Photograph by Francine Price, from the UC Berkeley News Center
African American, Diaspora Studies
VèVè Amasasa Clark
VèVè Clark was born in Queens, New York in 1944 as the only child to Alonzo Clark, an African American from North Carolina, and Pauline Kirton, from the Caribbean. Raised in Queens, she attended Queens College at the City University of New York, earning a BA in Romance Languages (1966). She continued her language studies at the Université de Nancy in France, where she received a certificate d’études supérieures before returning to Queens College to complete her MA in French (1969). After working at University of California, Berkeley as a graduate teaching assistant in French and a lecturer in Afro-American Studies in the 1970s, she was hired by Tufts University to teach African and Caribbean literature in 1980. While in that position, she worked to complete her PhD in French and Ethnology at UC Berkeley (1983). In 1991, after promotion to associate professor and earning tenure at Tufts, Clark returned to teach at UC Berkeley as an Associate Professor of African American Studies for the rest of her career.
Multilingual, Clark spoke French, Spanish, Creole, and some Wolof, besides English. Her scholarship was concerned with the interplay between vernacular and literary epistemologies and deep readings of African diasporic responses to slavery, colonialism, and neocolonialism. Among her interdisciplinary areas of expertise were African and Caribbean literatures, Afro-Caribbean folklore, African American dance, African diasporic theatre, and critical pedagogy. Clark was recognized for coining the term,“diaspora literacy,” which refers to an ability to understand multilayered meanings of oral repertoires in African diaspora communities through knowledge of and lived experiences in these cultures.
In 1985, Clark co-edited a biography on Maya Deren, a Ukrainian American filmmaker and theorist. She is perhaps most recognized for her critical scholarship on anthropologist and choreographer/dancer Katherine Dunham. Collaborating first with Margaret Wilkerson and later Sara Johnson, she co-edited a volume of previously unpublished writings, including excerpts from Dunham’s unpublished autobiography. Kaiso!:Writings by and about Katherine Dunham (2006) has become a classic in dance studies, African American studies, and performance studies curricula.
Clark was a founding member of the Haitian Studies Association. Her own research was recognized through a graduate fellowship for study at the Université de Dakar, Sénégal, a Guggenheim fellowship for research on Dunham, and a Rockefeller Foundation fellow-in-residence at Brown University. Known as a master teacher and successful mentor of undergraduate, graduate students, and young faculty, she was awarded UC Berkeley’s first Social Sciences Distinguished Service Award (1996) for her exemplary service. UC Berkeley also acknowledges her foundational contributions to the development of curriculum for Berkeley’s doctoral program in African American Studies, one of the earliest in the country.
Among her publications of interest to folklorists:
with Sara E. Johnson, eds, Kaiso! :Writings by and about Katherine Dunham (2006)