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November 19, 2012

Chiji Akọma

Chiji Akọma, PhD (Binghamton University—SUNY)
Associate Professor
My field is contemporary Anglophone African and African Diaspora literatures, including African oral performance studies. I’m particularly interested in Caribbean folklore and literary traditions, African oral literature, drama, fiction, postcolonial studies; and lately, I have been looking at black British literature, with its complicated yet dynamic delineation of blackness. But in my most recent research efforts, I have been drawn into the task of recovering Igbo language fiction, especially as this body of literature from south eastern Nigeria appears to have been drowned out by the resounding success of such writers as Chinua Achebe, Elechi Amadi, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who are Igbo authors, addressing the Igbo experience, but writing in the English language. In light of this imbalance, I am working on a book on Igbo popular theatre based on a television series set in the colonial era. The work attempts to find new uses for postcolonial theory even as it privileges the exploration of Igbo folk aesthetics in drama.

My first book, Folklore in New World Black Fiction, examined the fiction of two Americans, Toni Morrison and Jean Toomer, and two Guyanese, Wilson Harris and Roy Heath, for the myriad of ways they call attention to the intersections between orality and literacy, especially in relation to African oral performance aesthetics. The book organizes the major works by these writers around a grammar of meaning that I locate within an African Diaspora sensibility. I like the dynamism of oral performance, and I’m especially grateful for the fact that Africa and parts of the Caribbean still have artists who continue to maintain and expand the creative and intellectual capacities of African oral traditions, despite the seeming dominance of the written tradition. As the Vice President of the International Society for the Oral Literatures of Africa (ISOLA), I’m privileged to have the front view of the exciting research going on in the field. I am also co-editing with Nduka Otiono a collection of essays on the subject entitled, Beyond Text: Issues in African Oral Literature and Diaspora Studies. The volume is in honor of the work of Isidore Okpewho, one of the influential scholars of African oral traditions.

I have a passing interest in African cinema, but the more I observe the wildly popular Nigerian movie industry, commonly called Nollywood, the more I more I rub my gray beard in contemplation and say, Hmmm…

Michael Berthold

My current research focuses on nineteenth-century literary representations of Johnny Appleseed, the iconic alter-ego of real-life nurseryman John Chapman. The cultural exaltation of Johnny Appleseed stands as a sustained exercise in American hagiography that since the nineteenth-century has transfigured Chapman the man (in the words of various commentators) into a “patron saint of the American orchards” and “one of America’ half-dozen favorite folk heroes.” But the legend has been mainly inscribed in children’s literature and sweetened and attenuated in the process. 

My intention is to recover the irreducible strangeness of Johnny Appleseed and argue for the adult importance of the figure by examining his earliest appearances in American literature. In an essay I published earlier this year in The Journal of American Culture I examined Appleseed’s literary debut in James M’Gaw’s little-known 1858 novel Philip Seymour. I am currently working on an article about Denton J. Snider’s extensive revision of the narrative. Snider, one of the St. Louis Hegelians, recasts Appleseed as both a neo-Hegelian World Spirit and orphic poet—a “new-World fate-compeller” in Snyder’s words. I think Snider’s Appleseed might be the most ambitious (and possibly bizarre) rendering of the figure that American literature has witnessed.

Alice Dailey

My primary field of study is early modern literature, with a secondary field in literature of the Middle Ages. My research coheres around a broad set of questions about how stories of violence are told and retold. I’m interested in the literary structures that organize and rehearse acts of violence, especially structures that rely on the audience’s recognition of an old death in a new form. In particular, my work looks at sixteenth- and seventeenth-century reiterations of historical, literary, and religious scenes of violence that are inherited from earlier models, be they biblical, patristic, medieval, or relatively contemporary. My work considers the forms reiteration takes in the context of discrete historical moments of literary production, considering how both sedimented and emerging literary structures exert constitutive pressure over historical events.

