I am writing on behalf of the English department to express our grief and outrage at the recent shootings in and around Atlanta. Members of the English department faculty met on the day after the attacks to reflect on the anti-Asian racism, misogyny, violence, gun culture, and devaluation of precarious lives that have shaken the Atlanta community and that reflect a systemic pattern of increasing violence directed toward marginalized and vulnerable communities in this country. In the coming days and weeks, we hope to find meaningful ways to involve our students in these discussions as well. Because we study how discourses and cultural representations shape our lived experiences (and vice versa), we can both analyze the narratives emerging around the events and work to amplify the voices of communities that are too often unheard.
As a starter, here is a link to a thoughtful article in today’s New York Times that sets the tragedy of this week’s shootings in the context of the growth and political organizing of the Asian American community in Georgia.
With hopes for better times ahead —
Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor
Chair, Department of English
breiss [at] emory [dot] edu
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted social lives and caused chaos at every level of society. In these uncertain times, many members of the Emory community have turned to poetry to find comfort and direction. In order to elevate the supportive role that poetry can play in hard times, the English Department launched a Pandemic Poetry Initiative sharing poems to provide inspiration and solidarity to all of us who have been affected by the pandemic.
Professor Geraldine Higgins, who began the Initiative, was inspired to take action after “thinking about how or whether words could help.” The sharing of poetry among faculty and graduate students during the early days of the pandemic inspired Dr. Higgins to offer a new course on Pandemic Poetry. Undergraduate student and English major Kate Appel curates the Pandemic Poetry newsletters, which feature the chosen poems as well as an introductory reflection from the nominator. Appel says, “I believe that literature articulates complex emotions experienced in times of difficulty, providing comfort and clarity. On the other hand, I think literature challenges us to question our own role within crises, which can be unsettling but important.”
The original Pandemic Poetry series ended right before the eruption of protests against racism and police brutality in reaction to the tragic murder of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020. “The urgency of these protests and the demands to respond with action made me question the place of poetry in the current crisis,” Higgins writes. “But as the country began to address the nation’s history of racism including monuments, statues, flags, and names, I realized that poetry too has always understood its place as a maker of meaning.” After this realization, the department decided to launch a parallel poetry initiative focused on Black poetry in order to elevate Black perspectives during a time of significant social change.
The Black Poetry Initiative is curated by Prof. Jericho Brown and graduate student Ra’Niqua Lee. As Lee writes, “Black Poetry@Emory shares works that offer perspectives on the Black Lives Matter movement, national conversations on race, and their global connections. The point is to provide topical insight into our current moment, while also acknowledging and celebrating the diversity of Black experiences.”
These two initiatives share the purpose of emphasizing our shared experiences. As Higgins writes, “We turn to poetry in times of crisis because it offers not just consolation but complexity. Poetry is elevated language. It is also succinct. From nursery rhymes to ballads, and from epigraphs to epitaphs, poetry is written to be remembered. The language of poetry is much more than a verbal band-aid.” If you are interested in receiving the Black and Pandemic poetry newsletters, please send your name and email address to Kate Appel (kate [dot] appel [at] emory [dot] edu) or Ra’niqua Lee (ra’niqua [dot] lee [at] emory [dot] edu). Furthermore, if you have any suggestions or poetry recommendations, you can submit them here: https://forms.gle/75MbDymU5w82XPx66.
|News from the Chair|
Dear Friends, Relations, and Mildly Curious Observers of the Emory English department (all others may stop reading here):
Now that flowers are beginning to bloom, trucks are carting vials of vaccine around the country, and 2020 is officially history (where’s amnesia when you need it?), it’s time to take stock of some of the accomplishments, accolades, and important ongoingness of our department.
|Curriculum, Hiring, and Planning|
In the month of February, we welcomed four exciting scholars in the field of Asian American, Pacific Rim, and Transnational Asian Literature and Culture to the department as part of a faculty search in that field. The presentations and conversations have been wide-ranging and compelling: we’ve learned about the complicated histories behind turn-of-the-century Japanese dolls, the film Filthy Rich Asians, Chang-Rae Lee’s novel A Gesture Life, and Walt Whitman’s presence in Asian American novels. We are tremendously excited to have the opportunity to welcome one of these scholars to the department next fall.
