Naseeb Shaheen Memorial Lecture Series

About The Shaheen Memorial Lecture Series

The Shaheen Memorial Lecture Series was established after the death, in 2009, of Dr. Naseeb Shaheen, who was a professor in the English Department at the University of Memphis for many years. Dr. Shaheen wrote extensively about early modern literature, chiefly Shakespeare. His books on biblical references in Shakespeare's plays (1999, 2002) and Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1976) remain the definitive work in this field. He also published a two-volume Pictorial History of Ramallah (Palestine) (1992, 2006). In addition to his scholarly work, Dr. Shaheen was a noted philanthropist and collector of pre-King James English Bibles. The Shaheen Memorial Lecture Series is sponsored by the Department of English and the Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities

The Twelfth Annual Naseeb Shaheen Memorial Lecture

Fall 2022 Lecture Series

Florence Dore // University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Modernism, Music, Memphis

Thursday, October 6th at Maxine Smith University Center Bluff Room
Reception at 5:30pm, Lecture at 6:00pm


In 1934, the African American folksinger Lead Belly made an astonishing appearance as the “Negro minstrel from Louisiana” at the largest gathering of literature scholars in the world—the annual meetings of the Modern Language Association. In the same decade, the novelist and ethnographer Zora Neale Hurston journeyed into rural locations in Florida to collect African American folk ballads, making recordings of herself singing them to be filed away at the Library of Congress. Twenty years later, William Faulkner saw fit to portray Father of the Blues W. C. Handy as a character in his novel The Town, depicting Handy as playing his song, “The Memphis Blues,” for white characters dancing at a cotillian in Memphis. How shall we read these instances of exchange between literature and vernacular music in the 1930s? Was there something about the folk music of the era that drew in purveyors of the literary? At a moment, moreover, when “high” literature was coming to be understood as a haven from technological arts, how did vernacular music, newly accessible on crackly shellac 78s and buzzy radio, make the cut as literature? Dr. Dore’s lecture will move the site of modern literature from academic halls and coastal cities to Memphis, showing how the blues and American literary modernism evolved as intertwining forms.

Florence Dore is a singer/songwriter and an academic. She teaches in both the creative writing and literature programs at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She has held fellowships at New York University, the National Humanities Center, and the Institute for Arts and Humanities at UNC. A member of the Steering Committee for Post45, a collective of scholars working on American Literature and Culture since 1945, Dore was also a founding co-editor for the Post45 Book Series at Stanford University Press. During the pandemic, she created and acted as co- executive producer for Cover Charge: NC Musicians Go Under Cover to Benefit Cat’s Cradle, a benefit compilation record that came in #1 in compilations on the Billboard charts. She sits on the advisory board for the Institute for Bob Dylan Studies at the University of Tulsa’s Bob Dylan Archive.


Emily Lordi // Vanderbilt University

Bringing it Home: Whitney Houston's Black Creative Vision and Agency

Thursday, October 13th at Maxine Smith University Center Bluff Room
Reception at 5:30pm, Lecture at 6:00pm 


Whitney Houston is often defined as an extraordinary “natural” talent tragically caught between white and Black cultures, victimized by men, and destroyed by her addictions. But this talk tells a different story by tracing her sustained and deliberate commitment to Black music and cultural representation across her career. Beginning with a 19-year-old Whitney making her national television debut with the ballad “Home” from the Black musical The Wiz, continuing through her work with R&B, gospel, dance, and hip hop genres, as well as her collaborations with other Black women artists, and concluding with her final 2012 film Sparkle (a remake of a Black classic akin to The Wiz), we will meet a new Whitney Houston—an artist of vision and agency who, despite her many challenges, was Black and proud “before” Bobby Brown and committed to Black sisterhood and spirit until the end.

Emily Lordi is a professor of English at Vanderbilt University, a writer at large for The New York Times Style Magazine, and the author of three books about Black music, literature, and culture: Black Resonance, Donny Hathaway Live (33 1/3 series), and The Meaning of Soul. She is writing a biography of Whitney Houston called Holding Lightning, forthcoming in 2024.


Past Shaheen Lecturers

Rob Nixon, Princeton University
"Slow Violence and Environmental Justice in 2021"
 Stephanie Burt, Harvard University 
"Shipping Containers"


Hannibal Hamlin, Professor of English, Ohio State University
"Seven Types of Allusion: Texts Talking with Texts from Shakespeare to the Present"


Yolanda Pierce, Professor and Dean, Howard University School of Divinity
"I have shaken rivers out of my eyes: Black Poetry and Prophetic Rage"


William J. Maxwell, Professor of English and African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis
"Born-Again, Seen-Again James Baldwin: State Surveillance, Afro-Pessimism, and the Literary History of Black Lives Matter."


Nicholas Watson, Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Professor of English, Harvard University
"The Word of God in the Mother Tongue, or Why most of what we assume about the history of Bible translation is wrong."


Paul Stevens, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Early Modern Literature and Culture, University of Toronto
"Churchill's War Horse: Children's Literature and the Pleasures of War"


Achsah Guibbory, Ann Whitney Olin Prof. of English, Barnard College
"British Israelism: Three Centuries of a Forgotten History"


Katherine Bassard, Professor of English, Virginia Commonwealth University
"Transforming Scriptures: African American Women Writers and the Bible"


Robert Alter, Professor of Hebrew Language and Comparative Literature, University of California at Berkeley
"The King James Bible and the Question of Eloquence"


Debora Shuger, Distinguished Professor of English, UCLA
"The Girls of Little Gidding: The Forgotten Masterpiece of Radical Feminism"



10/26/17       "Conversations Across Concentrations"
10/14/16       "Reading Resistance: Bodies, Lessons, Movements"
10/16/15       "Keepin' it Real: The Languages of Authenticity"
9/26/14         "Producing Heroes"