The year 2010 is proving to be very busy for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature Adrian Matejka, who recently received the 2010 William and Margaret Going Award Endowed Professorship from SIUE’s College of Arts and Sciences. He called it “an incredible honor” to be selected for the award. “Professor (Emeritus of English Language and Literature) Eugene B. Redmond caught me up to speed on the history of the award,” Matejka said. “Professor Going was one of the founders of the University and of the Department of English, so I just hope that I can live up to all that the award entails.”
William Going established an endowment to fund the professorship in honor of his wife Margaret and himself in 2000. Going began his career at SIUE in its first year, teaching at what was then known as the Alton Residence Center on the old Shurtleff College campus, which was used by SIU for classes and is now the SIU School of Dental Medicine. He served as the first dean of Instruction and Academic Affairs before returning to teaching literature at SIUE until his retirement in 1980. He died in 2008.
The award recognizes faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences who have outstanding teaching and scholarly accomplishments and/or have engaged in creative activity. The award is open to all full-time, tenure-track faculty and carries a stipend of $10,000. The endowed professorship lasts for one year and awardees provide a public lecture at the end of the appointed time. The selection committee stated “Professor Matejka has done a tremendous amount of work in his specialty area and is gaining a national reputation. His plans to bring his work to public attention were outstanding and include readings at SIUE, Chicago, Atlanta and New York.”
As part of the application process, nominees outline their planned future work. Matejka’s will be “Poetry for the People,” a series of visits to Historically Black Colleges and Universities where he will work with professors and instructors to create mini-seminars in poetry with small groups of students. as inspired by poet and educator June Jordan. Jordan asserted that poetry is for everyone, “…teachers, plumbers, lawyers, couch potatoes—anyone who uses language thoughtfully,” Matejka said.
“Through these workshops and readings, I hope to help foster a different appreciation for poetry within the communities.”
This has been a year of accomplishment so far for Matejka. He was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the poetry division earlier this year. Among his other achievements, Matejka is a Cave Canem fellow and has won two Literary Awards from the Illinois Arts Council. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming in such literary journals, magazines, and anthologies including American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry 2010, Crab Orchard Review, Gulf Coast, and Prairie Schooner.
“It is only through the support of my colleagues in creative writing and English, and the University as a whole, that I’ve been able to achieve what I have the past couple of years,” he said. “Even though The William and Margaret Going Professorship Award is a bit different because it is bestowed directly by (CAS) Dean (Aldemaro) Romero and the College of Arts and Sciences, it is still emblematic of the community support I’ve received,” Matejka explained.
Assistant department Chair Sharon James McGee commented, “Adrian’s award-winning poetry collection, Mixology, swirls jazz and hip-hop rhythms with race, popular culture, and the changing mix of American life. His colleagues in the Department of English Language and Literature are very proud of his accomplishments, including most recently receiving the Going Award. It’s unprecedented for an assistant professor to earn this award, and Adrian’s work deserves this recognition.”
Matejka earned an MFA from SIU Carbondale then came to SIUE in fall 2007, where he specializes in creative writing. For the spring semester he also is teaching a literature seminar focusing on the African Diaspora. “I enjoy teaching literature classes because they allow me to spend time thinking about the impact and influence writing can have, rather than thinking about how to craft words that impact or influence,” Matejka explained. “Beyond that, we get to study texts that I wish I would have been exposed to as a student,” Matejka added.
Along with teaching, Matejka also serves as poetry editor for Sou’wester, a national literary journal published by the department. He continues to work on a new collection, The Big Smoke. “It is comprised of persona poems in the voice of Jack Johnson, the first African-American World Heavyweight Champion,” he said. “The collection is challenging because Johnson achieved the championship by beating Tommy Burns in 1909, only 13 years after the Supreme Court upheld Plessy vs. Ferguson,” Matejka explained. That landmark case made racial segregation constitutional and began the “separate but equal” doctrine in the United States until it was overthrown in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education, which paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement.
Upon hearing he was to be the 2010 award recipient, Matejka said he was humbled. “I still can’t believe how fortunate I am to be a professor at this University. I get to spend my days talking with great students about things I love,” he said.