This new faculty line underscores the importance of our continuing work of re-thinking what it means to study global literatures and cultures in English at Emory, in Atlanta, and in a post-2020 world. The department faculty is at work on crafting a curriculum that will reflect the breadth, diversity, tangled histories, and social meanings of our field today.
Our graduate program will also be seeing some exciting changes, too. Beginning next year, we will feature a number of team-taught seminars, sometimes involving faculty members from different areas of study who find common ground through a shared theoretical or methodological approach. Because our graduate program is small, with typically 5-6 students entering the PhD program and 2-3 4+1 BA/MA students each year, these pairings will allow students to study with a broader range of faculty members. And team-teaching will provide a great opportunity for faculty members to learn from each other.
Professor Valerie Babb is co-Principal Investigator of a $1 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant awarded to the University of Georgia’s Willson Center to fund partnerships with the Penn Center, one of the nation’s most important institutions of African American culture. The project, “Culture and Community at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District” will include a range of programs: community-based artist residencies, a series of public conversations on the importance of preserving this cultural history, and in-place studies for students from UGA, Emory, and other HBCU partner institutions. Located on St. Helena Island within the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a National Heritage Area established by the U.S. Congress to recognize the unique culture of the Gullah Geechee people (descendants of formerly enslaved West and Central Africans who have traditionally resided in the coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida), Penn Center is a nonprofit organization committed to African American education, community development, and social justice.
Director of Creative Writing Professor Jericho Brown was commissioned to write a poem, “Inaugural,” commemorating the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris by the New York Times Magazine.
Professor Lauren Klein’s book, Data Feminism (co-authored with Catherine D’Ignazio, MIT Press, 2020) has been selected a 2021 American Association of Publishers PROSE award finalist in the Computing and Information Sciences category.
Professor Nicole Guidotti-Hernández continues to chronicle the political scene for Ms magazine. Here’s a recent piece on the triumphs, perils, and unfinished business for feminists and women of color in the wake of the chaotic election season. We can look forward to the publication of her book, Archiving Mexican American Masculinities in Diaspora – coming later this spring from Duke University Press!
Michelle M. Wright’s essay “1619: The Danger of a Single Origin Story,” has been published in the Winter 2020 volume of American Literary History.
Professor Tayari Jones’s novel An American Marriage was cited as one of 25 defining works of what Time magazine is calling the Black Renaissance. Her work joins that of other major artists, including Kara Walker, Donald Glover, Claudia Rankine, Beyonce, Jordan Peele, Kendrick Lamar, Jesmyn Ward, and more.
In an online interview, Professor Laura Otis shared the story of her transition from science to literature with the editors of Youth Time magazine. This online journal, based in Prague and created by and for young people around the world, publishes stories on issues of interest to youthful readers. You can read Otis’s two-part interview here and here.
Professor Tiphanie Yanique has published this bittersweet reflection in Harper’s Bazaar on raising children during a time of Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, and (canceled) Carnival.
Now housed at Emory University, the journal Post-45 and editor Professor Dan Sinykin continue to make news. On March 15, a special joint issue of Post45 x Cultural Analytics will feature an essay on contemporary nonprofit publishing drawn from Sinykin’s forthcoming book, The Conglomerate Era. Also on March 15, Sinykin and collaborator Laura McGrath (Temple University) will launch the Post45 Data Collective, an initiative to peer-review and house post-1945 humanities data on an open-access website. This project will gather the work of a group of scholars who have been separately collecting data on publishers, literary agents, prizes, MFA programs, and the race, gender, and educational background of authors. The first dataset will feature collections of data on the Iowa Writers’ workshop.
Professors Nathan Suhr-Sytsma and Geraldine Higgins have been selected as Senior Fellows at Emory’s Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry for the academic year 2021-22. Suhr-Sytsma will be working on his new book project, African Poetry and the Future of Literature, which examines the new media ecologies that are giving shape to vibrant 21st-century African poetry in English. Professor Higgins will work on her digital and book project, Seamus Heaney’s Material, which bridges the gap between purely literary approaches to Heaney’s poetry and the visual and special impact of encountering Heaney’s life and work in an exhibition setting.