These interests have led to two main projects focused on rather disparate literary materials. The first is a forthcoming book, The English Martyr from Reformation to Revolution, which studies the development of English martyrological literature from the late Middle Ages to the execution of King Charles I in 1649. This book considers how the martyrological form—traditionally defined by strict paradigm repetition—attempts to reconcile the broad range of individuals, beliefs, and persecutions seeking legitimation through martyrdom during the tumultuous period of the English Reformation. My current research project focuses on Shakespeare’s English chronicle plays. This work brings together theories of performance, memory, trauma, and somatics to think about the representation of dead, dismembered, and remembered historical bodies on the early modern stage. These two projects likewise summarize my principal teaching areas: hagiography and martyrology, religious polemics of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, medieval Passion drama, Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and Shakespeare in performance.

Joseph Drury

I teach courses on eighteenth-century and Romantic British literature. I have a particular interest in the history and theory of the novel, the history of science and technology and its intersections with literary culture, material culture and "thing theory," and the history of sexuality. I am working on a book, titled Novel Machines: Technology and Form in Eighteenth-Century British Fiction, which explores how novelists responded to the new prominence of machines in eighteenth-century British culture, and shows in particular how the distinct narrative dynamics of the period’s fiction were shaped by the effort to turn the novel itself into an Enlightenment machine.

Travis Foster

I write and teach about American literature up to roughly 1900. My current work focuses on how popular literary conventions influence social life. I’m particularly interested in those moments when widespread aesthetic forms challenge normative modes of social, familial, and national belonging. Hence the project I’m completing, Democratic Affections: Literary Convention and the Politics of Friendship in Civil War America, identifies a body of widely circulating yet critically neglected texts that depart from dominant postbellum historiography by fermenting dissent and division rather than national reunion and racialized fraternity. Because the project’s archive—campus novels, regionalist sketches, gospel sermons, and over one-hundred Civil War elegies—resists dominant close reading methods, I’m also interested in critical practices more attentive to the conventional, including distant reading, uncritical reading, genre criticism, and performance studies.

My next project—tentatively titled The Queer Lives of Plants: Sex, Botany, Literature—takes up another popular (and popularizing) nineteenth-century discourse, botany. In my research so far, I’m finding that writers from Erasmus Darwin to Henry David Thoreau to H.D. used botany for two overlapping purposes: first, to represent gendered and sexual deviance among humans and, second, to construe ecology as a set of affectively rich exchanges between humans and other carbon-based life. My overarching aim here will be to trace a 150-year genealogy of queer ecological thought that de-naturalizes “nature” and conceptualizes intimacy beyond the interpersonal to what we might broadly call the inter-material.

Heather Hicks

I teach and do research in the areas of post-1945 American and global Anglophone fiction, apocalyptic literature, feminist fiction and theory, postmodern theory, science fiction, and contemporary film. I’ve recently taught courses on the question of whether fiction since 2000 meets the criteria of the “postmodern;” 20th century science fiction; recent feminist fiction (yes, it exists!); and an undergraduate course on apocalyptic literature from pre-history to the present day.

In my scholarship, I’m interested in literature about various forms of contemporary crisis. My most recent book, The Post-Apocalyptic Novel in the Twenty-First Century: Modernity Beyond Salvage (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), analyzes how major novelists since 2000 have imagined the fate of modernity in the wake of global catastrophe. My first book, The Culture of Soft Work: Labor, Gender, and Race in Postmodern American Narrative (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), examined the ways that a wide range of cultural texts from comic strips to films to major novels responded to the changing nature of the American workplace (and American workers) after World War Two. I’ve recently become interested in a more transhistorical approach to literary study, and I’m working on a new book on the history of apocalyptic fiction, covering the evolution of this genre from the early 18th century to the present. I’m especially interested in how depictions of gender and race have figured in this fascinating body of literature.

