Best-selling author turns to engaging students as prof

Alexs Pate is best known at the University for a course on the poetry of rap music.

Angela Gray

On a regular basis, University associate professor Alexs Pate veers between correcting college essays and signing New York Times best-sellers.

In the literary world, Pate is best known for his fiction and poetry works and his popularly acclaimed novels “Losing Absalom” and “Amistad,” said Njeri Githire, assistant professor in the department of African-American and African studies.

In the classroom, Pate, a professor of African-American and African studies, is best known for his poetry of rap course, Githire said.

“I have enjoyed my time at the University; it has such a great environment,” said Pate, who has taught at the University for six years.

Earl Scott, acting chairman in the department, said Pate teaches three courses that focus on such topics as rebellion, men, sex, family and relationships in black literature.

Shelby Hanson, an African-American and African studies student, said she took one of Pate’s courses without being aware of his status as a published author.

“I didn’t even know who he was until I read ‘Amistad,’ ” she said. “When I finished the book, I realized how talented he was Ö I got chills.”

In Pate’s class, Hanson said, she participated in a lot of in-depth discussions and was introduced to new books.

“Overall, I think the students in the class really liked the course and really took to him,” she said.

African-American and African studies student Sarah Williams said she took Pate’s poetry of rap course last spring.

“He really knows his stuff, you could throw out any figure in rap or hip-hop and he could give you their biography,” Williams said.

Githire said that during her first year teaching at the University, Pate welcomed her warmly.

“Alexs is an excellent colleague, very open and personable, and yet professional,” she said.

Pate expressed his love for teaching and appreciation for the time spent interacting with his students.

“I really like the diversity of the University students and how engaged they become in class,” he said.

Outside the classroom, Pate is involved in an organization called Student Excellence in Academics and Multiculturalism.

The organization’s mission is to help ease the transition for multicultural students during their first year of college.

“Some of these students are the first of their family to go to college and there can be a lot of pressure on them,” he said. “Getting to be a part of SEAM and helping these amazing students adjust is very powerful.”

Pate said education is very important for young people.

“I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was 15,” he said.

“My mom, who is also my biggest inspiration, would chase me up the stairs throwing books at me and locking me in my room until I read them,” Pate said.

Pate said he has recently finished two projects. One is a short memoir called “The Past is Perfect” and the other is a book titled “In the Heart of the Beat: The Poetry of Rap.”

Going from author to professor can be a big transition, Pate said.

“I am a writer and had not always pictured my life in a classroom, but I love what I do.”