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Find Your Voice: Mark Anthony Neal, Ph.D.

7 Dec

nealDr. Mark Anthony Neal is an excellent communicator. Don’t just take my word for it — ask any of the 11,615 followers (as of today) of his twitter page. Dr. Neal is living proof that social networking works to communicate to a vast audience and to ultimately make your voice heard.

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Neal over the phone, where we spoke about great writing, the power of good communication, and how important it is as a writer to find a voice.
Dr. Neal is the author of four books: What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Public Culture (1998), Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic (2002), Songs in the Keys of Black Life: A Rhythm and Blues Nation (2003) and New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity (2005). Dr. Neal is also the author of the popular blog New Black Man, which explores different issues developed through cultural studies. On top of that, he hosts the weekly webcast Left of Black produced by Duke University. He has been featured in many other venues, such as NPR articles and Democracy Now! A 1987 graduate of SUNY Fredonia, Dr. Neal returned to his Alma mater in October 2011 to participate on a panel about Mahalia Jackson, a legendary gospel great.
To Attract an Audience — Mix Content Well
Dr. Neal and I got to chatting about the significance of writing well. An audience is attracted by different kinds of media — video and audio work—but ultimately the content is what holds their attention. Good writing is writing that clearly gets your message across. To reach an audience, Dr. Neal says, the important thing is to mix up content. It is Dr. Neal’s goal to integrate forms of popular culture in his work, which is illustrated on all sorts of forms—from novels to podcasts, from post-colonialism to popular culture—and that mix may be one of the reasons he is so successful. However, Dr. Neal says, “There are some things I can only communicate through writing. It is important to find the right kind of balance.”
Like a lot of successful English majors, Dr. Neal started college headed in an entirely different direction — in his case, as an engineering student. But after taking his first creative writing class, he knew that he was meant to study English. During his time at Fredonia, Dr. Neal hosted a Sunday morning radio show, wrote columns for The Leader — SUNY Fredonia’s student-run newspaper, and was president of the Black Student Union. These experiences allowed him to hone his skills as a public speaker in order to get his voice out in the world. He said he was really pushed at SUNY Fredonia: one of his teachers told him that he already had the makings of a public voice. I asked him what SUNY Fredonia taught him, and he replied, “SUNY Fredonia taught me that good writers read—all the time– and they read a wide variety of things.”
After graduating, Dr. Neal sold computer software, which he admitted wasn’t a very good fit for him. He began teaching classes in New York City, and then decided to continue his education at SUNY Buffalo. He graduated with a Ph.D. in American studies in 1993. He then worked briefly in New Orleans and then six years at SUNY Albany before moving to North Carolina to work at Duke University. (Just think—he went from being a Blue Devil to being a Blue Devil—the mascot of both SUNY Fredonia and Duke University.) At Duke, Dr. Neal is a professor of African and African American Studies, where he won the 2010 Robert B. Cox Award for teaching. Dr. Neal really enjoys what he is doing, and he was excited to talk to me about the opportunities he has been afforded by his position at Duke.  He proclaimed, “There’s no place like Duke. I’m really fortunate to be here.”
To Write Well — Write Often
I asked Dr. Neal what kind of advice he would give to English majors making the transition into their post-college lives and careers. He offered: “Keep writing. Write every day, work on your craft, and find your voice. Put in the time to make quality work, and you’ll get to the position you really want to have.”
Dr. Mark Anthony Neal did. And he did it by finding his own voice. It is a strong voice, in touch with the way communication works and how communication works in the world.
Post by Amanda Rogers
Read original @ greatwriting