Assistant Professor
email
Humanities Building 207-H
(205) 934-8582

Research and Teaching Interests: American and African American Literature, Reception Studies, Literature and Film, Narrative Theory, Engaged Scholarship, Service-learning Pedagogy

Cassandra Willis. Office Hours: W 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.; and by appointment

Education:
  • AB, Syracuse University
  • PhD, Columbia University, English and Comparative Literature

I've been teaching here at UAB since I finished graduate school in 1998. I am from a small town on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I did my undergraduate work at Vassar College (as an aspiring drama major) and graduated from Syracuse University. I got my master's and doctorate from Columbia University in New York City. My dissertation was on American Literature and the movies. I analyzed scenes from stories, essays, and novels in which characters go to the movies, and I examined how their identifications and desires in the cinema were more fluid than most film theorists were understanding spectatorship at that time. My collection of characters included lots of ethnic moviegoers and many examples from African American literature — Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Chester Himes, and Toni Morrison.

As a teacher, I take inspiration from what James Baldwin, one of my favorite authors, claimed: “Literature is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks at reality, then you can change it.” I also enjoy studying and teaching literature because it allows us to reimagine ourselves and trains us — if we are going to be any good at it — to empathize more with others. For the past few years, I have been developing courses through which my students and I can connect our readings and our writing with real world experiences by our service to the Birmingham community.

I love to read, especially while on the beach, and to go to the movies. I have been married to my husband, an architectural designer who loves historical preservation, for 15 years. We live with our three daughters, a dog, and a rabbit.

  • Literature and Empathy
  • Age, Memory, Identity
  • Introduction to Literature
  • Interpreting Film
  • American Literature Since 1865
  • Provost’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Academic Engagement and Global Citizenship, 2013
  • Faculty coordinator for UAB Booktalk, a community book club
  • Co-coordinator, the annual Best Writers Symposium, honoring students who write the best essays in the Department's 200-level courses.