Thulani Davis

Credentials: Associate Professor


4121 Helen C. White Hall


B.A. Barnard College, 1970 (English)

M.A. New York University, 2008 (Individualized Study, History, American Studies, Visual Arts)

Grad Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 1974-75

Ph.D. New York University, 2014 (American Studies)



Thulani Davis is an interdisciplinary scholar, a veteran journalist, and a writer working in theater, fiction and non-fiction. She is currently working on a study entitled Improviser Country: Itinerant Black Performance in the Mississippi Valley. Her teaching interests include black political thought, Reconstruction, African American literature and film. She has been a recipient of the 2023 MAAH Stone Book Award, a Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Writers Award, a PEW Foundation National Theatre Artist Residency, a Charles H. Revson Fellowship on the Future of New York City, and was an inaugural fellow of the Leon Levy Center for Biography in New York. At NYU she received the Lerner Prize in American Studies, and she is a Distinguished Alumna of Barnard College, as well as a Barnard Africana Studies Distinguished Alumna. She was honored by the Congressional Black Caucus’ Veterans Committee for work on 2011 national monument designation of Fort Monroe, Va., cite of the 1619 landing, by President Barack Obama. Davis was the first woman to win a Grammy for liner notes and is a two-time Grammy nominee in opera as a librettist.



Rustin, Assouline Publishing, 2023.

The Emancipation Circuit: Black Activism Forging a Culture of Freedom, Duke University Press, 2022

Nothing but the Music: Documentaries from Nightclubs, Dance Halls and a Tailor’s Shop in Dakar, 1974-1992, Blank Forms Editions, 2020.

My Confederate Kinfolk: A 21st Century Freedwoman Discovers Her Roots, Basic Books, 2006

Everybody’s Ruby, Samuel French, 2000

Amistad, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1997

Maker of Saints, Scribner, 1996

Malcolm X: The Great Photographs, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1993

1959, Grove Press, 1992

X: The Life & Times of Malcolm X, 1986; & 2022

Playing the Changes, Wesleyan University Press, 1985

All the Renegade Ghosts Rise, Anemone Press, 1978



For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights, Maurice Berger, Yale, 2010
The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of New York, Cambridge, 2010
Village Voice articles, 1979-2004
The Color of Theater: Race, Culture and Contemporary Performance, Continuum, 2002
War of the Words: 20 Years of Writing on Contemporary Literature, Three Rivers Press, 2001
Soul: Black Power, Politics and Pleasure, NYU Press, 1998
Bomb: Speak Fiction and Poetry! G & B Arts International, 1998Rock She Wrote: Women Write about Rock, Pop and Rap, Delta Press, 1995
My Soul Is a Witness: African-American Women’s Spirituality, Beacon, 1995
Bomb Interviews, City Lights Books, 1992
From Totems to Hip Hop, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003
Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café, Henry Holt, 1994
Walk on the Wild Side: Urban American Poetry Since 1975, Scribner’s, 1994
Moon Marked and Touched by Sun: Plays by African-American Women, TCG, 1994
The Wesleyan Tradition: Four Decades of American Poetry, Wesleyan/New England, 1993
The New Cavalcade: African-American Writing from 1760 to the Present, Howard, Press, 1993
Art Against Apartheid, Ikon Inc., 1986
The Village Voice Anthology, William Morrow, 1982
Third World Women, Third World Communications, 1972


Recent Lectures and Presentations

Discussion on Reconstruction, Grad Working group, History Dept., Univ. of Toronto, 2023

Discussion on The Emancipation Circuit, Grad seminar, History Dept., Georgetown Univ., 2023

“Louisiana in Reconstruction,“ American Studies Assoc. Conference, 2022

“The Emancipation Circuit in Relation to Contemporary Displacement,” Inst. of Contemporary Art, Univ. of Pennsylvania, 2021

“The Role of The Chicago Defender in Expanding a Circuit of Black Performance & Discourse,”

Moderator of “Radical Artists (& the Black Press)” panel, Yale Univ., 2017


Selected Scripts: Film 

In Ragtime: James Reese Europe, script/narrator, Louis Massiah, producer, Scribe Video, 2011

Maker of Saints, 2011, [in development]

Paid in Full, Miramax 2002

I’ll Make Me a World: A Century of African American Arts, concept developer & story editor, PBS, Blackside, Inc., 1999

W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices, Louis Massiah, producer, Scribe Video, 1996


Selected Theater & Musical Works

The Little Rock Nine, opera for young voices, Bernadette Speach, composer, workshop, 2023

The Sojourner Washing Society: A Musical in Gospel & Blues, Steven Robinson, composer, workshop, Alliance Theater & Black Arts Festival, Atlanta, 2014

The Souls of Black Folk: An Oratorio for Five Actors, CUNY Grad Center & National Black Arts Festival, 2003

Everybody’s Ruby: Story of a Murder in Florida, New York Shakespeare Festival, 1999

Dark Passages, oratorio, Miya Masaoka, composer, San Francisco Asian Art Museum, 1998

Amistad, an opera, Anthony Davis, composer, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1997

The E. & O. Line: an electronic opera, Anne LeBaron, composer, Univ. of DC, 1989

X: The Life & Times of Malcolm X, Anthony Davis, composer, New York City Opera, 1986

Where the Mississippi Meets the Amazon [w/Shange & Hagedorn & band], NY Shakespeare Festival, 1977