He had his sights set on becoming an international corporate lawyer, but after attending a lecture at Howard University given by world-renowned Colombian writer Manuel Zapata Olivella and having an opportunity to meet the author himself, Antonio D. Tillis was so inspired that he decided to take a detour and chart a new course.

Today, Tillis is a nationally and internationally acclaimed scholar and author who specializes in Latin American, Afro-Latin American and African Diaspora literatures.

On February 1, Tillis joined the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) from the College of Charleston where he was dean of the School of Languages, Cultures and World Affairs and professor of Hispanic Studies. Tillis received his B.A. in Spanish from Vanderbilt University, M.A. in Spanish Literature from Howard University and his Ph.D. in Latin American Literature with an Afro-Hispanic emphasis from the University of Missouri.

His array of scholarly, literary, editorial and teaching achievements includes numerous published articles in journals such as the Afro-Hispanic Review, Callaloo, the Hispanic Journal, Mosaic Journal, CLAJ and Transit Circle. He is the author of “Manuel Zapata Olivella and the ‘Darkening’ of Latin American Literature,” “Caribbean-African Upon Awakening: Poetry by Blas Jiménez,” “(Re)Considering Blackness in Contemporary Afro-Brazilian (Con)Texts: A Cultural Studies Reader,”“Critical Perspectives on Afro-Latin American Literature” and “Manuel Zapata Olivella e o escurecimento da literatura latino-americana.”

Tillis is the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the Lorna Hill “2012 Professor of the Year” award at Dartmouth College, chosen as Fulbright Scholar to Brazil at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, president of the College Language Association (2008-10) and receiving the 2007 Purdue University Faculty Scholar award.

While preparing to take the reins of the University’s largest college, Tillis discussed his priorities for CLASS:

What are some of your initial plans as the new CLASS Dean?

My initial plans include learning as much as possible about the culture of UH and the diverse academic units that make up CLASS. In addition, engaging faculty, staff, students and other constituencies in strategic planning to fortify CLASS’ mission, vision as well as short-term and long-term goals. Also, I plan to focus on identifying ways to engage the surrounding community.

What most excites you about your role?

The opportunity of working with a dynamic group of faculty to offer the best comprehensive education for undergraduate and graduate students. Additionally, working with faculty to enhance what their academic/intellectual units do best. Finally, I look forward to working with the administration to advance UH regarding the quality of undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Random Facts: I love to sing and to cook. I am a lyric baritone and have sung in classical chorales across the U.S. I look forward to singing in Houston! I enjoy cooking. My favorite dish to prepare is Brazilian moqueca.

First Impressions: UH is a leading research institution. I was attracted by the University’s commitment to academic excellence its diverse student population as well as its mission to be a premier academic institution. Houston offers, literally, the world to current and future residents. The city’s rich ethnic populations, its strong tradition in the performing arts, as well as its breadth of culinary delights make it an attractive place to work and to live.

Hometown: Growing up in Memphis shaped my spiritual core, political consciousness, love of the arts and ability to discern great blues and barbecue!