Personal Milestones

By Jasmine Teran | Photos by Marc Campos

A look inside President Elam’s office tells his story in five artifacts

1. An internationally renowned theater scholar, Elam has written or contributed to dozens of books on the study of contemporary American theater and African American theater history. His books sit alongside those of wife Michele, including The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium

2. After practicing law for 20 years, Harry J. Elam, Sr. was appointed as the first Black judge to sit on the Boston Municipal Court in 1971. Seven years later, he became the court’s first Black chief justice. “I like to have my Dad’s name plaque here so he can watch over my meetings,” President Elam says. (Elam, Sr. died in 2012.)

3. In addition to his duties as vice president for the arts at Stanford, Elam still made time to direct; his last production, in 2018, was Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. The play was staged at the Roble Studio Theater, which was renamed the Harry J. Elam, Jr. Theater in 2021. “Directing students provides a unique connection to them, and it’s something I hope to do at Oxy, too.” 

4. Founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock, and 60 other scholar-patriots, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the nation’s oldest learned societies. Elam was elected to the Academy in 2019: “I will always remember Induction Day, when I signed my name in the membership book, where it now appears alongside historic figures.”

5. Younger brother Keith Elam, aka Guru, was a member of the pioneering jazz rap duo Gang Starr. (He died in 2010 from multiple myeloma.) Behind Elam’s desk hangs a framed poster for Keith’s 1993 concert in Berlin. “That same year, when Keith performed at Stanford, I walked into the auditorium, and instead of saying, ‘That’s Professor Elam,’ some of the students whispered, ‘That’s the Guru’s brother!’ ”