Professor Emeritus Jonathan Goldberg has a new book appearing in the spring, Come As You Are, After Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.
|Graduate Student Accomplishments|
Palak Taneja has accepted a faculty position in Literature and Writing at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. She is excited to join the US’s #1 Green College, where students get to design their own majors. She will be teaching transdisciplinary courses deepening and broadening their understanding of human ecology.
Emily Banks’ book of poems, Mother Water, was published in December by Lynx House/University of Washington Press.
Jess Libow’s article, “Margaret Fuller’s Physical Education,” has been accepted for publication at Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers.
Dominick Rolle (PhD 2017) has accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Business and English at the University of the Bahamas.
Sophia Falvey has been working as Graduate Assistant for Emory College’s Humanities Pathways program, funded by a Mellon Foundation grant. Her responsibilities have included arranging career conversations with alumni of Humanities majors through the Alumni Connections program. In January, she arranged a conversation with distinguished Emory English majors Cindy Okereke (12C), Andy Tompkins (99C), and Jacob Silverman (06C). Their video biographies are here, and you can view the Zoom discussion here.
Our majors and minors have been making news in all sorts of ways. Here are some highlights:
An essay on Langston Hughes and Richard Blanco written by Krithika Shrinivas in Professor Walter Kalaidjian’s English 205 course has been accepted for publication in the upcoming edition of The Norton Field Guide to Writing.
2020 alum Dylan Schellenberg, who graduated with Highest Honors in English (and a double major in 2020), has an article forthcoming in the peer-reviewed journal Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. The article draws from his honors thesis (directed by Professor Laura Otis), “A Retinal Twitch, A Misfired Nerve Cell: The Neurocybernetics of The Crying of Lot 49.” Dylan is currently working as a research assistant in a lab at Northwestern while he decides what career path he’d like to follow.
Julie Park and her Professor Ben Miller have published a proceedings paper, “Computing Narrative.” This double-blind peer reviewed paper explores how the modeling, study, and generation of stories with computational methods gives us an opportunity to better understand both narrative, and the computational architecture upon which these models rely. In their paper, they consider the underlying computational concepts, like finite state machines and elements in the architecture of databases, and how those actualized concepts affect generated stories and our understanding of their structures. The paper is published as part of the upcoming Computational Humanities Research Workshop convened by a group representing The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, the University of Cambridge, the Alan Turing Institute, Wageningen University & Research, and the University of Amsterdam. The publication is available at http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-2723/.
Playwriting major Drew Mindell was recently awarded the Region IV David L. Shelton Award through the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, for his play “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare (or at least our best approximation).
English minor Erica Kahn has found a fascinating part-time job as an English Secondary Language Tutor with the tutoring service Ringle. She is working remotely with South Korean professionals to advance their English skills and practice for the IELTS, TOEIC, and TOEFL exams. In this position, Erica’s students have included employees of Samsung, Hyundai, Luis Vuitton, and the South Korean Consulate in Houston.
English major Jack Wolfram’s essay, “Paradise Uncaged: John Milton’s Subtle Fixation with Constraints” was recently accepted for publication in Butler University’s Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research! This will be Jack’s third publication that has originated from research completed for an Emory English course over the past six months, with earlier essays appearing in Fairfield University’s Apollon Undergraduate Journal and the UK-based Spellbinder Magazine on January 1st!
Congratulations to all, and keep the good news coming! If you’d like to share something for the next newsletter, please contact Eric Canosa at eric [dot] canosa [at] emory [dot] edu.
Chair, Department of English
The eminent historian, New Yorker staff writer, and podcast host Jill Lepore will be delivering a lecture hosted by Emory’s Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry this Thursday, February 25 at 6 p.m. The title of her lecture is “The End of Knowledge: How Data Killed Facts.” The English department’s Professors Laura Otis and Dan Sinykin, along with WGSS faculty member and Executive Associate Dean of Emory College Carla Freeman, will be respondents to the lecture.
Registration is required; you can find a link here:
2020 English honors student Dylan Schellenberg was awarded highest honors for his thesis, “A Retinal Twitch, A Misfired Nerve Cell: The Neurocybernetics of The Crying of Lot 49,” and an article-length reworking of the thesis will now be published in the journal, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Literature!
