Research

Interests in brief

  • American ethnic and immigrant writing, especially bi- and multilingual American literature from colonial times to the present
  • Americanization as a program for the assimilation of immigrants in the early 20th C
  • African American literature and culture, specifically women's writing
  • New York city and its immigrant cultures from New Amsterdam to the present

 

Research profile

Since the beginning of my academic career I have been interested in so called 'minority literatures' and the writing of social movements. Beginning with feminism and the literature of the Women's Liberation Movement, which was my Doctoral research, I expanded my research interest in gender to African American and post-colonial literature and theory. These two strands of interest in race and gender culminated in the monographs Liberating Literature: Feminist Fiction in America (1994) and Alice Walker (2000). A second edition, which brings the latter up to date both with Alice Walker's work since 1999 and with Walker scholarship, was published in 2011. This was needed because as Walker's work has become better and better known over the years, it has also become more and more controversial, so in this second, fully revised and extended edition I address the critical strife and discuss its effects on Walker's later prose and her literary/activist persona. At around the same time I also published 'How to Read Michelle Obama,' a path-breaking  essay that seeks to understand the first African American First Lady in the context of African American literature and historiography (Patterns of Prejudice 45: 1-2 2011).

Over the past ten years I have added yet another -but related- feature to my research profile in that I have chiefly been working on ethnic, and more specifically immigrant, literature of the United States. Publication-wise this started, appropriately enough, with Beginning Ethnic American Literatures (2001) which I co-authored with Helena Grice, Martin Padget, and Candida Hepworth, but it has continued with several articles and book chapters on writers such as Bharati Mukherjee and Eva Hoffman. This research has taken me further and further afield as well as back in time; my interest in the Americanization campaign of the early 20th C is refelected in 'When Is an Immigrant's  Autobiography Not an Immigrant Autobiography? The Americanization of Edward Bok',  published in MELUS Fall 2013, and 'Americanization Now and Then: the 'nation of immigrants' in the early 20th and 21st centuries' (Journal of American Studies, April 2016). The latter won the Arthur Miller Cntre Prize for the best article-length essay in American Studies of 2016.

My monograph on multilingualism in immigrant writing, Wanderwords: language migration in American literature was published by Bloomsbury New York (Hb. 2014, Pb. 2016) and reached the top 5 shortlist for the MLA Lowell Prize.

It reads migrant autobiography, essays, and fiction for their use of languages other than English and asks: how do (im-)migrants represent themselves in an American cultural context which is new to them, and in a language that is not their first? Rather than plead for the uses of translation, as other scholars in the field have done, I show in this study the radical potential of  bi- and multilingualism for a new writing and reading practice that entails a new conception of 'American' literature as not just written in English-only. Principally however Wanderwords presents a poetics of writing in English combined with other languages and theorizes the practice of so (badly) called 'code-switching' in literary signification.

 

Current projects

  • The intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality continues to inform my work, but I have been  increasingly drawn towards analysis of immigrant writing as linguistic artefacts rather than solely as socio-historical documents, because this material, formal, or simply textual dimension of ethnic literature has been rather neglected in critical scholarsship. This has resulted in two recently completen essays: 'DeLillo's Italian American' and 'Multilingual American Poetry'--both for Bloomsbury. 
  • A bigger, psychoanalytically and sociologically-informed  project will research the concept and representation of 'ethnic shame' in American literature and culture. 
  • I have for some years been a member of the Cultures of Threat (security, risk, crisis) network which includes researchers at the University of Sussex, Uppsala, Sweden, Witwatersrand, South Africa, and Miami, Ohio, USA. The network seeks to now extend its brief to Cultures of Democracy and Populism and I will be centrally involved in attracting funding to continue and expand its research agenda.

 

Research plans

  • completion of essay on 'languages of security'
  • completion of essay on DeLillo's languages
  • 'immigrant and ethnic shame' [working title]
  • contemporary New York fiction 
  • 'why the US is not a 'nation of immigrants' and other mythbusting essays on American politics and culture

Research affiliations

  • Sussex Centre for American Studies (SCAS)
  • Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR)
  • Modern Language Association (MLA) of America
  • British Association for American Studies

Doctoral supervision

I am interested in supervising Doctoral research on migration,  race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality in American culture, from literary, theoretical and/or interdisciplinary perspectives.

I would welcome in particular research proposals with an Atlanticist dimension (Europe and America; the relation between the Americas, the African diaspora) or with a multilingual dimension (e.g. American literature in languages other than English, Latin@ writing).

Proposals on individual writers such as Eva Hoffman, Richard Rodriguez, Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldua, Bharati Mukherjee, Junot Diaz would also be of interest.