The Literacy Research Association welcomes Arlette Ingram Willis, the Oscar S. Causey award plenary speaker, who received the award in 2021. The Award, named for Dr. Oscar Causey, founder of LRA, ,was first presented in 1967. The award is bestowed annually to recognize an LRA member who has made outstanding contributions to literacy research.
The title of Willis’ Oscar S. Causey address is “ Revolutionizing Literacy: The Life of Omar ibn Said, Written by Himself. In her presentation, Willis analytically examines the role of literacy in Omar ibn Said’s life as informed by African cultures, ethnicities, histories, languages, and literacies in the Senegambia region, and the history of Black literacy access in the US. In his autobiography, Omar ibn Said stealthily applies sophisticated literacy skills to contest living under anti-Black racism and chattel enslavement through his rhetorical and strategic use of Quranic surahs and verses. Early translations and interpretations of his autobiography, written by English-dominant White men, literate in ancient Arabic, filtered through Eurocentrism and White supremacy, failed to discern Omar ibn Said’s proclamation of his humanity and bold condemnation of chattel enslavement. Scholars with expertise in African history and Islam, valorize his resilience as an African Muslim who remained faithful to Islam under anti-Black racism, the horrors of chattel enslavement, and attempts at Christian conversion.
The autobiography dismantles prevailing assumptions about people of African descent as sub-human, without culture, history, intellect, language, or literacy. It also revolutionizes what we know about the history of literacy in the US; provides authenticated knowledge of literacy among people of African descent; exposes the pervasiveness of White supremacy; and unveils the roots of deliberate anti-Black literacy laws, policies, and practices, historically and contemporaneously. To create an equitable approach to literacy, we must begin with authenticated knowledge to transcend the past and present.
Arlette Ingram Willis received her Ph. D. from The Ohio State University. She is a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, the division of Language and Literacy. Her scholarship interrogates how race and racism are framed in reading research, examines secondary pre-service English teacher education, and applies critical theories to literacy policy and research. Willis has on-going research collaborations with colleagues in Brazil, Columbia, and New Zealand who examine the influence of Paulo Freire’s theorizing and instruction. Her books include Teaching and Using Multicultural Literature in Grades 9-12: Moving Beyond the Canon (1998), Reading Comprehension Research and Testing in the US: Undercurrents of Race, Class, and Power in the Struggle for Meaning (2008); and forthcoming Anti-Black Racism and anti-Black Literacy in the US. In addition, she has co-edited four books: Multiple and Intersecting Identities in Qualitative Research (with B. Merchant, 2001); Multicultural Issues in Literacy Research and Practice (with G. Garcia, R. Barrera, & V. Harris, 2003); On Critically Conscious Research: Approaches to Language and Literacy Research (with M. Montovan, H. Hall, C. Hunter, L. Burke, & A. Herrera, A., 2008); and Affirming Black Students’ Lives and Literacies: Bearing Witness (with G. Thompson-McMillan & P. Smith).
Willis has published numerous refereed articles, book chapters, book reviews, and monographs. She also has served as co-editor (with D. Bloome) for the National Council of Teachers of English Literacy Book Series, and co-editor (with V. J. Harris) for the American Education Research Journal, Teaching, Learning, and Human Development. Willis has received several national meritorious awards, including the John J. Gumperz Memorial Award for Distinguished Lifetime Scholarship, Reading Hall of Fame, and the Oscar S. Causey Award. She is a Fulbright Scholar (2013-2014), past president of the Literacy Research Association (2014), and past president of the National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy, (2007-2008). In addition, at the University of Illinois she has received several awards for her scholarship: University Scholar Award, 2000; Campus Award for Excellence in Guiding Undergraduate Research, 2001; and University Distinguished Teacher/Scholar, 2002-2003; as well as several College of Education awards including the Distinguished Scholar Award, 1999; Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award, 1998, 2000; and Distinguished Teaching Career Award, 2010.
Willis joins an esteemed list of plenary speakers and panelists slated to speak at this year’s conference. Read more about each of the sessions below: