Fulbright Prize in American Studies for Marijana Mikić

This year’s Fulbright Prize in American Studies has been awarded to Dr. Marijana Mikić for her dissertation, entitled “Race, Space, and Emotion in Twenty-First-Century African American Literature,” which she developed during her time as PhD Researcher on the Narrative Encounters Project and completed in the English Department at the University of Klagenfurt in 2022. The dissertation combines insights from cognitive affective research, narrative theory, African American studies, and Black geographies to examine how African American storyworlds interrogate emotions as varied as fear, hope, shame, guilt, anger, and grief as bound up with racial ideologies and the geographic enforcement of these ideologies. Congratulations Marijana!

Marijana was honored for her achievement on 20 October 2023 at the annual conference of the Austrian Association for American Studies (AAAS), “Versions of America” at the University of Klagenfurt. You can watch the interview here to learn more about Marijana’s dissertation.

The Fulbright Prize in American Studies is based on an annual competition managed by the AAAS. It is a means of acknowledging the enduring importance of American studies and the role of innovative research by young academics in Austria in contributing to the fulfillment of the Fulbright Program’s mandate to promote mutual understanding between the peoples of Austria and the United States of America. The purpose of this award is to recognize superior academic achievement in the field of American studies (Amerikanistik) in the broadest sense of the word and hence includes all relevant ancillary disciplines and departments at Austrian universities.

Marijana Mikić awarded Post-DocTrack Fellowship

Marijana Mikić has been awarded a Post-DocTrack Fellowship by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OeAW). During the time of the fellowship, she will be working on her first monograph, based on her dissertation, “Race, Space, and Emotion in Twenty-First-Century African American Literature.”

The planned book project draws on and brings together insights from cognitive research on emotion, narrative theory, African American studies, and Black geographies to investigate the ways in which twenty-first-century African American storyworlds interrogate emotions as varied as fear, hope, shame, guilt, anger, and grief. Delving into the various formal means and narrative strategies that novels by Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead, Percival Everett, N.K. Jemisin, Edward P. Jones, Brit Bennett, Maurice Carlos Ruffin, and Sherri L. Smith use to support their thematic interrogation of individual emotions as closely linked the social production of race and space, it argues that there is much we can learn about “emotions in context” from African American narrative.

Following the central goal of the Narrative Encounters project, the planned monograph seeks to illuminate the ways in which literary texts that grapple with questions of race, ethnicity, and identity force us to pay more attention to the social and systemic forces that produce emotions, while they also bring into focus the decidedly collective ways in which minoritized individuals and communities understand, grapple with, and address emotions.

New Publication by Alexa Weik von Mossner on Omar El Akkad’s American War

Alexa Weik von Mossner has published a newl article entitled “Tracing Loss in Times of Rapid Climate Change: Figures of Absence in Omar El Akkad’s American War in the journal English Studies

Omar El Akkad’s American War (2017) presents a dark vision of what the United States might devolve into if climate change, haphazard adaptation, and the political polarisation of the country continue unchecked. Analysing the four overarching facets of trace—visibility, materiality, environment, and human interaction—on the level of the novel’s narrative composition, the article argues that El Akkad offers more than just a cognitively estranged story about the making of a future American terrorist. Foregrounding the complex relationship between its central protagonist’s personal losses and the bitter war she fights in a climate-changed environment, American War deliberately employs what El Akkad has called “weaponized empathy” to allow readers to understand on a visceral level what drives people’s thoughts and actions once they have been robbed of the things and people they care for and embody the traces of what has been lost.

Access the article online in English Studies.

New Publication by Marijana Mikić and Derek C. Maus on Strategic Empathy and Expanded Intersectionality since Morrison’s Home

Marijana Mikić and Derek C. Maus have published an article entitled “’Only white folks got the freedom to hate home’:  Strategic Empathy and Expanded Intersectionality since Morrison’s Home” in the Bloomsbury Handbook to Toni Morrison, edited by. Linda Wagner-Martin and Kelly Reames, published by Bloomsbury Press.

In her 1997 essay “Home,” Toni Morrison poses several fundamental questions that guide her literary work: “How to be both free and situated; how to convert a racist house into a race-specific yet nonracist home. How to enunciate race while depriving it of its lethal cling? ” (5) . These questions are integral to Morrison’s own work, but she also entreats other authors to respond to them; a substantial number, including Brit Bennett, Bryan Washington, Kaitlyn Greenidge, and Akwaeke Emezi, have done so. Like Morrison, these younger authors construct storyworlds that both depict and challenge the use of such social emotions as guilt and shame in constituting and perpetuating the arbitrary in- and out-group divisions that are fundamental to racial and spatial forms of constraint. In doing so, they show how resisting oppression provides Black characters, especially Black women, with important possibilities for community-building/home-creation.

Learn more.

New Publication by Alexa Weik von Mossner on Narrating Indian Food as Cultural Memory

Alexa Weik von Mossner has published a book chapter, entitled “Nourishment for the Mind: Narrating Indian Food as Cultural Memory,” in Memory: From the Sciences to the Humanities, edited by Donald Wehrs, Suzanne Nalbantian and Don Tucker (Routledge 2023).

The chapter explores how the complex relationships between food, memory, and culture are represented and evoked in ethnic American cultural texts. Memories of food are more than just personal recollections of a particular dish – they are both intensely personal and embedded in larger collective memories, dietary traditions, and culinary practices. They also play an important role in identity formation and sustain social and cultural worlds, not only in the place in which they were formed but also in diasporic communities far away from that place of origin. This is particularly obvious in a country like the United States with its long history of immigration. For successive waves of immigrants, the dishes they consumed and cherished became a means of negotiating the degree of their assimilation to mainstream U.S. culture, on the one hand, and a means to hold on to their cultural roots, on the other.

The chapter considers a conjunction of literature and film – among them Shoba Narayan’s Monsoon Diary: a Memoir with Recipes, Jumpha Lahiri’s short story “Mrs. Sen’s,” Jason Zeldes’s Ugly Delicious episode “Don’t Call It Curry,” and David Kaplan’s feature film Today’s Special – that represent and remember the culinary traditions of India and, by extension, those of Indian Americans. Making connections between empirical-scientific and historical-interpretative levels of analysis, the chapter demonstrates that narrated food memories, along with the sensual evocation of the remembered dishes and their preparation, play an important role in how writers and filmmakers invite their audiences to appreciate and/or celebrate the food and cultural identity of an ethnic minority group. Whether it is the visceral evocation of specific dishes and/or their preparation that is foregrounded, or characters’ personal relationship to them (or both), such acts of narrativization always comment to some degree on issues of identity and U.S. racial politics.

Learn more.

Guest Lecture by Derek C. Maus: The Benefits of a Comparative (and Expansive) Approach to American Literature for Austrian Students

Wednesday, October 12, 2022 at 12:45 in HS4 at the University of Klagenfurt, presented by the Narrative Encounters Project

Studying literatures from outside one’s own cultural/national/linguistic/ethnic background requires navigating through an interpretive Scylla and Charybdis. One extreme creates overly touristic readings that merely “honor” or “sample” local variations without also seeking to understand how and why they matter to a text’s reception outside its originating culture; the other assigns value to a work exclusively on the basis of its potential to transcend spatial and temporal borders. The narrow path between these two options involves remaining receptive to the unfamiliar without prejudging it – either positively or negatively – because of its alterity. Every scholar can bring his or her personal experiences and values to bear productively on a text provided that those experiences do not impart rigid expectations about what kind of literature is worthy of consideration.

Derek C. Maus is Professor of English and Communication at the State University of New York at Potsdam, where he teaches numerous courses on contemporary literature from all over the world. He has published numerous books and articles, most of which have focused on the subject of satire. His full CV, samples of his work, and other scholarly information can be found at https://potsdam.academia.edu/DerekCMaus.

Imagine credit: Alias

Guest lecture by James J. Donahue: Decolonizing American Literary Studies: Some Thoughts Toward a Native-Centered Pedagogy

Wednesday, October 12, 2022 at 12:00 in HS4 at the University of Klagenfurt, presented by the Narrative Encounters Project

North American scholars have recently begun talking about „decolonizing“ academic fields of study, many of which have historically contributed to the larger continuing project of the colonization of Indigenous peoples. Following some key principles drawn from Indigenous pedagogies, this lecture will offer suggestions for ways we might begin to „decolonize“ the teaching of American literature. What books and courses do we teach? What work do we ask our students to complete? Why should we teach this material at all? By attending to these questions with practices derived from Indigenous pedagogies, perhaps we can begin to better understand and challenge the underlying colonizing mindset that has informed much of the history of this field of study.

