This semester, Goshen College is proud to welcome back one of its own students – this time as a visiting professor of English and communication. Ellah Wakatama Allfrey graduated from GC in 1988 and considers being invited back “a huge honor”.
Allfrey currently resides in London and works as an independent editor and publisher. She was born in Zimbabwe, which Allfrey credits as a significant aspect of her identity, and was educated in the U.S. Living in London has allowed her a broader reach as an independent editor.
“[London is] one of the centers for [book editing and publishing],” said Allfrey. “I get to be at a lot of the big publishing events. Being able to meet [writers] and to count some of them as friends is rather wonderful and that certainly couldn’t happen if I didn’t live in that space.”
When asked what piqued her interested in being an editor, Allfrey answered, “It’s what I’m for. Books are the most important thing to me.” Allfrey went on to say that part of being an editor is communicating with authors, and once she realized that communication was one of her strengths, she concluded that, “I knew I was home. In the end my job is about being paid to read. And part of that reading is the making of books. It does, in the end, mean that I get to do what I love most as a living.”
Allfrey came to GC as a student in part because her mother wanted her to go somewhere safe in the U.S., but also because she wanted to study journalism, something that wasn’t offered in Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabwe is really small, and I wanted somewhere really big. My parents didn’t tell me how small Goshen was,” Allfrey said, laughing. “I think if I had known, I would have thought differently about it.” The communications program and international focus also appealed to her.
Despite being an alum, Allfrey said that the campus feels like a brand new place. “I’m not recognizing very much. I recognize the shape, but it feels like a new place.”
Allfrey said that every so often, she sees a ghost, referring to memories that pop up suddenly.
“I was walking past the library and I remembered the day I saw this boy who is probably my best friend,” she said. “I remember the day I saw him, and I suddenly saw the light glistening on his hair. He doesn’t have any hair anymore.”
Despite a new campus feel, Allfrey said that being back at Goshen is not nostalgic but rather precious.
“The people who are still really important to me I found here. Being invited to come back was a huge honor,” said Allfrey.
Prior to this semester, Allfrey had not worked as a professor. The invitation to teach came at an opportune time. Allfrey said, “I wanted to teach. It was a point in my career when I wanted to take some time away from my regular day to think about what it is I’ve been doing.”
Allfrey is teaching two courses: Contemporary African Literature and Editing and Publishing. Teaching African literature is a new experience for Allfrey, while the course for editing and publishing is based on a two-week editing class she has taught in the past.
“I’ve never taught literature before,” Allfrey said. “For me, the challenge was to come up with a class that was rigorous enough for the students to feel a challenge and that they were interested in, but also being aware that I’m not an academic.”
Allfrey also said that she has only ever taught editing to adult professionals within a two-week time span, so having three months with people who are not working in the industry meant adapting to a new class environment.
“It’s really interesting watching the students’ responses and comparing those to the professionals I teach,” Allfrey said. “I certainly feel as if after this period I’ll approach my teaching in the future slightly differently because of the things I’ve learned.”
Allfrey looks forward to continuing to learn from her students as the semester progresses.
“It’s all a joy so far.”