Associate Professor Delia Steverson: Making the Past Visible and the Future Free 

Delia Steverson

For Associate Professor Delia Steverson, 2023 has been an eventful year, marked by her hiring at—and homecoming to—The University of Alabama, where she specializes in 20th an 21st Century African American Literature, Critical Disability Studies, and Southern Studies. Additionally, October 15 brough the release of Stumbling Blocks, Steverson’s edited collection of Delores Phillips’s unpublished works.    
As she was finishing her PhD at Alabama, focusing on representations of disability in African American literature, she heeded the suggestion of a colleague and read The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips. “I was so moved,” Steverson says. “The book was so powerful that I tried to look up more information on who this woman was, but I couldn’t find anything except a weak Wikipedia page and an obituary.” But through that obituary, Steverson discovered Phillips had a surviving daughter, and soon she was in touch with the author’s family. In 2018, she flew to Cleveland, Ohio, to meet with Phillips’s sister, daughter, and grand-daughter, and discovered a treasure trove of Phillips’s unfinished work: poems, stories, and two novels, No Ordinary Rain, and Stumbling Blocks. Working with Phillips’s family, Steverson edited the manuscripts and brought what would have been relegated to invisible history into the light of day.  
The experience of discovering the previous neglect of Phillips’s legacy helped launch one of Steverson’s other passions, the Wikipedia Project. She is engaged in “a collaboration with two Wikipedians who work for, and three other professors, on a handbook called Introduction to Wikipedia Studies.” Steverson’s interest is in “highlighting under-represented African American authors, texts, journals, and magazines that currently have only a bare-bones Wikipedia page.” She works with her students to leverage what they have available as members of the academic community, and to bring that information out from behind a pay wall for public consumption. This serves the immediate goal of bringing attention to under-represented authors, but also teaches her students a digital literacy about how and why such under-representation persists. “It shows our students that we have this immense privilege having a university backing us,” Steverson says, “meaning we have access to information that a person outside of academia would have to pay for.”  

Stumbling Blocks and the Wikipedia Project both began during her time at The University of Florida, where she was hired after completing her PhD, and the Wikipedia Project continues to be a part of her teaching at UA. The next step in her research is Making Black Selves: Imagining Life beyond Survival, work that will focus on representations of disability in texts by Black authors—Phillips, Adrienne Kennedy, Ernest Gaines, and others—to explore how those authors are “imagining this concept of disability in order to envision a type of Black subjectivity that leads toward Black living.” Much of Black life and Black literature, like much of disability literature, has been viewed through a lens of suffering, she explains. “I want to imagine Black life as not simply a state of being, but a state of aliveness,” Steverson says. “I am examining how we can consider Black life and imagine a Black future through authors who deal with a disability aesthetic.”  
“I’m not thinking about disability as just a physical manifestation,” Steverson continues, “but about how there are multiple ways Black authors are considering disability in their work.” This consideration can have metaphorical uses, she explains, regarding the relationship between race and disability, expanding conversations about how racism affects the Black psyche, and re-imagining concepts of the body.  

This is the work that Steverson is focusing on as a new member of the UA community, but she is certainly no stranger to Tuscaloosa, having grown up here. After departing to pursue her BA at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, she returned here for both her MA and her PhD. Her professional journeys have taken her to the Dominican Republic, and then to the University of Florida. “I really believe that there’s no doubt I got the job at the University of Florida because I was so well trained here at UA,” Steverson says. “So it’s great to come back and be a colleague now with those professors. There is a mutual excitement to have me back, and I’m thrilled to be here.”  
“What I like is that now I want to focus a lot of my work on Black Southern History, and I feel like I have the space to do that here,” Steverson adds. “I also want to be more involved in bridging the academy and the community. I feel there’s an inspiration for me here in Tuscaloosa, and the state of Alabama writ large, and I’m open and ready to receive and make use of all the opportunities UA presents.”  

–Kevin Waltman