Matthew Omelsky 2018 Duke English Ph.D. Graduate Shares His Experience

Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Quantá Holden, Digital Communications Specialist
Photo of Matthew Omelsky

Matthew Omelsky, 2018 Duke English Ph.D. graduate, recently sat down and reflected on his time at Duke and the Duke experience.  Matthew completed his undergraduate studies in Africana Studies and Politics at New York University.  His interest in African diasporic cultures took root during his jazz guitar studies in high school in Cleveland, Ohio and then at the California Institute of the Arts, where he began a longstanding interest in the autobiographies and biographies of legendary jazz musicians. He also cites his year studying Ghanaian dance and drumming at CalArts as central to his intellectual formation.  Matthew then pursued his master’s in Africana at Cornell University.

What attracted you to the PhD program at Duke?


Matthew noted that the work of several Duke English Department faculty members contributed to his intellectual development during his Ph.D. years at Duke, including  Professors Tsitsi Jaji and Ranjana Khanna, amongst others.


What are your thoughts about the program?  What has your experience at Duke been like?

“I would say that for the most part, I’m finishing the program having accomplished what I came in wanting to accomplish. That’s not to say that I didn’t encounter hurdles along the way, or that I followed a predetermined intellectual path. I arrived wanting to consume knowledge—to expand the base knowledge that I came in with and develop certain breadth of knowledge in my own fields of African and African diaspora studies. But I also came in wanting to become a producerof knowledge, to begin to carve out my own voice in those fields, which is really what I’ve tried to do in my dissertation and in the different publications I was able to place during my time here.” 

Why study English?



Please tell us about your dissertation?



What's next for Matthew?

I’m fortunate to have a couple different opportunities to pursue after graduating in May. The first is a one-year research postdoctoral fellowship with the Mellon Sawyer Seminar at Penn State’s Department of African American Studies. The seminar’s theme, “Racial Disposability and Cultures of Resistance,” is closely related to my dissertation, so it’s really an ideal opportunity to begin to rework the dissertation as a book project in a dynamic black studies environment, alongside an array of artists and scholars from disparate fields thinking through similar questions. And after this year at Penn State, I’ll begin a tenure-track appointment as an assistant professor of English at the University of Rochester, where I’ll join a department of fantastic scholars and teachers. It’ll be great to settle in there, continuing on with my research while teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in African, Caribbean, and global anglophone literature.  

Do you have any advice for current or future Ph.D. candidates? Or those considering the Ph.D. program at Duke?