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College of Arts and Letters | Michigan State University


Geneva Smitherman

University Distinguished Professor






221 Morrill Hall
Phone: 517-353-9252
Web site 

Geneva Smitherman is founder and director of “My Brother’s Keeper,” an outreach mentoring program for Detroit middle school students. She is Acting Director and Co-founder of the doctoral program in African American and African studies. Smitherman’s current work focuses on language policy in South Africa. She was the chief advocate and expert witness for the children in King (the “Black English” federal court case).

Her books include the classic Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America (Houghton Mifflin), Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner (Houghton Mifflin), Talkin That Talk (Routledge), and Educating Black Males (co-author, Third World Press). Her most recent book is Word from the Mother: Language and African Americans (Routledge). She has published over 100 articles and papers on language and education and is editor or co-editor of eight books on language.

Smitherman served two terms on the Language Commission of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). She currently chairs the Language Policy Committee of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). 

Awards include the Educational Press Association Award for Excellence in Educational Journalism, the 1999 CCCC Exemplar Award, and the 2005 NCTE James R. Squire Award for her “transforming influence” and “lasting intellectual contribution” to the field of English studies. 

She has appeared in numerous local and national media venues, seeking to raise public awareness on language issues, including National Public Radio, The Today Show, Oprah, CNN, Phil Donahue Show, and CBS Reports.

Courses Taught

ENG 405 Language Use in the African American Community

ENG 812 Language and African American Community

AL 893A Internship in African American Studies I

AL 893C Internship in African American Studies II