Class of 1974, 1989MA
Michele Wallace, a prolific author, cultural critic and educator, burst onto the national scene in 1979 with her groundbreaking book, “Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman.” She was 27 years old and her observations of gender roles and relationships within the black community and the civil rights movement unleashed passionate debate, put her in the middle of a firestorm of controversy and propelled her onto the cover of Ms. Magazine as a leading black feminist. She has been described by Cornel West, professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University, as “one of the most talented and provocative cultural critics now writing in the USA.”
Wallace has written extensively on such subjects as visual culture and its relationship to race and gender; the work of her mother, artist and activist Faith Ringgold ’55, ’59MA; and the personal toll exacted on her by her critics. In 1970, when she was still a student, Wallace and her mother founded Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation and, a couple of years later, were founding members of the National Black Feminist Organization. Since 1984, Wallace has also pursued an academic career as a professor in the English Departments of both City College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She earned a Ph.D. in Cinema Studies at New York University in 1999. Her topic was “Passing, Lynching and Jim Crow: U.S. Visual Culture, 1895-1927,” in which she wrote extensively about early films, including “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” “Birth of a Nation” and the silent movies of Oscar Micheaux.
Born in Harlem on Jan. 4, 1952, Wallace explored her own development as a writer for her acclaimed 1990 book, “Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory,” which looked into the scarcity of fully drawn African-American women in film and other areas of popular culture. The spotlight she put on how black women were either rendered invisible or made objects of fetishism in art, film and television inspired new critical thinking about race and gender in pop culture.
Her examination of her mother’s work includes such essays as “The French Collection: Momma Jones, Momma Faye and Me,” and “The Mona Lisa Interview with Faith Ringgold” at www.faithringgold.com. Her other essays about Ringgold include “American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s,” published in 2010, and “American Black: Faith Ringgold’s Black Light Series,” published in Duke University’s “Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art,” in 2011.
In December 1991, Wallace organized a celebrated three-day conference entitled “Black Popular Culture” at Harlem’s Studio Museum, bringing together some 30 black scholars, critics, artists, writers and others from disciplines that ranged from film and music to politics and urban planning.
She then published a book of essays examining the issues raised at the conference. Her book “Dark Designs and Visual Culture,” published in 2004, is a collection of her essays.
Wallace was also a columnist for the Village Voice in 1996 and 1997 and has been published in numerous scholarly journals as well as such publications as Ms. Magazine, The New York Times, Esquire and Entertainment Weekly.
Her web site (http://www.michelefwallace.com/MFW/Home.html) includes entries to four of her blogs: Michele’s Movie Talk, Soul Pictures; Black Feminist Generations, about the women in her family; Talking in Pictures, about photography and visual art; and Black Literature Curriculum. In 2014, she was working on a collection of pieces to be called “Faith Ringgold: My Mother, My Muse, My Mentor.”