Dorothy Denniston, Associate Professor Emerita of English
Dorothy “Dottie” Hamer Denniston joined the Brown Faculty as an Assistant Professor of English in 1987 and became Associate Professor in 1994. She was the first woman of color in the department’s history to rise through the ranks to achieve tenure. A specialist in African American literature and culture, she received a courtesy appointment in the African American Studies Department in 2000. She earned a B. A. from Northwestern University (1967), an M. A. from Simmons College (1975), and a Ph. D. from Brown (1983), and she held faculty appointments at Simmons, the University of Tennessee, and Wheaton College before embarking on her career at Brown.
Her groundbreaking work centered on the novels and short stories of Paule Marshall. Professor Denniston’s book, The Fiction of Paule Marshall: Reconstructions of History, Culture, and Gender (University of Tennessee Press, 1995) was the first full-length study of an author who subsequently has been the subject of eighteen additional books, each indebted to Denniston’s door-opening critical investigation. She identifies in Marshall’s work a far-reaching concern with the experience of displacement and alienation “of African peoples throughout the diaspora,” as well as a conviction that the recovery of shared traditions and common history must accompany any effort to solve recurrent dilemmas of race and gender.
Professor Denniston contributed to all aspects of professional life at Brown. She was a respected, beloved, and rigorous educator. Her courses in African American Literature, the Harlem Renaissance, and African American Women Novelists made an invaluable contribution to the curriculum. Her honors as a teacher include the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Onyx Society and the Wriston Fellowship Award for Excellence in Teaching. Recognition beyond Brown includes the Award for Exemplary Leadership from the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program. Students constantly sought her counsel on matters both academic and personal. She advised first-years, sophomores, concentrators, UTRA participants, and numerous groups addressing matters of race and ethnicity. She also had skills as an administrator, first as Associate Dean of the College at Simmons and later as Associate Dean of the College at Brown. Her service on University committees and advisory groups was tireless.
When illness prevented further teaching, Professor Denniston hoped to bring to fruition new research on women writers of the African diaspora and on Black Feminist Theory. She retired in 2010 and was named Associate Professor Emerita of English and Africana Studies in that year. Her earlier completed work on Marshall had the boldness that accompanies studies of living and active artists. She has predeceased the author whose significance she helped to establish.