Henry Washington, Jr.

Degree and Year: 
BA 2017
Professional Title: 
PhD Candidate in English
Employer: 
Department of English, Stanford University

Professional Background: 
Matriculated to Stanford's English PhD program upon graduation from Duke in 2017

How has being an English graduate from Duke University helped shape your professional success?: 
My coming of age in the specific context of the modern American South has compelled a rich self-awareness of the social, historical, and political interruptionality of my black male identity. Before college, however, I struggled to articulate, and certainly to meaningfully explore, the ways in which I might instrumentalize that awareness in service of contributing to potentially transformative empowerment work. My faculty mentors at Duke taught me the potentiary value of literature as cultural commentary. The culturally deconstructive project of African American literature in particular—along with the idiosyncrasies of narrative structure and theme construction characteristic of all fiction—make the literature a particularly poignant medium through which to ponder the cultural formations that vex my intellectual and activist lives. Societal transformation is undoubtedly a gradual process that requires a confluence of social and political movements. Though I have not arrived at any clear “answer” to the challenges of our historical problem-space, I believe that literary study has given me the ability to at least productively produce the questions—related to power, personhood, and passion—that, if adequately reflected upon, will ultimately make the our society a more equitable and inclusive place.