Alvin Aubert

(b. 1930)

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(b. 1930), poet, educator, editor, short story writer, and dramatist.

Born 12 March 1930 in Lutcher, Louisiana, Alvin Bernard Aubert's presence in African American literature is marked by his creative, editorial, and scholarly contributions to the discipline. As a poet his works often reflect upon childhood and adolescence in Louisiana, and through these observations comment on the ubiquitous states of human existence. As the founding editor of Obsidian, he has provided a journal with a nurturing environment for the publication of African American literature and theoretical discourse.

Aubert earned a bachelor's degree in English literature with a minor in French from Southern University in Baton Rouge in 1959. As an undergraduate he was encouraged by Blyden Jackson, chair of the English department, to consider graduate studies and a career in teaching. He received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for graduate studies to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor where he completed a master's degree in English literature the following year.

His first teaching position was in the English department at Southern where he coordinated and taught one of the first courses on African American literature offered by the university. Citing his own lack of knowledge as a student, he sought to increase others’ awareness of African American literature by reading texts from the Harlem Renaissance to the present. Additional graduate work at the University of Illinois, on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century authors Shakespeare and Milton, illuminated the importance of allusions and their ability to enrich a particular text by referring to myths, the Bible, and earlier literatures. Applying these studies on language to African American literature, he began to recognize the means through which expressive language was capable of eloquently describing everyday activities. Aubert's career continued with his teaching African American literature and creative writing at both the State University of New York in Fredonia (1970–1979) and later at Wayne State University (1979–1992). He founded Obsidian: Black Literature in Review in 1975, which functioned as a catalyst for aspiring writers to publish. He remained the journal's editor until it ceased publication in 1982. In 1986 the journal was reissued as Obsidian II and is published under the auspices of the English department at North Carolina State University.

Considering the African American poet's relationship to the community, Aubert has at times debated the poet's success or failure in effectively communicating to others. Given the inconclusive nature of the dilemma, he resigned himself to a philosophy that the reader should be educated in language. This “education” was not formal but rather an individual's sensitivity to language and its unlimited potential for conveying and re-creating experiences and sentiments. Aubert rejected notions of artistic compromise and regarded the poet as belonging and committed to poetry.

It was this type of sensibility that provoked criticism from colleagues who often regarded his works as dispassionate and allusive. While others writing during the 1960s and 1970s produced politically and socially charged poems reflecting the times, his poetry remained centered on personal experiences. Therefore his writing contrasted with that of others by reminding readers that, when closely viewed, individual members of the African American community celebrated unique experiences.


Subjects: Literature.

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