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Interview with Jack L. Daniel, author of Negotiating a Historically White University While Black

Interview conducted by Deliah Lawrence, an author, blogger, and workshop facilitator. 


 Author’s Bio: Jack L. Daniel grew up in Johnstown, PA beginning in public housing. In 1960, he was admitted on academic probation to the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. He subsequently earned three degrees over the span of 8 years (B.S. in Psychology, M.A. in Speech Communication, and PhD in Speech Communication in 1963, 1966, and 1968 respectively). He was an American Council on Education Fellow at Stanford University during the 1973-74 academic year and was a Harvard Institute for Educational Management Fellow in 1986. 

After serving as the first Chair of Black Studies, he served as a Dean, Vice Provost and Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. He taught courses and conducted research in Black Communication. In 2010, he received the National Communication Association Black Caucus’ Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2018, he received a National Communication Association Presidential Citation for Service and for Outstanding Scholarship and Activism Chronicling the NCA Black Caucus. With his son, Omari C. Daniel, he co-authored We Fish: The Journey to Fatherhood.  Currently, he is a retired Vice Provost and Distinguished Service Professor from the University of Pittsburgh.  

DL: What inspired you to write your book?
JLD: I agree with the premise “education is the passport for the 21st Century.” Given the achievement and opportunity gaps faced by Blacks, I decided to share what I had learned over several decades regarding how to negotiate that complex institution we call higher education.  I also wanted to share information to help those focused on the realization of diversity, inclusion, social justice and equity.

DL: Describe your writing process? Do you use an outline or let it flow organically?  
JLD: I do not use an outline.  I focus on sequential key events such as starting from childhood and going through stages of life, as I did in my most recent book.  As with other writers, I draft, redraft, redraft, put the manuscript down, go back and redraft until satisfied.  Throughout my professional career, I wrote academic articles which of course constitute a different genre.  With the book, We Fish: The Journey to Fatherhood and the current piece of creative non-fiction, I was more like the piano player who plays intuitively as opposed to following the patterns one would learn in a music class or, in the case of writing, a creative writing curriculum and/or workshop.

DL: What do you think makes a good story?  
JLD: A good story must “keep it real.”  One should present honest, believable characters who have faults and strengths.  In what I write, the “Jack” character is very important because his strengths and foibles are used to engage readers.  I also suggest that people not try to write what they are not good at doing because it is likely to come out as unbelievable.  I would love to, for example, write a romance novel but every time I try to write something and give it to someone to read, they start laughing and ask something such as “are you serious?”  Hence, my advice is stick to writing authentically about what you know.  

DL: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?  
JLD: During my college years, Carter G. Woodson’s Miseducation of the Negro had a great impact on my thinking about the pursuit of freedom and justice in America.  Fundamentally, as he wrote, one can’t be free if one’s education is in the hands of one’s oppressors.  

As a child, I was heavily influenced by the Bible, although not so much by reading it as by the traditional Black preachers telling “stories” from the Bible.  Long before scholars articulated “Black liberation theology,” I had learned about “being a child of God,” the fighting of “liberation” battles down in Egypt, and other biblical events that were likened to civil rights struggles.  I grew up believing that I had to do my part in getting myself and my people to the promised land.  

DL: If you were hosting a dinner party which three authors would be your dream guests?  
JLD: I would invite Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Michelle Obama.  Each has a powerful voice and they speak to extremely important issues.  Although they discuss very serious topics, they also come through as very “down to earth” people.

DL: What are the keys to success in marketing your book(s)?  
JLD: As a first-time self-published author, I am like the brothers selling their first CDs out of the trunks of their cars.  I depend heavily on the electronic media, particularly my Facebook connections.  I also make use of interpersonal relationships that I developed with thousands of students over time, particularly Pitt Black alumni.  Key support groups include the Black professionals in my scholarly field, Black alumni faculty and administrative groups across the country, and others who agree to sponsor book signing events.  I also receive exposure via the online publication, The Pittsburgh Urban Media.

DL: What tips would you give to aspiring writers?  
JLD: Begin with a topic to which you are totally committed since that commitment will provide the stamina to persevere from the initial idea to a published book. Then, start writing!  Quit talking about writing, discussing what you ought to write, etc., and actually write!  Find a tough critic or two, i.e., someone(s) who will provide constructive comments, not pseudo praise.  

Also, remember there is no replacement for a healthy dosage of authenticity.  As I said before, when you write, it is truly time to “keep it real,” to be authentic, to tell the truth as you have personally experienced life using adverbs and adjectives to present your perspective, not as gimmicks. Do not confuse pouring out your emotions on paper as indicative of great writing.  It might be nothing more than something of cathartic value to you, but not a book does it make.

Finally, writing is not easy!  That is why so few write.

DL: How about sharing an excerpt from the book?
JLD: Sure thing, here you go:

Having succumbed to the lore of low academic achievement being synonymous with Black masculinity, my inferior high school transcript rendered me inadmissible to college.  This dysfunctional mentality also led me to view military service as my postsecondary “reach school,” the local Bethlehem Steel Mill as my “safe school,” and hustling for tips at Jolly Joe’s Carwash as my “no more school” scenario.  Fortunately, I never had to pursue any of these options.”

DL: What’s on the horizon for you? 
JLD: Over a number of years, I have been writing short blogs for the Pittsburgh Urban Media, an online publication.  I would like to go back, review what I wrote, and ascertain if those articles could become a book of essays.

DL: Where can readers learn more about you and your book(s)? 
JLD: They can find out more here:

·        Facebook: Negotiating a Historically White University While Black

·        Book Buy Links: Paperback at:https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732433909?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860

·        Kindle at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PV6NMZS

It’s been a pleasure having you here with us today. I know my readers will enjoy getting to know you and your work.



Blog citation:

 Lawrence, Deliah. “Interview with Jack L. Daniel, author of Negotiating a Historically White University While Black.” Vocal Expressions (blog), July 15, 2019, https://vocalexpressions.blogspot.com/2019/07/interview-with-jack-l-daniel-author-of.html

 Deliah Lawrence is a Maryland-based attorney, author, blogger and workshop facilitator who writes romantic suspense novels as well as poetry and short stories. Her debut novel, Gotta Let It Go, set in Baltimore, won the 2011 Finalist Next Generation Indie Book Award in the multi-cultural fiction category.

Constantly on the go, Deliah is also an active member of the Maryland Writers’ Association, Black Writers’ Guild of Maryland, and Sisters in Crime. And most recently, Joel Furches (reviewer, CBS Baltimore) named her as one of five Baltimore authors to put on readers 2018 summer reading list. Visit her at  www.authordeelawrence.com

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