Professor Ron Welburn Retires, Looks Back
Monday, December 3, 2018
Monday, December 3, 2018
Professor Ron Welburn of the Department of English recently announced his retirement. Below, he looks back on a twenty-seven year career at UMass Amherst and forward to new writing projects. His primary research foci are: Native American literatures; Eastern Native literatures; ethnohistories and identities; American and Indigenous studies theories and methods; and jazz studies in global context.
The Chromatic Universe of an Urban Indian.
Siyo! Greetings to All! I write this within two weeks of becoming officially retired from the UMass Amherst English department, my professional home since spring 1992. Twenty-seven calendar years, culminating close to forty years of fulltime teaching. Being retired is going to be a bitter-sweet: not having to adhere to established routines, teaching, mentoring, program and committee involvement and leadership. However, delayed writing projects will have my attention.
In spring of 1990 I received an invitation from then-chair Bob Bagg to apply for a position teaching American literatures. Joe Skerrett recommended me and to his memory I owe a tremendous debt. You can read my appreciation in the online site for MELUS: The Journal for the Society for the Study of Multiethnic Literature of the United States. Joe’s consciousness about American studies paralleled my doctoral work at NYU, but I was fortunate to begin honing my interdisciplinary background from childhood knowledge, eventually writing poems, developing a serious interest in many forms of music; and becoming an amateur musician. Two insights stay with me while in college at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. I encountered Penn professor Morse Peckham’s Man’s Rage for Chaos, which discussed natural relationships between art forms; and writer-in-residence playwright Ronald Milner affirming that by telling me that Faulkner was the “funkiest writer in the English language…. He swings like a Lester Young or a Charlie Parker.” I began to appreciate how the stories told in performances prevailed as democratic interactions.
By the seventies American studies people faced interdisciplinary resistance; NYU’s English and History faculty told me they did not work across the aisles; the American music professor felt Charles Ives was overrated. But Ralph Ellison’s course, Fiction and Democracy, offered an interdisciplinary respite.
These kinds of experiences prepared me for a life at UMass Amherst. In April I hope to share my perceptions on both Indigenous studies and jazz as democratic foundations for American studies, music especially being globally contrapuntal to current anxieties in the U.S. political economy. Just a few notions from (with apologies to composer George Russell) the chromatic universe of an urban Indian.
Tabatnee. Wanishii. Wa’du. Thank you, Friends. Dodada gv’hi.