Dylan graduated last May with a double major in English and Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. His honors thesis was directed by Professor Laura Otis. Professor John Johnston served on his committee along with Dr. Annaelle Devergnas, the neurologist in whose lab he was studying the propagation of seizures. He is currently working as a research assistant in a lab at Northwestern.
Congratulations to Professor Valerie Babb, who is co-Principal Investigator of a $1 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant awarded to the University of Georgia’s Willson Center to fund partnerships with the Penn Center, one of the nation’s most important institutions of African American culture. The project, “Culture and Community at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District” will include a range of programs: community-based artist residencies, a series of public conversations on the importance of preserving this cultural history, and in-place studies for students from UGA, Emory, and other HBCU partner institutions.
Located on St. Helena Island within the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a National Heritage Area established by the U.S. Congress to recognize the unique culture of the Gullah Geechee people (descendants of formerly enslaved West and Central Africans who have traditionally resided in the coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida), Penn Center is a nonprofit organization committed to African American education, community development, and social justice.
We look forward to seeing this vital public humanities project develop and to the exciting opportunities it will provide for students over the coming years!
|News from the Chair|
Dear Students, Colleagues, and Friends – both near and far:
The English department at Emory may be doing most of its work remotely, but we have managed to do quite a bit collectively over the past few months. And faculty and students have continued to make news with their accomplishments in research, teaching, publication, and service. Here is some of what we’ve been up to in these long and strange months of 2020.
Curricular and Teaching Initiatives
The summer’s protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement inspired us in the department to think critically about what we teach and how we teach it. As a discipline, literary study in English has for too long been tied to a Eurocentric canon that privileges dead white (and usually male) authors. While our own curriculum features a much more diverse array of writers and traditions (including a range of courses in African American, Black British, Latinx, Native American, African, Caribbean, South Asian, and Asian American literatures), you wouldn’t know this from looking at our major requirements or at many of our standard course descriptions. Because we passionately believe that the study of literature and culture is central to understanding the world around us in its full diversity, the department has been focused this semester on crafting a curricular proposal that will reflect literature’s amazing capacities to help us view life from perspectives radically different from our own. Stay tuned!
We have also initiated two new fora for sharing ideas more broadly about teaching. Graduate student Emily Banks is leading an Anti-Racist Pedagogy reading and action group, in which faculty and grad students have met to share how our own teaching can contribute to a broader effort to dismantle racism. If you are interested in participating or learning more about this effort, please contact her at emily [dot] a [dot] banks [at] emory [dot] edu. And Writing Program lecturer Melissa Yang is now leading a series of mid-week teaching conversations, featuring faculty, post-docs, and graduate students sharing ideas, questions, and experiences on topics such as collaboration in the classroom, stimulating play and inventiveness in on-line teaching, and community and public engagement through coursework. For more information or to be involved, please contact melissa [dot] yang [at] emory [dot] edu.
Another departmental initiative has involved the power of poetry to speak to our times. Last spring, Prof. Geraldine Higgins launched a Pandemic Poetry project that invited faculty, staff, and students to share poems that could help us to understand our current predicaments: isolation, fear of contagion, separation from loved ones, lost opportunities, and our hopes for a better future. This semester, we have continued that project, with student leadership from English and Human Health major Kate Appel). We have also launched a new Black Poetry at Emory series, supervised by Prof. Jericho Brown, with graduate student leadership from PhD student Ra’Niqua Lee. Check your email inbox for periodic newsletters that share poems and reflections on their deep relevance to our contemporary lives. If you would like to contribute an entry, please make a submission.
On the subject of teaching, most instructors had an unwanted initiation into the world of on-line teaching last spring. Over the summer, we were fortunate to have time to learn more about the opportunities for effective online pedagogy, thanks to College-designed workshops led by two wonderful graduate students in our department, Ariel Lawrence and Tyler Tennant. If our classes have gone better this fall (and we think they have!), much of the credit goes to those two.
