Primary Research Areas: 20th- and 21st- century American Literature, Native American Literature, African American Literature, Critical Race Theory, Comparative Ethnic Studies, Mobility Studies
Other Areas of Interest: Prison Literature, Activism, & Pedagogy, Comics & Graphic Narratives, Popular Culture
My current book project is based on my dissertation, Taking Route in Kinship: Multiethnic Literatures of the American Road Trip. It examines how U.S. writers engage with states of precarity in their fiction through the deployment of a narrative road trip and with what I call a “aesthetics of automobility,” or a traceable preoccupation with the role that automobiles and mobility (halted or otherwise) has played in depictions of the American roadscape. Early studies of road trip narratives in American literature have helped create an association of the road trip with the white, masculine driver who seeks independence and freedom. This project argues that what road trips enable are intersubjective experiences that are the foundation for a new and refreshed affective life. Taking Route in Kinship draws on theories of affect and emotion to make the case that the will “to move” in the road trip creates the conditions of possibility for new kinships. By reading the emotions and the barriers to intersubjective understanding before, during, and after the road trips in my project’s archive, one can see the contours of a genre “fragment” whose edges are as important as its center, and within which exist circulating experiences between the people on the road.
This project reorients the discourse on road trip literature around a new center of the precarious and the at-risk, to make an intervention in travel narrative studies and multiethnic literary theory. I prove that writers from historically disenfranchised communities deploy the road trip aesthetic to explore “finding oneself” through formations of kin that are non-normative social formations. The “quest” in these works is a search to reorient what Sara Ahmed calls the affective economies that dominate the lives of socially precarious subjects. These economies are also tangible in literature as “terms of order,” Cedric Robinson’s designation of those social forces that would seek to stymie, thwart, or constrain desire and aspiration, and in many cases, that would be life-ending as well. By focusing on kinship and community, what emerges is a canon of prescient writers that question the privileged elite agency of movement. Taking Route in Kinship intervenes in critical race studies and creates a survey of road trip literature that calls itself American without resorting to the qualifier of minority or marginalized, but that places these very “minoritized” and “marginalized” voices at its center.
Selected Publications Overview
My article entitled Haunted Roadscapes in Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing appears in MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. This article posits that Jesmyn Ward deploys a road trip in her 2017 novel Sing, Unburied, Sing as a literary formula through which she demonstrates the immobilizing effects of racism and incarceration on contemporary black lives. The association of the American road trip novel with freedom and free movement is strong in the American imaginary, and Ward manipulates this association to explore what happens when the travelers by automobile are precarious, not privileged.
I have an article in Studies in the Novel entitled Acting Appropriative: Native American Literary Performativity in LeAnne Howe’s Shell Shaker, which follows a line of inquiry I began after presenting on the topic of formal performativity and Native American literature at the 2014 MLA. Howe’s literary performativity is a way to correct the overdetermined and wrong facts of Native American history. Her novel features plot-based manipulations of generic cues and literary motifs which extend to the level of language manipulation, and I trace these moments to see how the novel enacts literary performativity as a mode of resistance.
An essay of mine titled Drawn Into Being: Transformative Voices of Native American Women in Comics and Visual Narratives appears in the 2021 collection Intersectional Feminist Readings of Comics: Interpreting Gender in Graphic Narratives, edited by Sandra Cox. This piece explores how Native American and First Nations women cartoonists actively push against discourses of domination and disappearance by imbuing their contemporary comics with narratives of Native “survivance” (the term that theorist Gerald Vizenor, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, employs to understand how indigenous communities simultaneously survive and resist colonization). I trace the presence of a Native American feminism that emerges in the plot-based and formal transformations that recur in three contemporary Native American comic anthologies: Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 1 (2015) and Volume 2 (2017), Deer Woman: An Anthology (2017), and Sovereign Traces Volume 1: Not (Just) (An)Other (2018).
Together with co-writer Olga Faccani, I have written a chapter for a collection of essays entitled Classics and Prison Education in the US, edited by Nancy Rabinowitz and Emilio Capettini. Our chapter, Teaching Ovid to Incarcerated Students: An Experiential Analysis, builds on our own experiences teaching classic and contemporary texts through a correspondence course called Foundations in the Humanities that works with North Kern State Prison, the California Men’s Colony, and Kern Valley State Prison. We also write about how the correspondence nature of the course changes the way our students related to the material, to our own responses, and to the course itself.
For a full list of my in-print, forthcoming, and in-progress publications, please visit my CV page.