Dr. Tiffany U Austin was born on April 26, 1975 in Murfreesboro, Arkansas to the union of Anthony (Tony) Eric Austin and Ruth Ann May, who later moved to Kansas City, MO in 1977.
Tiffany attended Southside First Baptist Church where she accepted Christ, while her father was the officiating Minister, Rev. Anthony E. Austin
Tiffany’s affinity for reading books, writing, poetry & history started at a young age. Even though she loved the outdoors, she spent most of her time inside reading & writing in her own space during her quiet time. This is how & where her passions were nurtured. When she wasn’t reading, writing & studying, she was engaged in family activities, quality time & Sunday dinners where her mother would cook delicious soul food. One of her fondest memories is shared with her siblings – listening to “the blues” while on road trips to Arkansas. Tiffany’s adoration for her remarkable father was noticeable to all. He saw her potential during her debate journey in high school, in which her debate teacher Mrs. Gloria Henry still gives Tiffany accolades still today. Her father would always tell everyone “This is my lawyer,” which later inspired Tiffany to study law. She graduated in the top of her class from Ruskin High School in 1993. She then graduated magna cum laude from Spelman University in 1997, receiving her BA in English. During her time at Spelman, Tiffany was an intern in Alaska for a year. Tiffany continued her higher educational journey thereafter. She received her MFA in creative writing from Chicago State University, her JD from Northeastern University School of Law (passing the bar on her first try), and her Ph.D. in English from St. Louis University. As part of her dissertation work, she spent 6 months in Ecuador to learn more about and speak with Luz Argentina Chiriboga, an Afro-Ecuadorian writer who was one of the subjects of her research.
A dedicated scholar and teacher, Tiffany had a breadth and depth of knowledge about African Diasporic literature, comparative literature, and critical race theory and gender studies. During her career, Tiffany taught at Florida Memorial University, Mississippi Valley State University, and she was recently a professor at the University of The Bahamas. She worked tirelessly on several courses including the Creative Writing course where she promoted the Bahamian creative writing community. She created the Tingum Collective group and compiled, completed and published a Tingum Collective chapbook. Tiffany loved teaching and helping to facilitate poetry workshops. She gave numerous conference presentations, and was the chair of the Midwest Modern Language Association panels on African American literature. She was also a widely published poet, with her chapbook Étude appearing in 2013. Of this volume, her mentor Sterling Plumpp noted, “Austin’s genius is her unusual gift for metaphor and allusion.” Others recognized Tiffany’s genius too, with her poems appearing in such prestigious outlets as Callaloo, Obsidian III, African American Review, Coloring Book: An Anthology of Poetry and Fiction by Multicultural Writers, Warpland, pluck!, The Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture, Valley Voices, Auburn Avenue, TriQuarterly, Sycorax’s Daughters, and Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters. Most recently, she signed a book contract with Routledge for a co-edited volume of poetry and critical essays, entitled Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era (forthcoming October 2019). Her co-editor, Emily Rutter, will dedicate the volume to Tiffany and her legacy as an exceptional poet, critic, and kindred spirit.
When Tiffany was not teaching and writing, she was busy bringing literature to the community and engaging in artistic fellowship. At the University of The Bahamas, she organized the Blue Flamingo Literary Festival, as well as the Anatol Rodgers Memorial Lecture Series, with invited guest Sonia Sanchez.
Her long list of fellowships and awards includes a Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop fellowship, a residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker Foundation Scholarship, a grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a fellowship for the Kimbilio Writing Retreat, and the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award. Tiffany also shared her work on the stage. A recent play was performed at both the Billie Holiday Theater in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Hayti Center in Durham, N.C.
All of these experiences speak to Tiffany’s love to travel, meet new people, and experience new cultures. She traveled to England, Jamaica, Europe, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Ecuador, and many more places. Her infectious smile was also contagious, and her laugh made you smile, even if you didn’t know why she was laughing. Her humble spirit made you inquisitive about her life. While oftentimes unexpected, when engaging about a topic Tiffany felt strongly about, she made a point to be sure you walked away with facts. Tiffany was a fiery & powerful debater who shared her ideas with strong conviction. Tiffany was a teacher, writer, poet, author activist, and feminist. Never one for titles, she was moved instead by both action and passion. She was incomparable, courageous, generous, artistic, and authentic – a beautiful soul who will live on in the many artistic and personal seeds she planted and nurtured.
Tiffany’s beautiful life will forever be cherished. She leaves behind: her beautiful & phenomenal mother, Ruth Austin; 4 sisters, Rhonda Willis, Toni Austin, Aundrea Austin, Tamilia Austin; 1 brother, Eric Austin, 7 nieces, Michaela, Latisha, Kena, Lanesha, Samantha, Breauna, Erica; 5 nephews, TaeVion, Darius, Zion, Sherod, Kamdyn; 2 great nieces, Rayne & Harmoni & 2 great nephews, Monte & Kirby; 5 aunts, Brenda, Gloria (Auntie), Margaret, Emma, Ruby; 3 uncles, Anthony, Leonard, Raleigh Sr., many more family members including cousins & friends, colleagues whose lives were tremendously impacted by Tiffany’s existence.