Professor, Joint-Appointed

Portrait of Vershawn Young.PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago

Extension: 31596
Office: ML 239



I work primarily in three areas of African American studies (gender studies, language studies and performance studies). In my work I draw from the disciplines of communication, composition and rhetoric, education, American literature, and theatre. In short, I am a multi-disciplinary artist, scholar, and teacher.  I integrate these multiple areas into my published work and instruction.

For several years now, I have been writing and speaking to audiences around the globe about my educational and sociolinguistic concept “code-meshing,” about African American English, about intercultural communication, about performances of masculinity, and about representations of race in art, film, and literature.

I have served as a high school drama/English/speech teacher, an elementary school principal, a supervisor of itinerant theater teachers in Los Angeles, and a school board administrator. I have served on faculty at University of Iowa, University of Kentucky, and University of Waterloo, Canada.

I often work as a diversity consultant to schools and organizations, conducting training on cultural competency, interpersonal and intercultural communication, and how minorities can negotiate and lead in predominantly white settings without giving up their cultural backgrounds or “selling out.” I often conduct workshops with my colleague, Frankie Condon.

I am solo performance artist and actor. I had the honor to be recognized for “best performance in a play,” for my portrayal of the brain-damaged Gabriel in August Wilson’s Fences. I also regularly tour my one-man show, Your Average Nigga, based on my first book of the same name. I am currently developing another solo performance on the masculine anxiety of black men.

I am a nightly fan of popcorn popped on the stove in a pot (a love I inherited from my mother); my favorite wine is from Chile, Carmenere; I love to cook for friends and family; my favorite sport is volleyball, which I play weekly. And I like hiking.  I am married. My wife and I have one daughter, Ari Zhah. We currently have no pets (thinking about a dog; but we don’t know who would walk it). I would describe myself as serious but friendly. And I welcome opportunities to chat over coffee with new and old students, friends, and colleagues.

Selected Publications


Straight Black Queer: Gender Anxiety and the American Dream, in progress.

Your Average Nigga: Performing Race, Literacy, and Masculinity, Wayne State University Press, 2007

Co-Authored Books

The Neo Passing Narrative (co-edited with Mollie Godfrey), under review, University of Illinois Press.

Antiracist Activism in Writing, Rhetoric, and Communication (co-edited with Frankie Condon), Forthcoming from Parlor Press, 2016.

Other People's English: Code Meshing, Code Switching, and African American Literacy, 2014, Teachers College Press.

Selected Book Chapters

Interview with Paul Outlaw, Solo Performance Artist, in Blacktino Queer Performance, Eds. E. Patrick Johnson and  Ramon H. Rivera-Servera, Duke University Press, 2016

Young, Vershawn Ashanti. "Keep code-meshing." Literacy as translingual practice: Between communities and schools, Ed. Suresh Canagarajah, (2013).

“Straight Black Queer: Obama, Code Switching, and the Gender Anxiety of African American Men,” PMLA 129.3 (2014): 464-70.

 "Compulsory Homosexuality and Black Masculine Performance." Poroi 7.2 (2011): Article-3.

Current Research

I am currently writing a book on the performance of black masculinity in the media by successful African American men. I am studying the rhetorical and bodily performances of Barack Obama, playwright August Wilson, and actor/director Tyler Perry. I am analyzing how American racial discourse produces masculine anxiety for black men as they participate in traditional white male dominated spaces.

Areas of Graduate Supervision

  • African American Performance (drama and theatre, performance of everyday life, performance of gender [masculinity])
  • African Americans Studies (esp. African Americans and U.S. Law after Jim Crow)
  • Composition and Rhetoric (Translingual Writing, Code Meshing, Code Switching, Relationship between speech/oral communication and writing/composition)
  • African American literature (Dramatic Literature of the Harlem Renaissance, Late 20th/21st Century Authors, James Baldwin)
University of Waterloo

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