Note: bios are outdated in 2017 as these former Penn State students have long since graduated and moved on to careers in a range of fields.
Jared Frederick, artist
Jared Frederick began the artwork for his first book, Civil War Leaders, at the end of his freshman year in high school. Beyond his love of art and drawing, he is a rabid student of American History in general and the Civil War in particular. A sequel, More Civil War Leaders, is now available as well. He has won a number of student art and photography contests, including national competitions sponsored by the Civil War Preservation Trust and the History Channel. He has also volunteered as a sketch artist at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. He designed the commemorative T shirt for the 2007 African American Read-In at Penn State Altoona, at which time he agreed to also contribute his talents as a portrait artist to the Black Writers of Pennsylvania Database. Jared is currently attending Penn State Altoona, majoring in history. Learn more about Jared’s books and artwork at his website, History Matters.
Kevin Lashley is a business marketing and management major at Penn State Altoona. He will graduate in December of 2007 and hopes to attend law school for international business and taxation. Kevin got involved with the database project because he wanted to learn new techniques for researching and writing professional reports. He enjoys reading works from the Black Arts Movement and focused a lot of his energy on writers that helped define that movement. Kevin’s recommended reading: “I really enjoy reading The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni: 1968 – 1998. It is a fascinating book of poetry with many different moods – one poem will be about love and the next about racism. These contradictory moods give the reader a sense of the complex outlook of a very accessible poet.”
Nellie Manis is majoring in history and minoring in Russian at Penn State and will graduate in the Spring of 2008. After she graduates she plans on attending law school and one day practicing international human rights law. She enjoyed working on the Black Writers of Pennsylvania database project because it introduced her to a genre she previously had a prejudice against, detective novels. She had never read a detective novel before working on her assigned author, Barbara Neely. Nellie completed work on the project in the Spring of 2006. Nellie’s recommended reading: “To a new reader I would recommend any of the ‘Blanche’ novels by Barbara Neely. Not only are they social commentary, but also they are witty and quick. They are enjoyable to the reader who wants to learn about the working class black community as well as to the reader who just wants to relax at the end of the day.”
Brenda McCloskey went on to pursue a Master of Education degree at Penn State University Park after graduating in 2005 with a bachelor of arts degree in English degree from Penn State Altoona. She got involved with the database project to increase her researching skills while widening her literary knowledge base. She spent two semesters on the project in 2004, the first contributing to the initial identification of black writers with connections to Pennsylvania, and the second writing articles for the database itself. Brenda’s recommended reading: “Patricia Jabbeh Wesley’s poetry. It is a powerful testament to the indomitable human spirit and the strength of family.”
Desiree Moody is an international politics major completing her degree at Penn State, University Park campus. She is minoring in English, and got involved in the database due to the encouragement of her English professor at Penn State Altoona, Dr. Megan Simpson, and also to gain experience in writing for publications. She enjoys reading both fiction and non-fiction works that reveal the struggle and accomplishments of African Americans in a way that people of different ethnicities, nationalities, and financial statuses are able to relate. So she chose to focus on writers who conveyed that message during her time with the project in the Spring of 2005. Desiree’s recommended reading: “I really enjoyed Omar Tyree’s novel, Single Mom. This is a fate that many young women of all backgrounds encounter. It warns those that have not gone down the path of adolescent motherhood the complications of doing so, and it also gives hope to those who find themselves in this situation. It is a novel of hope, and I believe that all females can relate to and benefit from this enjoyable book.”
Dominque Pratt is a psychology major at Penn State Altoona. She is minoring in English, and plans to graduate in May of 2007. She got involved in the database project in September of 2006 because she thought that it would be interesting to learn more about African American writers in Pennsylvania. Her preference for reading poetry led her to the works of Elizabeth Alexander and Ruth Ellen Kocher. One poem that she thinks would be a fascinating read for others is Kocher’s “Ode To the Woman Who, On the Day That I Earned a Doctorate, Mistook Me For a Shoe Clerk” from One Girl Babylon: “The title really grabs our attention, not only because of its length, but also because it breaks our expectations that a poem will be a nostalgic tribute. The poem is filled with imagery that subtly expresses comedic sarcasm on the part of the speaker.”
Jessica Sidler graduated from Penn State Altoona with a bachelor’s degree in English in December, 2004. In the fall of 2006, Jess began working towards a Master’s degree in English Literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Throughout the Spring 2004 and Fall 2004 semesters, she worked with the database team. She especially enjoyed discovering new writers to add to the list and creating original entries. Jess recommends Faith Adiele’s bookMeeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun: “The story chronicles how a biracial American woman becomes a Buddhist nun to better understand her identity and her place in the global community. I really like the structure of the book: the narrative is framed by quotations from other books, Adiele’s journal excerpts, and observations about Buddhist culture. My mom was a little worried after I finished the novel because I talked about flying to Thailand and shaving my head for a few weeks!”
In May 2006, Takira Smith graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in English. Currently, she works as a specialist within the Family Independence Administration, with a focus in eligibility verification, and she is also training as a probation officer with the city of New York. In the fall of 2007, she plans to attend law school. Takira became involved in the database project to challenge herself and explore her interest in African American literature and the ideas and complexities of different works of literature. She participated in the project from September 2005 until May 2006. Takira comments on her experience: “As a participant in the database project, I found there was so much to learn, so much insight to gain that could be used in class room discussions on the works by writers I researched. If there was one work I would recommend to readers, it would be “The Black Arts Movement,” an essay by Larry Neal, which speaks about the theory of black aesthetics and reminds us of the everyday struggle for self-determination.”