Conseula Francis, a well-loved professor of English and African-American studies at the College of Charleston, died Monday morning after a brief illness, according to the college. She was 43. – Charleston Post & Courier (May 9, 2016)
My first contact with Dr. Conseula Francis was her syllabus for an African-American Literature course.
It had been left behind in a classroom where I was teaching late in the day, my first semester at College of Charleston, an elegantly designed booklet that looked more like a graphic novel than a dry recitation of course policies. It was an invitation to an adventure. The reading list had some usual suspects – Morrison, Baldwin, Hurston – but some less usual ones as well, including Octavia Butler and Colson Whitehead. I was envious of the students taking the class, curious about the person who wrote it.
Dr. Conseula Francis is the best of us. I will not use the past tense because I believe her to have presence still.
The first time you meet Conseula, you are bonded, thanks to her. For me, it was at a faculty writing retreat, where we shared our fondness for James Baldwin and I learned about her scholarship of Baldwin, but also science-fiction, and comics, and romance novels. Conseula is a fan, an enthusiast and does not create hierarchies in her fandom. If she loves it, it is worth loving, and if you do not, you are missing out.
She teaches that learning is the exercise of joy.
My first thought when I heard of her passing was: Oh, no, she never got to see Chadwick Boseman play Black Panther! Conseula convinced me that Chadwick Boseman was a superior choice to Idris Elba because as fine as Mr. Elba might be, it’s been some time since he was Stringer Bell on The Wire and he’s too old to play a Wakandan prince/superhero.
She is right.
She is right about a lot of things. She has time for everything save foolishness, particularly in faculty meetings. If you see her, you are going to have a conversation. You are going to experience her interest in others, her fierce and abiding love for her husband and her daughters, her desire to make things better for more people.
I have watched the tributes to Dr. Francis pour in over social media, friends, family, colleagues, and students. For some reason – perhaps because I am familiar with this part of it – it is the students who most get to me. Dr. Francis is a life-changing presence in dozens upon dozens of young lives.
She is the best of us. She is worthy of emulating in all things, teacher, scholar, colleague, partner, parent.
After the killing of the Emmanuel 9 and the subsequent controversy over the Confederate flag, on our campus she was a font of strength and wisdom for many who felt unhoused in the place they called home. She willingly carried those burdens, brought those people back. It is the only time I’ve seen her tired, and even then, only briefly.
I am well down the list of those to whom the loss of Conseula means most. The loss belongs to others, and yet the loss is so great, I cannot write about anything else today. You too have lost, even if you don’t know it or feel it. I promise this. An amazing person, an amazing life, gone so quickly and too soon.
She is the best of us.
If we can carry even a fraction of her spirit it’s going to be all alright.