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Miriam DeCosta-Willis :
Hopkins first African American Ph.D

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Dr. Miriam DeCosta-Willis is a woman who understands what it means to break barriers and defy the odds. Born in Florence, Alabama in 1934, she developed her love for languages while at Wellesley. Although she intended to major in French, after meeting Jorge Guillén and Justine Ruiz de Conde she decided to study Spanish instead. It was a choice that would prove to set the course of her life's work.

 In 1959, she applied and was accepted to the Department of Romance Languages and Literature at the Johns Hopkins University. At the time she was not only one of the few African-American students on campus, she was also one of the only women. Graduate study not only broadened her understanding of languages, but it also took her to new levels in understanding languages and their origin. This educational experience brought her academic interests and her political activism to the international arena as well. She completed her M.A. in 1960. Then she left graduate studies, and moved to Memphis where she became one of the leaders in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. After several years of activism, she returned to JHU in 1965 and matriculated with her Ph.D. in Romance Languages in 1967.

Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Since that time, she has been a faculty member at several universities, including Howard University where she chaired the Department of Romance Languages for many years and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. She retired in 1999 to become a full-time author. Among her best-known books are Erotique Noire/Black Erotica (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1992) and Daughters of the Diaspora: Afra-Hispanic Writers (Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2003).

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