Earle Bryant, professor emeritus of English and former Africana studies endowed professor, died March 25. He was 74.
Bryant taught in the Department of English and Foreign Languages for 39 years until his retirement in 2017.
Even in retirement, however, Bryant’s love for teaching could not keep him out of the classroom. He continued to teach courses post-retirement, especially his favorite course: ENGL 2071: African-American Literature I.
“He was the best teacher I have ever known, and he was the best human being I have ever known,” said English professor Dan Doll, who shared an office with Bryant for a dozen years. “We could fill every seat in every room on this campus with students whose lives Earle touched.”
Bryant was considered one of the most gifted teachers in his department and colleagues say they learned as much from Bryant as his students.
“He understood the power of literature to transform lives, to give people new ways to imagine this world and their place in it,” said Janet Barnwell Smith, English instructor and director of the Greater New Orleans Writing Project. “This was especially true of African American literature. His mission was to bring that literature not just to his Black students, who benefitted greatly from his knowledge, but to all his students.
“In the words of Langston Hughes, ‘You are white—yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. That's American.’”
Bryant was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised there and in New Orleans.
“I'm half West Philly and half Seventh Ward,” he was fond of saying.
Bryant was a former seminarian, having studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood in the Josephite Order. He later received his bachelor’s degree in English from Xavier University and earned his master’s and doctorate degrees from Harvard University in 1971 and 1978 respectively.
Bryant specialized in African American literature, American literature, and English Renaissance literature, distinguishing himself as a scholar through publication of numerous articles on Richard Wright, Charles Chesnutt, George Moses Horton, Bernard Malamud and Ben Jonson. His book on Richard Wright’s journalism, “Byline: Richard Wright,” was published in 2014 by the University of Missouri Press.
During his tenure at UNO, Bryant received numerous honors and awards for his scholarship and teaching, including the Amoco Award for Excellence in Teaching, the 2007 UNO Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Teaching, as well as the 2016 Distinguished English Faculty Award. He also was selected twice for inclusion in Who's Who Among America's Teachers.
In 1997, Bryant was awarded the Louisiana Endowment for Humanities' Humanitarian of the Year Award in recognition of his work in adult literacy. In 2001, he was honored as a Seraphia D. Leyda University Teaching Fellow, one of the most prestigious honors the University of New Orleans grants to faculty members for their exemplary teaching.
“I can say he will always be with me,” Smith said.