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Delve Guide Spotlight: Béalleka

Béalleka is a Kenyan-born, Portland-based writer, storyteller, and “recovering academic.” She began her academic career as an Assistant Dean of Admissions at Reed College in 1998. There, she specialized in underrepresented student recruitment and retention before leaving to complete her master’s and doctorate in postcolonial literature and theory at The University of Texas-Austin. For a decade (as Lynn Makau) she taught African American literature, South Asian literature, American Studies, and Gender and Women’s studies at Colgate University, Michigan State University, Willamette University, and The Catlin Gabel School. Her scholarly work examines the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality in contemporary representations of American slavery and focuses on what she terms “peculiar intimacies,” or the complex relationships occasioned by the so-called peculiar institution.

Béalleka has frequently been an invited speaker on university campuses and at international conferences, including American Studies, National Women’s Studies, and the Modern Language Association. In March 2011, she was the Featured Scholar in conjunction with Orange Prize-winning novelist Valerie Martin’s residency at Tulane University’s Newcomb College Institute for Research on Women. She is the recipient of two MacArthur Teaching and Research Fellowships, numerous curriculum development awards, and a grant from the American Association of University Women. She is also a veteran performer of Mortified Portland, Oakland, and San Francisco and has told stories on the stages of SLANT Live Queer Storytelling, Wildfang’s Free Speech, and as part of NE Portland’s Community Coming Together: “Stories of our Neighborhood.”

Béalleka’s approach to scholarship and writing draws from Toni Morrison’s goal to “move” not simply “touch” readers. This emphasis on active empathy over passive sympathy inspires Béalleka’s work, which she says is historically informed and precipitated by contemporary events: “As a biracial, educated Black elite, I encounter the world from the edges of multiple identities; I have the capacity to name my own oppression, but nevertheless remain subjected to it. I share my failures, oversights, vulnerabilities, and strengths to invite self-reflection and responsiveness, in hopes of establishing connection across racial, gender, and other cultural lines. Both my writing and coaching are inspired by a deep commitment to healing myself and others, which happens through honest exchange, respectful listening, and openness to unlearning.”

Béalleka’s Delve seminar, Haunting Legacies: Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Contemporary Representations of Slavery,” considers Beloved’’s place in the American literary canon––what it challenges, builds on, and establishes––and how to read the novel nearly 30 years after its initial publication in light of current conversations about race, citizenship, and gender. Alongside Beloved, participants in this seminar will examine recent works by African American artists that confront and attempt to heal personal and national trauma through imaginative mediums. Béalleka shares, “I was thrilled to participate earlier this year in Samiya Bashir’s expertly led seminar on Claudia Rankine’s brilliant, moving lyrics. I am excited to continue partnering with the Delve program as a Guide, and look forward to exploring Beloved with a new group of readers.” Béalleka is currently writing a collection of essays about her evolving consciousness of race and encounters with microaggressions, as well as a memoir that explores her healing path. She offers cultural competency training and life coaching, and can be found at LinkedIn.com or bealleka@gmail.com.

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