Faculty and Graduate Student Accomplishments, Arrivals, and Accolades
Creative writers at Emory are getting used to their professors gaining major recognition. The pandemic has forced us to continue waiting for the time when we can all celebrate Prof. Jericho Brown’s Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in person, and now we have another reason to celebrate: he has been named the Charles Howard Candler professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory.
Our other Pulitzer-prize winning colleague, Prof. Hank Klibanoff, has continued to win major awards for his ongoing podcast Buried Truths, in which he (and a number of Emory students) have uncovered stories about Civil Rights-era cold cases. Last year, the podcast garnered a Peabody award, and now the second season has earned a Murrow Award in broadcast journalism – two of the highest awards in the field.
Prof. Heather Christle’s gorgeous book about the cultural and psychological meaning of tears, The Crying Book, has been honored with a Georgia Author of the Year Award in the category of memoir. Prof. Tayari Jones’ monumentally successful novel An American Marriage continued to rack up awards, including being selected as a finalist for the International Dublin Literary Award. And Prof. Tiphanie Yanique’s “The Special World” has been included in the prestigious Best American Stories 2020 volume.
This fall, we welcomed Prof. Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez, a specialist in Latinx literary and cultural history, to the department. She has made an immediate impact in the classroom with her new course on Latinx literary history, and she has also contributed powerful commentary on contemporary manifestations of voter suppression in Ms. magazine. Look out for the publication of Prof. Guidotti-Hernandez’s fascinating new book, Archiving Mexican Masculinities, coming out from Duke University Press next spring.
Several other faculty members and graduate students stepped out in public with their work. Our director of undergraduate studies, Paul Kelleher, brought his deep knowledge of eighteenth-century literary to bear on the pandemic, with an article in the Washington Post on what we might learn from reading Daniel DeFoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year.
The current plague, of course, has been on all of our minds, and several of us have published about how it has affected our classrooms and our personal lives. Prof. Tiphanie Yanique reflected on the challenges of parenting a Black child during the time of pandemic and protest in an essay in the Times Literary Supplement. https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/black-lives-matter-protests-atlanta-essay-tiphanie-yanique/. And Prof. Tayari Jones published this essay about race, vulnerability, and intimacy in the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/05/planet-virus-seven-novelists-from-around-the-world-on-living-with-the-pandemic
Reflecting on how the pandemic has affected our teaching lives, Prof. Sheila Cavanagh published an account of how she rapidly adapted her spring course, “Shakespeare in Text and Performance,” to take advantage of a wealth of online materials – especially performances and other resources related to Shakespeare in Prison programs: https://www.escj.org/early-modern-classroom?page=1. On the subject of literature and prisons, recent Emory PhD alum Stephanie Iasiello has begun a position as Director of Education for the Alliance for Higher Education in Prison.
I myself collaborated with a group of wonderful graduate students – Sophia Leonard and Makenzie Fitzgerald of English, and Victor Velázquez Antonio of Hispanic Studies – on an article that grew out of our experience as students and teacher in a new Public Humanities graduate seminar. The research collaborations we fostered between Emory and several partners – including the Alliance Theatre here in Atlanta – were all disrupted by the pandemic. Yet the experience pointed toward some hopeful opportunities for re-imagining graduate education, which we wrote about for the journal American Literature. If you’d like to see an advance copy of the article, please contact me at breiss [at] emory [dot] edu.
Another public-facing departmental initiative is the journal Post-45, a leading venue for the analysis of contemporary literature and culture whose production is now housed at Emory. Under the direction of Prof. Dan Sinykin, the journal’s born-digital archives are now housed at Emory’s Rose Library. Profs. Sinykin and Prof. Lauren Klein will be holding a conversation about their own recently published books (celebrated in last spring’s newsletter) and their work in developing the exciting field of digital humanities at Emory on Nov. 16 at 4 p.m. More information here.
Several of our graduate students have had work featured in public venues. Tesla Cariani was featured for her work on the Georgia Coast Atlas in the article “Georgia Cost Atlas: A Portal to Hidden Stories,” and Joe Fritsch has a lovely new essay on object-oriented poetry and visual art in Public Books.
In addition, Joseph Fritsch and Jareema Hylton have been selected to attend the 2020 Podcasting the Humanities Winter Institute hosted virtually by the National Humanities Center and the Digital Humanities Center of San Diego State University. We’re looking forward to seeing the work they create there!
