India Abroad, NYC  -- Community SectionApril 20, 2007


“Amritjit Singh first foreign-born to win rare honor”

                        - Aziz Haniffa


Amritjit Singh, Langston Hughes Professor of English and African American Studies at the Ohio University in Athens , Ohio, was last month honored with the 2007 MELUS (Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature in the United States) Lifetime Achievement Award at its 21st annual conference in Fresno, California.

This was the first time MELUS has honored a foreign-born American professor with the prestigious award for contribu­tions to ethnic American literary scholarship.

A national organization of college and university professors, MELUS states, “it is committed to expanding the definition and canon of American literature through the study and teaching of African-American, Latino-American, Native-American, Asian­American and ethnically-specific European-American literary works, their authors and their cultural contexts.”

           Born in 1945 in Rawalpindi in British India, Singh, who grew up in Ambala from 1948 to 1964, said, "I feel gratified that my work over the past 35 years in African American and ethnic American literature is being acknowledged by an organization that means so much to me." He noted that he was a member of MELUS in 1973-1974 before he left to work nine years in Hyderabad and Jaipur in India. He returned to the US on a fellowship at Yale. Singh first came to the US in 1968 on a Fulbright Scholarship to do his PhD at New York University, after completing his bachelor’s degree from Panjab University and his masters degree in English from Kurukshetra University. 

After 20 years at Rhode Island College, where he taught English and African American Studies and was chosen in 1991as the Mary Tucker Professor in Arts and Sciences for his extensive research contributions, Singh joined Ohio University in January 2006.  He made a huge impact in his first year as a full-time faculty member.  According to Professor Joseph McLaughlin, chair of the Department of English, “He has been a great presence, throwing himself into the life and activities of our department.”

             Singh said, “As an African-Americanist, I feel a special connection to the foundational values of the US constitution and admire most Americans’ willingness to confront continuing challenges in both civil rights and civil liberties.”  He said he is a staunch supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Amnesty International.  “I see strong links between civil liberties at home and human rights abroad,” he said.

Before joining Ohio University, and prior to his two-decades old stint with Rhode Island College, Singh taught at the University of Hyderabad, University of Rajasthan, and held visiting professorships at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, New York University, College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, and University of California, Berkeley.

Before first coming to the US, he was a lecturer at KM College at the University of Delhi from 1965 to 1968.

In 2002, he was a senior Fulbright Professor at the John F Kennedy Institute of North American Studies, Freie University in Berlin, and the University of Leipzig.

His poems and translations from Punjabi poetry have appeared in the Toronto Review, Nimrod, Edinburgh Review, New Letters, Chelsea, and many other specialist publications and journals.

Singh has written several books on the Harlem Renaissance, including the Collected Writings of Wallace Thurman, which he co-edited with Daniel M Scott, III; two co-edited volumes on the uses of memory in ethnic American literature, as well as Postcolonial Theory and the United States, co-edited with Peter Schmidt, a book that explores the relationship between postcolonial studies and ethnic American studies. 

Among his other publications are: India: An Anthology of Contemporary Writing (1983); The Magic Circle of Henry James (1989); Conversations with Ralph Ellison (1995); and Interviews with Edward W. Said (2004).

In 2004, Singh also co-edited – with Professor C. Lok Chua, chair of the Department of English at California State University – a bumper double issue of the MELUS journal that honored the legacy of Katherine D Newman, the founder of MELUS.

Singh, who remains a series editor for the Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the Americas Series published by the Rutgers University Press, is currently co-editing a documentary of the history of South Asians in North America.

Introducing Singh at the MELUS conference, Chua and Joseph Skerrett, Jr, who is at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Melinda de Jesus, current MELUS president, described his multi-ethnic scholarship and his many contributions to MELUS since the 1970s.

Singh was specially lauded for mentoring ways and for forming effective communities and networks of scholars, particularly during his presidency of MELUS, from 1994 to 1997, as its deputy editor of its journal from 1987 to 1999, and its program chair from 1988 to 1990.  When he held the reins at MELUS, chapters were launched in Europe and India.  Those units have since held several successful international conferences.

He acquired his love for teaching and writing from his father, a professor of Punjabi who helped prepare school and college-level textbooks in the sciences and social sciences when the medium of instruction was changed in the 1950s from English to Hindi and Punjabi.

Singh’s wife of 39 years, Prem, is also a professor at Ohio University and teaches mathematics.  They have two children, Samir and Reshma, who live in New York.  Samir is a senior business executive with Pharming, a Dutch biotech company with operations in both Europe and the US; Reshma is a vice president for Teach for America.