Love at First Bite

BY BRANDAN BLOM // MAY 15, 2012 //

It was a summer night in London. The wind was howling and the leaves on the trees were fighting for their lives.

Up in her bedroom, a young Uzoamaka Melissa Anyiwo was oblivious to much of the noise. She was lost in yet another new book, this one about vampires and other creatures of the night.

“I love reading. That was it,” says Anyiwo, a professor of politics and history at Curry, on how she discovered her passion for life in academia. “I am interested in everything and there was no other career that allowed me to read as much as I do.”

While vampires try to suck the life out of you, Professor U. Melissa Anyiwo works to energize and challenge students. // BY BRENDAN BLOM

Anyiwo’s interest in vampires hasn’t waned over the years. The 39-year-old has even taught a class on the subject, a First Year Seminar course titled “Being Human. Life Through the Eyes of Outsiders, Monsters and the Undead.” It is scheduled to run again this fall, and may eventually become a mainstay at Curry.

Raised in a Catholic household, Anyiwo says she has always had a hard time blindly accepting others’ sense of reality. “As a critical thinker, I don’t believe in any one thing,” says Anyiwo, who also heads the African-American Studies minor at Curry. “I am curious about all different things.”

That curiosity took her to the United States for the first time in 1994, at the age of 21, when she spent a semester in Albany, N.Y. She returned to the U.K. to finish college and later earned a Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Wales.

Anyiwo came back to the U.S. in 2004 for a job at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. She spent three years teaching history there (“There is not a lot of American studies departments,” Anyiwo adds) before joining the Curry faculty. Anyiwo says it’s all according to a master plan.

“I have a career trajectory where I wanted to start out at a big state school, then move down to a really small school, and finish off my career at a Catholic school,” she says. “And Curry fit into this trajectory. I like a small school and how you get to know your students, which you can’t do at a big school.”

Some of Anyiwo’s students, and even Anyiwo herself, describe her as being a tough professor. She assigns a lot of work, holds students to high standards, and expects those standards to be met. Professor Lawrence Hartenian, a history professor and departmental colleague of Anyiwo’s, says she covers a lot of material in her classes, “but if students do the work, they should get a lot out of the class.”

As for her “other-worldly” interests, Anyiwo is working on a scholarly project about the former TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The work is about violence, family connections, and the portrayal of women in popular culture. It’s about questioning perceived norms and pursuing greater truths…no matter how scary the pursuit may be.

“I am obsessed with vampires,” she says. “In my work, I look at stereotypes and things that make us afraid, which was race when I started my career. Now, I am looking at individual images, so that’s why I am looking into vampires.”

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