My research and teaching focus on African American and American literatures. I’m especially interested in the ways that authors and texts articulate un-archived, “secret” and so, unspeakable developments that shaped American life during the long century of Jim Crow segregation’s reign, from 1865 to 1965.
For instance, my first book, A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature (2006), examines how literary depictions of anti-Black mob murders at the turn of the 20th century figure the violence as a trope of American modernity. Currently, I’m completing an editorial project– a Norton Critical Edition of The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man—that reclaims James Weldon Johnson’s novel as an important harbinger of Afro-Anglo-American modernism. My next monograph,Birth of the Cool: African American Literary Culture of the 1940s and 1950s, focuses on the regenerative aesthetic life that Jim Crow segregation gave rise to during the mid-20th century. How to explain the aesthetic cosmopolitanism of African American literature’s “lost generation”–those fabulous, brilliant writers of the post-World War II/pre-Civil Rights Movement era? What literary ecologies made those authors’ emergence and impact as a cohort both decisive and hard to classify? I want to think these questions through in relation to a Bourdieu-informed “field theory” of Black literary production during those decades.
To research Birth of the Cool I’ve had to recover the archives I want to write about. ”Mapping the Stacks” makes manuscripts, sound recordings, photographs, and moving images that document Black Chicago’s literary, cultural, and visual histories during the 1930s-1970s accessible to researchers and the public.