Klapper Hall, Room 734
I am currently working on a book manuscript entitled Reading Black Characters: Atlantic Encounters with Othello 1604-1855. In this project, I follow Shakespeare’s blackamoor across two and half centuries of print and stage iterations, showing the play’s implication in a British-American project of producing legible gendered and racialized characters out of the strangers in a far-flung Atlantic economy. The project features performances of the play at Whitehall Palace in 1604, in front of Cherokee guests in colonial Virginia’s capital of Williamsburg, and before US diplomats in London in 1785. While paying attention to these historical performances, I am also interested in professional writers such as Aphra Behn and Herman Melville who rewrite Shakespeare’s plot—and the relationship between white writers and enslaved bodies—in attempts to overcome disadvantages of gender and postcolonial positioning. The temporal and geographic scope of this project, and its use of artistic sources, challenge the tendency to frame the history of race as a social concept entirely within the expert terms elaborated in law and science. In Reading Black Characters, law and science do not provide fixity to modern race in comparison to a fluid premodern counterpart. Rather, the type, number, and content of racial characters remains a matter of debate, and the traffic in racial essences remains alive and effective as a way of structuring social, political, and economic relations precisely because of this unsettled quality.
I have begun work on a second project that uses Joni Mitchell’s insistence that she is a black man trapped in a white woman’s body to consider the (changed and unchanged) relationship to authority and prestige white artists achieved in the wake of the black protests of the 1960s.
In addition to traditional introductions to literature, I teach classes within and across Shakespeare Studies, Early American Studies, and African-American Studies. In considering the social categories and political inequalities that reach from the early modern period to our own, I am particularly interested in what counts as literacy, what possessing literacy has enabled, and what it means to have a body that others claim expertise in reading. My approach is historical, as well as multimedia. Therefore, canonical literature is not only an object set apart. It borrows from and competes with speech and song, journalism, pulp fiction, theatre and film, while ambitious authors fret about their relationship to stigmatized bodies-for-sale, such as prostitutes and slaves.
“First Daughter: Lalah Hathaway and the Sexual Politics of Soul” – in progress
“Staging the Cherokee Othello: An Imperial Economy of Indian Watching” in The William and Mary Quarterly, January 2016.
“Inkface: The Slave Stigma in England’s Early Imperial Imagination.” In Scripturalizing the Human: The Written as the Political, edited by Vincent L. Wimbush, 193–220. New York: Routledge, 2015.
“Honey and Haterade: For Obama’s Beyhive.” Avidly: a LA Review of Books Channel, July 16, 2015. http://avidly.lareviewofbooks.org/2015/07/16/honey-and-haterade-for-obamas-beyhive/.
“Said the Hooker to the Thief: ‘Some Kind of Way Out’ of Rockism,” in The Journal of Popular Music Studies, March 2013.
“The Only Black Man at the Party: Joni Mitchell Enters the Rock Canon,” in Genders, Fall 2012.
“Having Their Cake… and Outlawing It, Too: How the War on Terror Expands Racial Profiling by Pretending to Erase It,” in Politics and Culture, February 2006.