Brooke Hunter

Hunter undertakes the typical peregrina (pilgrim) activity of washing clothing at the end of a day of walking while on the 500 mile traditional medieval pilgrimage to Compostela de Santiago this summer.
I teach and write about medieval literature, especially the vernacular literature of the fourteenth century and the movement of philosophical and scholarly works into the vernacular. Nearly all of my scholarship is somehow connected to the work of Geoffrey Chaucer. My research looks at the multiple avenues through which intellectual texts were received and digested: in vernacular translations of scholarly works (e.g. Chaucer’s Boece or Treatise on the Astrolabe), Latin commentaries, teaching texts, medieval writings that ventriloquize the voices of auctores (e.g. Pseudo-Boethius or Pseudo-Aquinas), and the spoof texts and in-jokes of humorous university writing. I am working on a project about the reception of Boethian and Pseudo-Boethian works as school texts, vernacular translations, and spoofs—right now I’m writing about the unlikely topic of Boethian humor! Psychoanalytic theory informs much of my thinking, especially the ways in which misrecognition and affective responses to scholarly work from the Middle Ages reflect on contemporary university research and education.

Chaucer; Medieval Romance; Literature of Heaven and Hell; The Fabulous Middle Ages; British Tradition, I.

“Remenants of Things Past: Memory and the Knight’ s TaleExemplaria 23.2 (2011)

Ph.D. from University of Texas at Austin in 2010.

Kamran Javadizadeh

My teaching and research focus on modern American poetry, though my interests often lead me out from that center—both horizontally (into twentieth-century American literature and culture) and vertically (into the long history of poetry and poetics). My current book project, Bedlam & Parnassus: The Institutional Life of Modern American Poetry, begins by observing the historical coincidence that, from where they sat in 1950, both Ezra Pound and Elizabeth Bishop could observe the dome of the United States Capitol. What makes that coincidence fascinating is the stark difference in their circumstances. Bishop was serving a one-year term as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (the position we now call Poet Laureate); the view from her corner office was meant to signal her proximity to power. Pound, on the other hand, was an inmate in St. Elizabeths Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He would be confined there for thirteen years in order to avoid being prosecuted on treason charges for his wartime radio broadcasts, and he could just barely make out the dome of the Capitol, three miles away, through the hemlocks outside the window in his cell. What would it mean to think of these two poets—together—as a composite figure for the American poet at mid-century? I begin with that question—and wind up answering others, too, along the way: What did Robert Lowell see when he looked in the mirror? How did Weldon Kees disappear? And why does Sylvia Plath’s voice sound so odd?

In my next project, I plan to think about the surprising resonance between the lyric poem and epistolary writing over a period which spans the distance, roughly, between the introduction of airmail (and modernism’s global imagination) at the beginning of the twentieth-century, and of email, Facebook, and Twitter (and our culture’s anxiety about the loss of solitude) a century later.

My work has appeared so far in The Yale Review and Arizona Quarterly.

Joseph Lennon

Joseph Lennon, Director, Irish Studies Program
Associate Professor, Department of English
I specialize in Irish Studies, but my research also generally follows the influence of colonialism and its effects in Ireland, Britain, and India. I have written primarily on the Irish Literary Revival, including authors such as W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, August Gregory, James Stephens, and James and Margaret Cousins. But as with the range of my first book, Irish Orientalism: A Literary and Intellectual History (2004, 2008), my research interests stretch back to medieval origin legends and up to modern and contemporary Irish writing.

My work on Irish Orientalism has led me to investigate the origins of the ideas and practices of cross-colonial hunger striking in Ireland, Britain, and India. My current book project focuses on the first modern hunger strike by the Scottish artist Marion Wallace-Dunlop in London's Holloway Prison in 1909. After discovering her diaries and letters in a London attic, the book project was born; it closely reads texts of the day—plays, novels, newspapers, histories—situating her own writing, paintings, and protests within the intellectual moment of 1909. I am especially interested in how these texts, like the protests of the time, articulate matrices of power. This work, as well as my work on hunger representations in Ireland and India, examines how the cultural production of desire, hunger, and gender impinge on modern consumer culture.

I also write poems and have an interest in contemporary poetry and drama, particularly that of Ireland.