Deborah E. McDowell

Alice Griffin Professor of English

African-American Literature; Women's Literature; American Literature; Theories of Race and Emotion

Deborah E. McDowell was Director of the Woodson Institute from 2008-2021, serving the longest term as director in the Institute’s 40-plus year history. During this period of significant growth, the African American and African Studies program became a department, expanded its curriculum and faculty roster, established a Study-Abroad program in Ghana, a certificate in Africana Studies, and secured the endowment of the fellowship program. 

She is currently Director of the Julian Bond Papers Project, which began in 2013 as “The Movement in the Archive.” Currently in its third year of funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the project is making available to students, scholars and the public nearly 50,000 documents Bond bequeathed to the University of Virginia. The project work completed to date is freely available at this digital archive

A scholar of African American/American literature, is the Alice Griffin Professor of Literary Studies at the University of Virginia, where she has been a member of the faculty since 1987. Her publications include 'The Changing Same': Studies in Fiction by African-American Women, Leaving Pipe Shop: Memories of Kin, as well as numerous articles, book chapters, and scholarly editions. She is co-editor (with Claudrena Harold and Juan Battle) of The Punitive Turn: Race, Inequality, and Mass Incarceration. Extensively involved in editorial projects pertaining to the subject of African-American literature, she founded the African-American Women Writers Series for Beacon Press and served as its editor from 1985-1993. This project oversaw the reissue of fourteen novels by African American women writers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She also served as a period editor for the Norton Anthology of African-American Literature, now in its third edition; contributing editor to the D. C. Heath Anthology of American Literature, and co-editor with Arnold Rampersad of Slavery and the Literary Imagination. Her service on various editorial boards has included Publications of the Modern Language AssociationAmerican Literature, Genders, and African-American Review, Modern Fiction Studies, and Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature.

Professor McDowell has been the recipient of various grants, including the Mary Ingraham Bunting Fellowship (Radcliffe), the National Research Council Fellowship of the Ford Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center Fellowship. She was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Purdue University in 2006.