James J. Donahue is Professor in English and Communication at SUNY Potsdam (USA), where he holds a secondary appointment in Interdisciplinary Studies as coordinator of the minor in Native American Studies. He is primarily interested in exploring the complex literary and cultural tensions of twentieth century America and is the author of Contemporary Native Fiction: Toward a Narrative Poetics of Survivance (Routledge 2019) and co-editor of Narrative, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States (OSU Press 2017).

Image: : Fungus Guy

How Reading Shapes Us: Kareem Tayyar

Why I Read
by Kareem Tayyar

It begins with Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!, by Dr. Seuss. You are three, maybe four years old, and even though it will be another few decades before you learn of the book’s veiled references to the Nixon Administration, you are already enchanted by the alluring strangeness of the world Seuss has created. It is the suburbs’ answer to Wonderland, our disembodied narrator a Cheshire Cat who has traded in his Dadaist koans for the kind of I’ve-Had-It-Up-to-Here-With-This-Nonsense proclamations that make him children’s literature’s version of William Jennings Bryan. Of course, there are those illustrations, as gonzo in their own way as anything Ralph Steadman ever put to paper, but mostly it is the sense that language—Story, especially—is a road that can take you into landscapes not located on the globe that sits on the dresser next to your bed.

At ten, eleven, twelve years old you read every sports autobiography you can get your hands on. Larry Bird’s Drive. Jackie Robinson’s I Never Had it Made. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Giant Steps, which is the closest thing to James Baldwin’s Go Tell it On the Mountain that an athlete has ever produced, Jabbar wrestling with faith and race, violence and mercy, individualism and community all while making a more-than-compelling case that jazz is as indispensable to American life and culture as air and water. It’s true that in middle school you thought there was a better than 50-50 chance that you were someday going to
be a professional athlete yourself, but mostly what you sought in these books—though you didn’t yet have the language to articulate it—was to know what men had learned about themselves through the mastery of a child’s game. But what came with that desire was, among other lessons, an unexpected introduction to grief (Bird writing about the suicide of his father); hardship (Robinson enduring constant threats of racially-motivated violence); and personal transformation (Jabbar leaving Christianity for Islam).

At fourteen you read Moby Dick and it bores you to death. It is no Jaws, of that you are certain. It may not even be on the level of Jaws 2, though that, you admit, may come down to matters of personal taste.

At sixteen you read The Catcher in the Rye, which has one of the most beautiful passages in all of American Literature:

I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.

Several decades later, when you are teaching a Children’s Literature class to a room full of college undergraduates, and you come to that passage, it will be all you can do not to begin weeping when you read the passage aloud, and on the drive home you will turn the radio on, roll down the windows, and be grateful for J.D. Salinger’s novel the way one is grateful for a hard rain after a long drought.

In your twenties you encounter Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again,” and from that moment on you will find its verses entering your head every single time you hear the National Anthem performed at a Lakers game, or a Dodgers game, or an Angels game. You will think that Hughes’s poem is to American Letters what Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is to American Music, or Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” is to American Photography: a counter to every single stump speech delivered by Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush or Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or Barack Obama or Donald Trump or Joe Biden or every other second-rate grifter who put his hand over his heart and swore to the people he had been elected to serve that he would put their interests before his own, because the United States was a noble country, because the United States was a kind country, because the United States was a country that cared for its children, for its elderly, for its out-of-work and its ill and its indigent:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me…

At twenty-seven, or thirty-one, or thirty-three (exactly when you can’t remember) you reread Moby Dick and you are reminded, not for the first, nor for the last, time, that fourteen-year-old you had no idea what he was talking about, and that Melville’s epic is as piercingly funny as Richard Pryor’s Live on the Sunset Strip, as achingly sad as Robert Duvall’s performance in Tender Mercies, as terrifyingly prophetic as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, as gorgeously romantic as Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country,” and as appallingly violent as the final scene in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. Even all these years later, Starbuck and Queequeg and Ahab and Ishmael and the whale itself all feel as real to you as the people you encounter in your actual life on an everyday basis. Sometimes you wonder if this will ever change, but you doubt that it will.

