Michael Awkward is Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. His previous books include Negotiating Difference: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Positionality and Inspiriting Influences: Tradition, Revision, and Afro-American Women’s Novels.
Scenes of Instruction is the memoir of noted scholar of African American literature Michael Awkward. Structured around the commencement ceremonies that marked his graduations from various schools, it presents Awkward’s coming-of-age as a bookish black male in the projects of 1970s Philadelphia. His relationships with his family and peers, their struggles with poverty and addiction, and his eventual move from underfunded urban schools to a prestigious private school all become parts of a memorable script.
With a recurring focus on how his mother’s tragic weaknesses and her compelling strengths affected his development, Awkward intersperses the chronologically arranged autobiographical sections with ruminations on his own interests in literary and cultural criticism. As a male scholar who has come under fire for describing himself as a feminist critic, he reflects on such issues as identity politics and the politics of academia, affirmative action, and the Million Man March.
By connecting his personal experiences with larger political, cultural, and professional questions, Awkward uses his life as a palette on which to blend equations of race and reading, urbanity and mutilation, alcoholism, pain, gender, learning, sex, literature, and love.