For inspiration about where your Emory experience may take you, check out this recording of our recent panel featuring the exciting career paths of four undergraduate alumni: Randall Slaven, MBA, MPH, Senior Director at the Carter Center; Adrian Tonge, Senior Analytics Executive at Accenture; Nina Burris, George Washington University Law School Student; and Bernadette Davis, Founder and CEO at Bernadette Davis Communications.
We’d like to hear more from undergraduates about your accomplishments, especially any exciting and surprising opportunities that have come your way as a result of our strange new circumstances. Please send them along to eric [dot] canosa [at] emory [dot] edu.
Kemp Malone Lecture
Last week, the Kemp Malone Committee hosted Fletcher Professor of English Literature at Tufts University Lee Edelman for a three-event series. On Thursday, October 29, Professor Edelman presented a workshop for Emory graduate students on the process of taking research from a dissertation to a first book. On Friday, October 30, Lee Edelman gave his keynote lecture “Queerness, Afro-Pessimism, and the Return of the Aesthetic.” After the keynote, Lee Edelman engaged Emory Professor Calvin Warren in a rousing discussion on Afro-pessimism, moderated by Emory Professor Elizabeth Wilson. By going virtual, the 2020 Kemp Malone Lecture Series was able to challenge and inspire an unprecedented number of attendees from the Emory community and beyond.
Be well, all – and if you have ideas or feedback about departmental initiatives, please let me know!
Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor
Chairs, Department of English
breiss [at] emory [dot] edu
The Emory English Department is excited to welcome new and returning students for a semester truly unlike any other. With the ongoing COVID pandemic, we understand the desire for consistency in our new virtual environment, so rest assured! The English Department is still offering a course list full of interesting classes this semester! The full list of offerings can be found on the Emory Course Atlas, but we’ve highlighted a few of the relevant and unique English classes below.
ENG 290W: The Coming-of-Age Novel: Taught by graduate student Connor Larsen, this course focuses on novels starring young people in search of identity, often rebelling against their community to find a voice of their own. The novels in this course question what it means to “grow up” amid pressure to conform and constraints on an individual’s freedom.
ENG 389: Pandemic Poetry: This extremely relevant new course, taught by Professor Geraldine Higgins, responds to our current global crisis through poetry. This course is an extension of a lockdown initiative where members of the English department shared a poem a day. The course asks questions such as: Do we turn to poetry as a source of consolation or warning? Does it inspire anger or hope? In what ways do familiar lines take on new resonance in our current crises? This course will explore these questions and more.
ENG 290: Poetry and Mourning- History of English Elegy: Elegy is a lament for the dead, a song of mourning. In a tradition going back to Greek and Roman antiquity, many poets wrote elegies for the poets who preceded them as a way to mark themselves as the inheritors of the poet’s role even as they brought new materials and new themes to the genre. Taught by Professor Deborah White, this class will explore these paradoxes across the long history of elegy, giving special attention to how elegy comes to be a poetic rite of passage.
ENG 389: German Environmental Culture: With the existential crisis of global warming on the horizon, it is clear to Professor Caroline Schaumann that we are beginning to live in a fundamentally changed world, a volatile and unknown environment we can neither control nor predict. This course will critically assess the narrative traditions that have accompanied, explained, and challenged our lives in the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch defined by human activity. It will familiarize students with current debates in the environmental humanities and investigate particular texts documenting climate change, from political critiques to climate thrillers and everything in between.
ENG 389W: Reading Communities: Led by Professor Abigail Droge, this course will embrace a remote version of a common 19th-century learning format: The Mutual Improvement Society. A principle tenet of mutual improvement was that engaging with literature was social as much as educational; friendships built around shared intellectual pursuit could keep readers going, even through difficult times. Building from archival examples of the records that such Victorian societies left behind, students will work together to form their own Mutual Improvement Society. The primary question for this course will be: how can literature help us to build community, even when we are not in the same place?
