Professional and Biographical Information
Ph.D., NYU Graduate School of Arts & Science (2020)
M.A., NYU Tisch School of the Arts (2005)
B.A., NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study (2004)
My scholarly research interests include twentieth- and twenty-first century African American literature and culture; dramatic literature and performance studies; U.S. social movements/Black freedom movements; the life and literature of James Baldwin; and anti-racist organizing and pedagogy. Much of my scholarly work is concerned with the artistic and cultural dimensions of U.S. Black life—with a particular focus on the formative roles that artists and grassroots activists have played in building and sustaining what scholars refer to as the Black Radical Tradition (i.e., a tradition of Black resistance, rebellion, and creative worldmaking).
My book manuscript-in-progress, titled “James Baldwin’s Critical Stages: Performance and the Theater of Black Life,” will be the first full-length study of American writer James Baldwin’s life as an experimental playwright. Largely drawn from archival research in the Baldwin Papers of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York, this project attempts to reshape Baldwin’s literary legacy by foregrounding Baldwin’s underappreciated life as a dramatist. Situated at the intersection of African American literary criticism and Black theater and performance studies, the book reveals the extent to which it was theater (as both a genre and an experience) that radically shaped Baldwin’s development as both a writer and political thinker. By turning to the “stage” as both an object of analysis as well as a critical metaphor— this project seeks to engage the multiple stages that Baldwin navigated throughout his career, including his life on the national stage (as an insurgent public intellectual), the theatrical stages of Broadway, and the temporal stages of his political development in his four decades as a “transatlantic commuter.”
I am also currently completing a collection for the University of California Press titled The Black Lives Matter Reader: Key Writings from the Movement for Black Lives. Designed primarily as an anti-racist companion textbook for educators and community organizers who wish to teach an entire semester-long course on the Black Lives Matter movement, this volume will be the first anthology to bring together the vast array of voices, ideas, and perspectives that have come to exemplify the contemporary movement for Black lives. Rooted in a Black studies tradition of public engagement, this anthology includes unpublished writings from the Black Lives Matter Global Network and seeks to provide teachers and everyday readers with an opportunity to engage the major debates, “herstories,” and perspectives of the Black Lives Matter movement—in one central text.
Much of my scholarly research is informed by my ongoing work outside of academia as a social justice organizer. In that latter context, I have been the founder and/or executive director of several social justice-oriented nonprofit organizations including the National Black Justice Coalition (based in Washington, D.C.) and the Baldwin Hansberry Project (based in Harlem, New York City), among others.
In addition, my research has been supported by the Roddenberry Foundation, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, the Ford Foundation, the CLAGS Fellowship, and the Manuscripts, Archives, and the Rare Book Library Fellowship at Emory University, among others.
Drawing from a Black Studies tradition of praxis and interdisciplinarity, my approach to the classroom is influenced by the writings of radical educational theorists such as Paulo Freire, Augusto Boal, Audre Lorde and bell hooks—as well as by my background as a first- generation, grassroots community organizer. In my classroom, I seek to inspire students to approach critical thinking as a countercultural activity and to connect the life of the mind to a broader project of social and political transformation. One recent example: my public access course on the Black Lives Matter movement (which originated in NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 2015 and was subsequently adopted by educators across the country) is generally acknowledged as the first college course in the country that focused on the movement as an educational curriculum.
Previous and upcoming courses include: “The Revolution Will Be Dramatized,” “Foundations of African American Literature,” “Black Genius: African American Artistic Masterpieces,” “The Lives and Times of Malcolm X and James Baldwin,” “Black Women Artists and Writers,” and “Drama, Theory, and Criticism.”
Before joining Amherst’s Department of English in 2022, I served as assistant professor in the Department of the Arts at The New School (Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts) in New York, where I was the recipient of the 2022 Distinguished Teaching Award for Outstanding Achievement in Social Justice Teaching.
Awards and Honors
Award for Outstanding Achievements in Social Justice Teaching, Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, The New School, 2022
NYU Changemaker Alumni of the Year Award, 2021
The Roddenberry Fellowship ($50,000) 2019-2020
The Ford Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, 2009-2010
Activist-in-Residence, The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, MI) (Summer 2017, Summer 2019)
Scholar-in-Residence, The Musagetes Foundation/Free Home University (Lecce, Italy) (December 2015)
Scholar-in-Residence, Arika (Glasgow, Scotland) (spring 2013)
Manuscript, Archives, & Rare Book Library Research Fellowship, Emory University, 2009-2010
NYU Michael A. Parks Distinguished Alumni Award
Why Frank Leon Roberts’s College Course On Black Lives Matter Is So Important | The FADER
Melissa Harris-Perry - Dr. Frank Leon Roberts and Melissa Harris-Perry discuss Black Lives Matter as Curriculum | Facebook| By Melissa Harris-Perry
The Black Lives Matter Syllabus - YouTube
Antiracism in the Classroom with Frank Leon Roberts (University of South Florida) - YouTube
Ferguson In The Classroom: How One College Took Up Race And Policing This Semester: Code Switch: NPR