Magazine Feature / People

Whitt’s passion for civil rights spans fiction, nonfiction

Margaret Whitt is fascinated by how people learn history by reading fiction. She has spent years teaching students about the civil rights movement by having them read short stories.

“I believe of all literary genres, the short story is the one most likely to reflect the time in which it was written,” says Whitt, who has taught English at DU for more than 25 years.

The “time” that has captured her interest the most is the civil rights era. Whitt is known for her classes focused on civil rights literature as well as the times she’s taken her students on road trips to see historical sites related to the civil rights movement. 

Whitt has edited a collection of short stories, Short Stories of the Civil Rights Movement: An Anthology, which received ForeWord Magazine’s 2006 Book of the Year gold medal and the American Library Association’s Best of the Best of the University Presses (June 2007).

She’s also this year’s co-recipient of the United Methodist Church University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award, which goes to faculty who define exceptional teaching, concern for students and commitment to high standards in professional and personal life. 

Colleagues say she is especially deserving of the scholar/teacher award because she excels in both areas.

“There are few who can match the energy and passion she brings to the study of literature,” says M.E. Warlick, a DU art and art history professor.

Warlick, who nominated Whitt, says she touched many students’ lives while she directed DU’s first year English program for 17 years. 

“She has stayed in touch with many of her students over the years, and whatever their chosen professions, they credit to Margaret their lifelong love of literature,” Warlick says.

One of those students, senior English major Matthew Henningsen, is helping Whitt explore a new area of interest: the 1980s and AIDS. Whitt plans to compile a collection of short stories about AIDS to see how people who didn’t have the disease reacted to those who did. 

“Fiction doesn’t tend to explain how you got AIDS, just how people responded to you once you told them,” Whitt says.

While this is Whitt’s final year at DU, she says she’s pleased to be recognized for her work right up to the end of her career. She plans to continue her travels through the South, touring factories and literary homes during her retirement. 

Whitt and her co-recipient, Education Professor Cindy McRae, each will receive $1,000.

Comments are closed.