Davidson College honored alumnus William L. Andrews '68 with an honorary doctor of letters degree at Spring Convocation 2007. Here is the copy of his degree citation.
From those who endured slavery, America’s “peculiar institution,” arose a rich literary tradition of testimony to injustice and fortitude, true stories written and true tales told in a quest for freedom and personal identity. Throughout his career as a student and scholar of Southern literature, the man we honor today has led the way to the literary study of these stories, bringing the personal witness of slaves to the attention of educators, readers, and writers. Some of these writers in turn have created works of astonishing beauty and power, such as Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved.
When William Leake Andrews applied to Davidson as a high school student in 1964, he wrote, “Since I have always been happy in school and in an educational situation, then I have quite naturally decided to continue my education.” Continue he did. Today, it is apparent that his ambition to pursue an academic life has expanded significantly the universe of literary and human understanding for those who encounter his impressive body of work.
|Andrews is flanked at the Convocation ceremony by (l-r) Student Government Association President Chris Burton '08 and College President Robert Vagt.|
Bill Andrews graduated from Davidson in 1968 with a degree in English and a Phi Beta Kappa key. He continued his studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where Southern American and African American prose fiction became his scholarly focus. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1973, this Virginia native began a career in higher education across America and abroad, before returning home to the South in 1997. He now serves as E. Maynard Adams Professor of English at UNC Chapel Hill.
One of the world’s leading scholars of nineteenth-century American literature, literature of the South, African American literature, and autobiography studies, Bill Andrews has written or edited more than 250 scholarly works. His anthology, The Literature of the American South, was a groundbreaking text that shed new light on the power of the Southern imagination. In addition, he is series editor of North American Slave Narratives, Beginnings to 1920, a complete library of autobiographies and biographies of North American slaves and former slaves, collected on the World Wide Web.
Over the years he has sent copies of his books, each graciously inscribed “William L. Andrews, Davidson Class of 1968,” for the Davidsoniana Room of the E. H. Little Library. The Andrews shelf now holds thirty-three volumes that he has written or edited, including The Norton Anthology of African American Literature and The Oxford Companion to African American Literature.
Bill Andrews’ work is widely acclaimed. Perhaps his most important book, To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865, is described by Henry Louis Gates as “the definitive study of slave narratives.” It was the research for this book that sparked his enduring interest in the field of African American autobiography, neglected until he offered it his resolute and compassionate attention. In Metaphors of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography, the scholar James Olney wrote, “Andrews treats early African American autobiography in greater detail, with more theoretical acumen, and with a finer literary tact, sensitivity, and intelligence than any other single critic.”
Among his many honors and awards, this unassuming scholar has won both a Norman Foerster Prize for best article of the year in the journal American Literature, and the William Riley Parker Prize for outstanding article of the year from PMLA, the foremost journal in literary studies. He has served on numerous academic and professional committees and editorial boards, often holding positions of leadership.
Dedicated to the classroom and to literary scholarship, Bill Andrews has also pulled his oar on the administrative side of education. He now serves as Senior Associate Dean of Fine Arts and Humanities, overseeing all of the arts and humanities departments, curricula, and research centers at the University of North Carolina, touching the academic lives of some 30,000 students each year.
Indeed, Bill Andrews works hard, but he knows how to play. In fact, he plays the keyboard and sings, having performed rhythm and blues since he was a schoolboy. Also a composer, he has set to music the poems of Emily Dickinson and is just now working in the genre of country music. Somehow, in what might be called his “spare time,” he keeps fit enough to compete in marathons and triathlons. One nominator wrote of his extraordinary energy, productivity, and enthusiasm for life, clearly demonstrated through his delight in literary study, but manifest as well in his keen commitment to family, community, and good times.
BECAUSE, as a son of the South, you have articulated its particular place in American literature, presenting and promoting the wealth of diversity in its voices and vernacular traditions and the creative force of the Southern imagination;
BECAUSE, as a passionate scholar of the slave witness, you have breathed life into the veracity of their testimony; and
BECAUSE, by lifting up this rich vein of American literature, you have illumined and celebrated the fundamental right to liberty; and
BECAUSE, as an educator and a citizen, your life’s work has enhanced the human condition while addressing issues in contemporary culture; and
BECAUSE, with profound humanity and a winsome humor, you have been an illustrious and effective ambassador of the liberal arts and humanities, bringing honor to alma mater and promoting the ideals of higher education;
NOW THEREFORE, in this the year 2007, Davidson College honors you, William Leake Andrews, and names you Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.