Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

Ebony Coletu

Ebony Coletu

Ebony Coletu

Assistant Professor of African American Studies, English, and African Studies
Office: 324 Willard Building Mail: 430 Burrowes Building
(814) 863-2343
Area(s) of Specialization: African American and African Diaspora History and Culture, and Social Inequality, Critical Race Theory, Economic, Education, Health, Language and Literature, Medicine, Politics and the Black Radical Tradition

Professional Bio

Research Interests

  • Rhetoric of Application Forms; Funding Infrastructures, Biography
  • Transnational American Studies in the Middle East and Africa
  • African Diaspora Studies /African Studies


My primary area of research addresses the rhetoric of application forms within a historical and sociological framework that accounts for the way biographic details are used to distribute institutional resources. My current book project, Forms of Submission: Writing for Aid and Opportunity in America explores a 125-year history of applications for financial support and college admission, and the ways institutions address problems with inequality at the level of the applicant’s biography.

The second area of research emerged from my previous position, teaching in the Rhetoric Department at The American University in Cairo, and through an affiliation with the Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR). With Ira Dworkin, I co-edited a volume of Comparative American Studies on transnational American Studies in the Middle East and North Africa. I also have two articles on Egypt, one forthcoming in The Drama Review and the other appearing in Transition.

The third area of research represents my latest project as well as a shift from paperwork to logistics, in an exploration of a little-known back-to-Africa movement that resets the timeline for African American migration to Ghana. Building on research that began as a biography of my ancestor Alfred Charles Sam (1880-1932), the book reconstructs the logistical complexity and inspiration for an African organizing African American return to Ghana in 1915. Pan-African Logistics: Chief Sam and the Origins of African American Migration to Ghana identifies African descendants of the movement, the role of African Americans in an emerging West African nationalism, and the complex interface between blackness, business, and migration.

Recent and Forthcoming Publications


Application Forms/Paperwork:
Special Issue, "Biographic Mediation: On the Uses of Disclosure in Bureaucracy and Politics," Biography 43:2, Fall 2019.

“Funding the American Dream: On the Biographic Mediation of Aid and Institutional Change in Horatio Alger Scholarship Narratives, a/b: journal of auto/biographical studies, 33.1, Spring 2018.

“Biographic Mediation,” a/b: journal of auto/biographical studies, 32:2, Spring 2017.

“Biographic Currency in Crisis,” in Occasion: Interdisciplinary Humanities Journal, Vol 2 Dec 2010.

Transnational American Studies in the Middle East and Africa:
"Pan-African Logistics," Assembly Codes: The Logistics of Media. Ed. by Matthew Hockenberry, Nicole Starosielski, and Susan Zieger (Duke University Press, forthcoming).

"Descendant Epistemology," Ghana Studies Journal 22, Fall 2019.

“A Complicated Embrace: Alex Haley’s Roots in Egypt,” Transition 122, 2017.

“On Demand and Relevance: Transnational American Studies in the Middle East and North Africa,” (w/Ira Dworkin), Introduction to Comparative American Studies Special issue, 13:4, Winter 2016.

“The Chief Sam Movement, A Century Later,” (w/Kendra Field) in Transition 114, 2014. (Winner of the 2016 Boahen-Wilks Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Article from the Ghana Studies Association)

Counter/Revolution in Egypt:
“Waiting for the Tragedy to Unfold: Protest, Performativity, and the Spectacle of Massacre at Rabaa Al Adawiya,” forthcoming, The Drama Review

“Visualizing Revolution: The Politics of Paint in Tahrir,” Jadaliyya, April 2012.

“Women in (Post) Revolutionary Egypt,” The Feminist Wire, April 2011.

Ebony Coletu