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Faculty Spotlight on Camille Forbes

Camille Forbes

Our first faculty spotlight of the new year is with Camille Forbes, professor of African-American Literature and Culture.


  • Books: That's difficult, but I must say Toni Morrison's "Beloved" and the classic, "Invisible Man." A lot of the time, I gravitate toward the kind of books that I teach and that I find students are really responsive to.
  • Movies: I have such a range, but I am a romantic comedy fan, and I do like classics. My favorite actors are Jack Nicholson, Dianne Keaton, and Harrison Ford, though it's been a while since I've seen him in something I enjoy. My latest favorite is a kind of ghoulish comedy and zombie movie I recently saw called " Shaun of the Dead." I occasionally like a wacky, silly movie!
  • Music: Jazz is my staple. I listen to Miles Davis classics, Theolonius Monk, John Coltrane. I occasionally listen to Neo-Soul, India.Arie, and other up-and-comers.
  • Food: Indian.
  • New Year's Resolution: This is going to sound a little New-Agey, but to focus more on listening than talking. Although I am spending a lot of my time lecturing, I am also working on my manuscript. I am trying to allow my new manuscript to be a collaborative effort,even though my voice is always ringing out.

What do you do in your spare time?

I occasionally go to comedy clubs. I have a real interest in stand-up, which is something I got into for a short period. Now I am more of a grateful audience member than a participator. One of my classes is African-American humor, which definitely comes from my interest in stand-up.

Because I'm particularly interested in comedy, I'd like to identify students who have an interest in comedy or performance and might want to either see something or produce something regardless of whether or not they want to pursue it professionally.

I also try to keep up with what's happening in African-American literature because we get used to the greatest hits. We have to keep up with what students are reading and also what's happening in the field. It's work-related but also really fun for me.

What were you like as a young adult?

I was pretty focused on my studies. When I look back now, I realize my undergraduate education was really demanding, but there was enough time for other things. I didn't do the sorority thing. I had a lot of energy and a lot of excitement about what was possible. I did have my favorite things, but my energy really was spread far and wide. I had a wide range of interests that energized me and gave me varied communities to participate in.

How would you describe your undergraduate years? How do you think the undergraduate experience has changed since you were an undergrad?

I'd say that it was demanding just being at a school like Yale. But aside from the rigor of the academics, what I see more now is students really focused on their career at an earlier stage whereas previously students could just focus on being successful at school. Students are much more focused on having to know where they are going to be when they get out and how their studies are going to relate to their job and career, and I think that creates a lot more pressure for the students. It's difficult, because while there are legitimate pressures to decide early, at the same time I am always urging my students that they are free. This is a chance for you to enjoy and to check out new and exciting things.

How did you choose your particular field? Did you ever want to do anything else?
I actually had originally wanted to go into International Relations. I had planned on being in the Foreign Service. I had it all figured out! I thought I'd go to Georgetown but ended up choosing Yale, and when I went there I became interested in American Studies.

I started thinking about graduate school around my junior year. I looked at what my professors were doing and I thought that looked really interesting, so I launched into doing a research internship one summer. I was in the Mellon Foundation's program, and in my last year I did a senior thesis that really gave me some exposure to what this research animal is like and if I could do anything of this sort. After that, I became certain that I'd go to graduate school, but I wasn't in a rush. I did take two years off to work.

What advice would you give to new students?
We are a resource not only for the courses students are taking with us but for lots of other things. We have a lot of life experience, and I'm open to having students come to just talk about what they're thinking. Some students, for instance, may have never considered graduate school before, may not think that they are a stellar student but are still curious. These are conversations to have with faculty.

I also think it's important to find balance and to have enough room in one's schedule to take classes that fascinate and excite you in addition to the requirements. Another thing is that I have a deep regret about not being able to do a year abroad. I changed my major, and it just wasn't feasible. But any student that I meet that just isn't sure, I just say go, go, go! It's not the most obvious choice for students to consider. Nowdays, there are more and more programs available at the same cost as the regular tuition and fees.

So for the students who are hesitant to come and talk with their professors, what encouragement or advice would you give them?
They don't have to do it alone, and it doesn't have to be during an office hour. When I was a student, I had faculty advisors who would go out for coffee or for lunch with students. Sometimes, just getting out of the office can relax both the professor and the student. I understand there are some new programs such as Dine-with-a-Prof Program and Sixth Suppers. These are great opportunities to ask questions about the professor's field, interests, etc.

When I was an undergrad, a friend and I invited a very intimidating Political Science professor to lunch, and the poor man ended up eating this very rubbery, large piece of fried mozzarella which was the lunch for the day. He only ate about two bites of it, but he was wonderful and we had a great conversation. He was really not intimidating at all, but in a lecture hall of 500 students he looked huge and terrifying.

We really welcome the opportunity to know more about our students. I find that most faculty are willing to do that, and I certainly am. Also, if a student needs a recommendation, it's helpful for a student to introduce him or herself personally, to familiarize the professor with the student so it doesn't seem like such a jump.

- By Beverly Gallagher

For more information, contact Lynne McMullin.