your fellow students, and allow you to be a part of a network of alumni that look after each other long after graduation.  And of course, a lot of other places promote international studies and community service opportunities.  I honestly do not know of a place that does all of these things as well as Wake Forest, and that’s something that seems to be true for current and past students alike.”

Wake Forest is lucky to have him on board. He’s associate counsel in the University’s Legal Department, and, if I do say so myself, he’s making a fine argument for submitting an application and for reminding those of us who graduated how smart we were to have chosen Wake.

A Vanity Fair shoot for a Demon Deacon

From The Wall Street Journal to Vanity Fair, best-selling author Emily Giffin (’94) is making news in 2011. The February issue of Vanity Fair shines its spotlight on Atlanta’s “literary sorority” in the article “Belles, Books, and Candor” by Alan Deutschman.

For the photo shoot, Giffin posed with eight other female writers — all in formal gowns — on the front lawn of the Atlanta History Center’s Swan House. Writes Deutschman, “Typically, these women left the South in their 20s, heading for New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. But in time they came home. And they’re now turning Atlanta into the most vibrant new literary scene outside of Brooklyn.”

Giffin’s stops were in London and Manhattan. Her debut novel titled “Something Borrowed” made The New York Times bestseller list in 2004. Her fifth and most recent novel, “Heart of the Matter,” was released last summer. This WFU graduate, with her double major in history and English, won a lofty compliment from Deutschman, who called her “Atlanta’s modern-day Jane Austen.” In Giffin’s company at Swan House were Kathryn Stockett (“The Help” ), Sheri Joseph, Susan Rebecca White, Karin Slaughter, Amanda Gable, Joshilyn Jackson, Natasha Trethewey and Jessica Handler.

Giffin also got a mention in The Wall Street Journal this month in an article about how authors move their own merchandise through such promotions as iPod giveaways and raffles on social networks. “Last year, to show support for a less-established colleague she admired, best-selling chick-lit author Emily Giffin used her blog to offer a signed copy of one of her own books to anyone who, over a 24-hour period, bought a copy of the novel ‘Pieces of Happily Ever After’ by Irene Zutell and provided a receipt,” according the Journal. Zutell’s agent told Journal reporter Joanne Kaufman that the gesture made the book a bestseller on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.