Artist Spotlight: Ajuan Mance

A. Mance.png

It’s only fitting to finish my 1001 Black Men Online Sketchbook with the most inspiring and influential man in my life, Alphonzo Mance, Sr., my dad.

A native of South Carolina, my dad moved me and my mom to Long Island, New York, where he worked as a chemistry teacher until joining the staff of the National Education Association. (We were living on Long Island when my brother was born, in the early 1970s.) My dad would eventually go on to serve as the Executive Director of the Tennessee Education Association. He was the first African American to hold that post.

As a kid growing up on Long Island, my parents’ pleasure for exploring the bookstores and museums of Manhattan launched my competing obsessions with research and writing and art. All three of those have combined in the project I’m completing today, this collection of 1001 portraits of African American men.

Born in South Carolina, my dad was educated at Bethune-Cookman University, Tuskegee Institute, and Hofstra University. One of eight children, he built his career in education, first as a high school chemistry teacher and, eventually, as an executive for the nation’s largest teacher’s union. Education–whether primary, secondary, post-secondary, or post-grad–is our family business; and my dad was not only born to two teachers (at least one of whom was himself the child of a teacher), but he married a teacher, as well.

Today, both of my parents remain adventurous, politically and culturally engaged, and excited and curious about our rapidly changing world. For all their charm and reserve, my parents aren’t afraid to geek out about things they love–like Broadway plays and musicals, singing, book shopping, and international travel. Each of their visits to the SF Bay Area is a wonderfully nerdy Black love fest, with me my parents and my brother making references and jokes that betray our shared passion for information gathering and our respect for each other’s obsessions.

For anyone who has seen the four of us together–me, my parents and my brother–it should come as no surprise that I’ve spent the last 6.5 years exploring a single line of creative inquiry. The only real surprise is that I decided to stop at only 1001.

-Ajuan Mance

During the last several months, the #BlackLivesMatter protest movement has brought renewed national attention to an old reality, that many people in the U.S. and beyond perceive African American men as somehow different – stronger, more masculine, more virile, more dangerous – than men of other ethnicities.

In the U.S. today, Blackness has a gender, and that gender is male. This talk explores the roots of the gendering of U.S. Black identity as well as the various ways that popular culture has perpetuated what some have described as the hyper-visibility of Black men and the invisibility of Black womanhood. She traces the evolution of Blackness not only as a lived identity but as an idea. Her talk addresses the following questions: What are some of the ways that U.S. popular culture has defined Blackness over time, and how have the interests of the U.S. majority shaped the changing ways that Black people themselves have defined and presented themselves, in literature, in music, and on film? When has the relative invisibility of Black women undermined and silenced Black women and girls, and when has it benefitted them (and how)?



Mance created 1001 Black Men: An Online Sketchbook as a reaction against the controlling images that have limited and defined media representations of Black men. Mance will use a slideshow of images from her series as the basis of a wide ranging discussion of art, Black maleness and gender performance, and representation.

This program is sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and co-sponsored by the Women’s & Gender Resource Center; the Popel Shaw Center for Race & Ethnicity; and the Departments of Africana Studies; American Studies; English; French; and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies.

A. Mance Art


Ajuan M. Mance is a Professor of English at Mills College in Oakland, CA. She holds a B.A. from Brown University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor.  She is the author of several articles and essays on race, gender, and literature in the U.S. She is also the author of two books, Inventing Black Women: African American Women Writers and Self-Representation, 1877-2000 (University of Tennessee Press, 2007) and Proud Legacy: The Colored Schools of Malvern, Arkansas and the Community that Made Them (Henson-Benson Foundation, 2013). Her third book, Before There Was Harlem: An Anthology of African American Literature from the Long Nineteenth Century, will be published by the University of Tennessee Press.


All information above is pulled from the sources below.

1001 Black Men

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Ajuan Mance

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