Remembering Shirley Hanshaw

Remembering Shirley Hanshaw

Shirley Ann James Hanshaw, Ph.D. passed away on November 12, 2023. She was an honored teacher, scholar, and mentor in the Department of English at Mississippi State University from 2005 until her retirement in 2017. She will be much missed. 

Dr. Hanshaw was a Starkville native who graduated as the valedictorian of Henderson High School in 1965. She earned her BA in English at Tougaloo College, an MA in English at Temple University and her PhD in English at the University of Mississippi. Before joining the Department of English at Mississippi State, Dr. Hanshaw worked as a technical writer and taught English and technical writing at several universities, including the University of Southern Mississippi and Alcorn State University. 

Dr. Hanshaw joined the Department of English in 2005. She was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2011 and was the first African American faculty member in the department to reach this rank. In 2017, she was promoted to Full Professor, again as the first African American faculty in the department to hold this rank, and retired as Professor Emerita.  These remarkable professional accolades are underscored by national data showing that Black faculty comprise roughly 6% of tenure-line faculty in U.S. colleges and institutions and only 2% of Full Professors are Black women. 

Dr. Hanshaw was instrumental in the development of the Program in African American Studies at MSU. Shortly after she arrived at MSU she was appointed to the interdisciplinary committee tasked with created the AAS program, and she remained active in the Program until her retirement in 2017. Dr. Hanshaw was honored by Mississippi’s Institutions of Higher Learning as the Diversity Educator of the Year in 2016. Among her many accomplishments was the creation of the MSU-Tougaloo Exchange Program in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. As Liaison for this Program, Dr. Hanshaw implemented strategies to link curriculum, research opportunities for students, faculty appointments, and internship opportunities for students at the two schools. 

At MSU, Dr. Hanshaw was a committed and creative teacher. She expanded the Department’s curriculum in African American literature and paved the way for future courses in Multi-Ethnic U.S. Literature. She described her pedagogical methods in “Cultural Memory and African American Literary Pedagogy” (Memory and the Narrative Imagination in the African and Diaspora Experience, ed. Tom Spencer-Walters, Bedford, 2011).  She was mentor for many students and young faculty, particularly faculty of color.

Dr. Hanshaw’s made substantial contributions to scholarship of African American literature. She delivered 49 professional presentations in over 10 countries and published numerous articles, book chapters, book reviews, and poems. She edited Conversations with Yusef Komunyakaa (University Press of Mississippi 2010). In 2021 she published Re-Membering and Surviving: African American Fiction of the Vietnam War (Michigan State University Press 2021). This book is a comprehensive study of African American writers’ literary responses to the Vietnam War. It is a major contribution to critical discussions of race and war in American literature and provides crucial literary and historical contexts for Black experiences of war in contemporary America. Dr. Hanshaw discussed the research and writing of the book and its broader significance for American culture on the Michigan State University podcast in 2020.   Dr. Hanshaw received several prestigious national fellowships in the course of her career, including a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, a Danforth Associateship for Outstanding Teaching in the Sciences and Humanities, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship.

After retirement, Dr. Hanshaw remained actively involved as a community leader in the Starkville/Oktibbeha community through the J.L. King Center and the Oktibbeha NAACP.