By Sheba Antony
Published: May 17th, 2017
The Feliks Gross award for assistant faculty is annually given to six recipients across CUNY campuses through the CUNY Academy of the Humanities and Sciences. This year, Dr. Brian Sowers received the prestigious award. He was the only assistant professor awarded from Brooklyn College this school year, receiving a plaque at an awards ceremony on Thursday April 27 at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Sowers was surprised to hear about his win, as he did not even know he was nominated until he was contacted by the CUNY Academy. “It was a very humbling position that they contacted me,” he said. “I kind of wanted to write back and ask, ‘What did I do?”
But the Classics professor has had no shortage of projects. He is currently finishing his book on a fifth century female poet named Aelia Eudocia, which will be published through a subsidiary of Harvard University Press.
“Most women in the ancient world—their voices just don’t survive,” Sowers said. “And especially those in the literate class, if they were writing, a lot of those texts were just not copied or not read. Eudocia is one of the few female poets whose work actually survives.”
Over the past ten years, Sowers has been working on a translation of her poems and then “situating it to how she fits within the wider poetic communities,” he said. He has also been writing about other similar types of poems from the same time period.
Sowers channels strong ambition and purpose in caring for the lesser studied ancient works: “My work with ancient poets really is not just reading the same authors that everyone had read; it’s looking at the folks who are at the margins. My work on ancient women is doing a similar task—recovering voices of folks who otherwise wouldn’t survive, folks who were ignored for centuries even though we have their texts.”
This past year, Sowers has been spending more time working on how contemporary African American authors use ancient authors to talk about racial tensions in America. Sowers notes these essays have been very well received and are very timely.
He has written about the Black Panther party and how some of their leaders “intentionally echo Plato, in particular, as way of situating their resistance to injustice into a wider context,” he said. “Especially, also, the character of Socrates fights the Athenians and spurs them towards justice, is willing to speak up and even die in an act of opposition to injustice.”
Sowers reflected on his assistant professor position at Brooklyn College. “I feel very fortunate to have the job that I have. It’s really difficult to get a permanent position in a university, and you spend so long working toward it… so being here, I feel like I’m living the dream that I always had,” he said. “And because I feel so fortunate I also feel like I have a responsibility to give back within the community, to make sure that the quality of the work I give my students and my classes are very high, and that I’m caring and making sure that I’m providing them with the same type of education that I received.”
Although Sowers was told the award would come with a monetary component, he has not been told the exact amount. He plans to use the money from the scholarship to further advance his research and passion: “My position now supports my research and so I feeling a responsibility to make sure that my research is very ambitious, engaging, and advancing, all in a way that I feel is important,” he said.