Of the different schools I have attended and wrote about in Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah, the one where I did not do especially well was Temple University, home of the mighty Owls in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At this point, years later, I can smile with some humility about it because two groundbreaking books with my name attached to them are now university’s library. This is the story of why that matters during this 20th anniversary of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance.
There were at least a couple of significant reasons for my frowny-face grades at Temple. One was the difficulty I had adapting to the school’s much larger classrooms after I’d attended a private college where classes usually accommodated between 10 and 15 or 20 students. At Temple, as with many large American universities, the number of students per classroom often began at 20 and at least two of mine, dealing with the history of journalism, had more than 40. Being seen to get answers to questions could be as difficult as hearing what the professor was saying at any given moment.
So far as formal academics went, I had underestimated my personal need for the more intimate setting provided by my former college located in Florida. The 3.5 average which had gotten me into Temple took a stunning and painful nosedive. At the same time, the city of Philadelphia itself––with its rich history, demographic diversity, vibrant cultural arts scene, and swinging nightclubs––provided me with an education in northern urban culture I had long desired and finally received.
Partying Footballers and Privileged Roommates
The second cause of my non-impressive academic performance was sleep deprivation. The resulting brain fog came from being placed in a dorm room next to a popular football player who preferred partying with teammates and adoring young co-eds way past midnight, every night of the week, as opposed to studying or sleeping on any night of the week. My next-door party-owl might not have needed decent grades or a part-time job to stay enrolled but I did.
He couldn’t believe it when I dared to hammer on his door, banging louder than the drums in his blaring rock and roll, and ask him to lower the volume so those of us who were not on athletic scholarship could study and/or get some sleep. The muscle-heavy teammates standing behind him couldn’t believe it either and appeared genuinely confused that I was not begging to join them. This scenario repeated itself enough that the floor RA feared we were heading toward a battle of the over-six-footers and had me moved down to the first floor.
The move created another situation with a wealthy roommate who made it clear he was just hanging out at the university until his father caved in and gave him a job at his company. With his future so solidly set, he slept all day and at night noisily exited and entered the room with his girlfriend. He became more thoughtful after I let him know what his lack of consideration felt when I spent an entire day rushing back to the room, in between classes and work, to interrupt his snoring. Fortunately for both of us, he and his lady moved in together somewhere and I actually I had the entire room to myself for at last month of one semester.
Many other experiences at Temple were very positive, like: working for Temple U Press, singing in the school's gospel choir, and photographing Philadelphia’s famed public sculptures. But I’ve always regretted having received there the only “F” and “D” I ever got at any college or university. Bearing that in mind, however, it is more than a little satisfying to know the school’s library currently holds copies of : Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance and Suzanne Jackson Five Decades.
The university itself and Temple U Press are referenced several times in the encyclopedia and it contains an entire article, written by West, on Philadelphia and the Harlem Renaissance. My books’ presence on the school’s library shelves could be described as a kind of poetic justice or vindication. I like the idea that history took up its pen to write a version of my time at Temple filled with more joyful gratitude than painful frustration.
About the Author:
A passionate reader, committed writer, artist, photographer, dedicated practitioner of mindfulness, hurricane survivor, maker of poems, believer in the value of compassion, historian, award-winner, journalist, adherent of beauty, and student of wisdom.