At Moore’s 174th Commencement on Saturday, May 13, Dr. Salamishah Tillet will receive an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts degree and deliver the keynote Commencement address to our graduating class of 2023.
Dr. Tillet is a creative writer, cultural critic and curator, and her many accomplishments include:
- Henry Rutgers Professor of Africana Studies and Creative Writing at Rutgers University, Newark
- Executive director of Express Newark, a center for socially engaged art and design
- Contributing critic-at-large, New York Times
- Author of Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination and In Search of the Color Purple: The Story of an American Masterpiece
- Co-host and co-producer of the Webby and Gracie Award-winning podcast, Because of Anita, a 30-year retrospective of Anita Hill's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee
- Cofounder of A Long Walk Home, an art organization to empower young people to end violence against girls and women
- Co-curator of Beyond Granite: Pulling Together, the first public art exhibition on the National Mall in Washington, DC
We asked Dr. Tillet some questions ahead of her Commencement speech—read on to hear about her impressions of Moore as a unique higher education institution and get a sneak preview of her Commencement speech.
And join us on Saturday, May 13 at the Kimmel Center to hear Dr. Tillet’s full speech and celebrate the Class of 2023!
Given how much you’ve accomplished and how many new and ongoing projects you have, how do you stay inspired/focused/energized?
This is a question that people ask me a lot these days, mainly because I have two wonderful young children, Seneca, age 10, and Sidney, age 7. I wish I had some magic potion for productivity, but I am a bit clichéd. I wake up early during the weekdays, between 4 and 5 am, to write, outline, work out or catch up on emails. In college, I was not an early riser—I learned quickly during my first year as an undergraduate that I should take classes in the late afternoon and evening and never before 10 am, but then I went to graduate school, and something switched. I became someone who appreciated the quiet solitude of the morning and changed my work rhythms. Once I had kids, the dawn hours were the only times that were utterly silent, so I could hear my thoughts and begin to create.
I am also committed to self-care. I love to strength train, run, spin and do yoga. I need to connect to my body to reset my mind, and this pause in the day gives me time to feel and process information quite differently from what I do as an artist or teacher. I have to be present entirely during this time—no wandering or distractions—so that focus helps me refocus on my other activities.
And, finally, I have a lot of support. From my partner, Solomon, my sister Scheherazade, my family, friends, and of course, our children’s caregivers, I have achieved so much in many different areas because I have so many people with whom I collaborate and who are there to cheer me on.
What is something about Moore that stands out to you amongst higher education institutions?
I’ve attended many Socially Engaged Art events at Moore over the last decade, as a presenter, moderator or visitor. And every time I’ve been at Moore, I’ve learned so much. It is an extraordinary vision that Sarah Peter had, for this to be a place for young women to advance their craft and career in the creative arts. When I come into the building, I’ve always been impressed by how close Moore has stayed to this idea, and how a younger generation of students continue to expand on this idea— with new disciplines, like Animation & Game Arts, and pushing beyond 19th-century notions of race, class and gender. Since I believe in the power of art to save the world, I see Moore faculty and students as our best hope to ensure our future is better than our past.
How do you feel art and design contribute to creating a better world?
"In times of dread," Toni Morrison once wrote, "Artists must never choose to remain silent." This is less of a mantra and more of a reminder for me that being an artist requires a bravery that few understand but from which many benefit. The artists I write and study about or admire, curate and collaborate with are often vanguards. They are people whose practice and politics are simply out of time, before our time, and they give us the tools and templates to make tomorrow far better than today. So, their voice is as integral to our existence as air and water; if they are silent, we are all lost.
Without spoiling your Commencement address too much, what is a piece of advice you have for young creatives embarking on the next step of their journey?
So, you want a teaser! I'll say this—I am earnest about collectives, collaborations and artistic communities. I do not mean that a single artist's vision is not important or invaluable; of course, it is. But I am interested in demystifying the idea of the solitary genius or single auteur (pulling from the film world) and encouraging artists to embrace their life and practice, among others. I believe collaboration is the model for coalition-building, and co-creation is the basis of friendship and democracy.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or mention?
I'm honored to receive this honorary degree in Fine Arts from Moore. As a daughter of a musician, a sister to a photographer, and a mother to two creative children—one budding writer and choreographer and one vibrant theater kid—I feel so incredibly lucky to be in this prestigious company of your past honorary degree recipients and present graduates.