The English Department is delighted to welcome Professor Nicole Guidotti-Hernández, who has joined our faculty as part of Emory College’s student-driven cluster hire to recruit new faculty members across departments who study and teach about Latinx literatures and cultures. Professor Guidotti-Hernández comes to us from the University of Texas at Austin by way of Harvard University’s Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, where she was a research fellow in 2019-2020. In a recent interview, she described her teaching, research, and program-building goals at Emory.
What would you say are the central questions of your teaching and research?
I’m interested in why people behave the way they do. My research and teaching are most informed by the relationship between Latinx communities and the subjects that emerge from archives. I am an archival research junkie, and I try to infuse my classes with ample opportunities to engage primary sources, just as I do in my research. My work is also informed by the study of violence, for we cannot study Latinx peoples and their literatures without understanding how we are products and sometimes agents of colonialism and imperialism.
In the move to Emory and your first weeks of teaching, what have you noticed about Emory students?
I absolutely love the Emory students! They are inquisitive, articulate, and hungry for the classes I’m teaching. People in my E290W Survey in Latinx Literature (first contact to 1898) are having so much fun learning about how Indigenous peoples across the continent pushed back against Spanish, American, and British empires to present their own world view in maps, treaties, and discourse. I’m impressed with their wide range of interests. Students double majoring in English and Biology who want to go to medical school strike me as the kind of people we need to lead us into the next 50 years. These students are savvy about racial and cultural differences and understand that one needs to be able to tell stories, recognize the value of differences, and know the science to become well rounded professionals.
What new classes would you like to teach in the next couple of years?
I am looking forward to teaching the second half of the Latinx Lit Survey (1900-Present), a series of classes on genre (Latinx Poetry, Latinx Novels, and Latinx Performance Studies), and hopefully a graduate seminar on Theories of Violence.
What can you tell us about your forthcoming book, Archiving Mexican Masculinities?
I’m SO excited Archiving Mexican Masculinities is finally being published! There were two things that compelled me to write the book: 1) a frustration with the machismo paradigm’s dominance for understanding masculinities in the field, and 2) a rich early 20th-century archive of materials about Mexican men’s migrations that needed more critical engagement. I grew up in the Salinas valley, and the legacy of the Bracero program is part of the agriculture industry’s built environment. However, I didn’t learn about the program and the way it limited migrant men’s lives via segregation until I was in graduate school. I found this fact disturbing. This also holds true for my chapters about the social circle of the PLM (Partido Liberal Mexicano), which is over-represented as egalitarian in its anarchism. My work shows that what is praised as an anarchist movement known for equality of the sexes was, in many cases, misogynist and invested in heteronormativity.
You’re working on a book on suicide in the Latinx world, plus two other projects. In what directions do you think your research will be going in the next few years?
The book on suicide has evolved into a focus on domestic violence, murder, and suicide. I’ve discovered, through my research, that these kinds of events in the period between the Gilded Age and WWII were a period of intensive economic and racial upheaval that fomented intimate forms of violence. I was lucky enough to have colleagues at the Warren Center provide feedback about how to think through intimate forms of violence through the prism of racial capitalism. I also have two other half-finished books: one about Tucsonense Spanish Mexican sisters and another about all of the programs I’ve created or helped create over the years. I really want to write a book about women of color in prisons in the 19th century and the way they were classified and “reformed.” Their writings for newsletters like those within the walls of Blackwell’s Island Women’s prison, in contrast with how prisons saw them, are of great interest to me. I suspect I’ll have more ideas for more books. Every trip to the archives in Mexico and all over the U.S. produces new ideas and things I haven’t thought about yet. This is the beauty of the work we do.
What developments for Emory students do you see emerging from Emory’s Latinx cluster hire?
Students are really jazzed about the fact that their activism has materialized in the institutionalization of the field they have clamored for. Several students in my 290W class are seniors, and they said they’ve waited their entire time at Emory for a course like this. As all of the faculty members in the Latinx cluster hire get settled and the student interest builds, I suspect we’ll form a minor, a major, a graduate certificate, and hopefully a program. I’d also love to do a study abroad program that focuses on migration, and I suspect students would like this too.
We encourage students interested in any of the many facets of Professor Guidotti-Hernández’s work to get to know her as a teacher and mentor. In this unprecedented year, she is offering courses that provide much-needed information and that open new perspectives.