Somewhere around the time of rereading Moby Dick you discover Sherman Alexie, who you quickly realize has written—and will continue to write—as many masterful short stories as Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, and John Cheever, and whose unparalleled blending of humor and tragedy means that it becomes a normal part of the Alexie reading experience to want to laugh and cry and howl at the moon all at the same time. Especially when, as in “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” our hero, Jackson Jackson, a penniless man and a beautiful soul, decides to become the type of epic hero the United States is most in need of: one who would rather love than fight, one who would rather befriend than antagonize, and one who believes that the future can only be beautified by refusing to turn one’s back on the past; or, as at the conclusion of “One Good Man,” a dying father and his middle-aged son realize that, after their car has broken down and their money has (mostly) run out, their best shot of getting across the border from California to Mexico is to hope they get mistaken for illegal immigrants and are thereby deported. It’s brilliant and heartfelt and hilarious and the dialogue is as funny as anything in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and there are touches of Magic Realism as transportive as in anything by Toni Morrison or Louise Erdrich or the transcendentally talented Brian Doyle.

At forty-two you stumble across Sandra Cisneros’ My Wicked, Wicked Ways, and after an afternoon of reading her free-verse poems chronicling her solo travels through Europe—fires in Hydra, gorgeous men in Paris, a valentine to Michelangelo’s David that’s playful and sexy in ways that too little of American Literature is—all you want to do is buy a one-way ticket to Florence and figure out the rest when you arrive.

Through all of these years and decades there have been the detective novels you love, by Walter Mosley and Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and James Ellroy, and there have been the nature writers you adore, Robert Frost and Annie Dillard and Jim Harrison, and there have been Lucille Clifton’s quartet of Superman poems and Barry Spacks’ The Company of Children and Barbara Hamby’s endlessly inventive American odes, which someone really should put in the hands of Debbie Harry or Patti Smith or Stevie Nicks and tell them, here you go, here are the lyrics to your next album, now put some music to
these and we look forward to seeing you play them live at The Hollywood Bowl next summer. There have been Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Ali Zarrin’s “Made You Mine, America,” and Mark Kram’s Ghosts of Manila, which reminds readers that Joe Frazier was a great fighter and a brave man and deserved far better than how Muhammad Ali and so much of the American media treated him. There have been Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train, which reminds us that ours is a country much stranger, wilder, scarier, and prettier than we often realize, and which does so while also making sure we remember that Elvis was one hell of a singer, Randy Newman one hell of a songwriter, and that The Band’s back catalogue should be required listening if one wants to gain a fuller understanding of this country than what we are given on CNN or NPR or (God forbid) Fox. There has been the work of Joan Didion, more romantic than she would have ever wanted to admit; of Chuck Klosterman, able to discuss the discography of Motley Crue and the theories of Aristotle with the same level of intellectual rigor; of Junot Diaz, whose The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao had you so heartbroken by the end that you haven’t been the same since.
And there have been the writers who have never gotten famous, yet whose work is as necessary and meaningful and creative as those at the center of the American Canon, writers like Rafael Zepeda, whose poem “The Wreckers,” told from the point of view of a Latino man as wise as Gandalf or Yoda, informs his readers about the ultimate fate of Southern California; like Edward Field, whose poems about the Golden Age of Hollywood are romantic and humorous in equal measure; like Faith Shearin, who writes about myth and motherhood and window shopping and late summer swims and her weight on other
planets with a lyricism that regularly makes you feel as if your feet have taken leave of the earth; like Dave Newman, whose novels treat the lives of truck drivers and bartenders and adjunct professors with the type of understated reverence rarely found outside of John Mellencamp songs.

And there continue to be these lines by Mary Oliver, lines which you whisper to yourself as often as a Catholic penitent says the Hail Mary:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

To honor such a question with an appropriate response would be an endeavor far too long for an essay such as this. But you can assure readers that a part of your answer would be as follows: to read. As widely and as devotedly and as carefully and as enthusiastically as I can.

Works Cited:

Cisneros, Sandra. My Wicked, Wicked Ways. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1987.
Hughes, Langston. “Let America Be America Again.” poets.org.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York, Little, Brown and Company, 1945.

Kareem Tayyar was born in Los Angeles in 1977. The son of an Iranian father and an Irish Catholic mother, he was raised in Orange County, California, where he spent his childhood watching Warren Beatty and Robert Redford movies on television, listening to Born to Run and Purple Rain approximately 17 million times, and playing so much pickup basketball that he still can’t believe the L.A. Lakers didn’t sign him by the time he was twelve years old. A long-time resident of Southern California, Tayyar’s work chronicles and celebrates the beauty, complexity, diversity, and energy of the region in work that is by turns funny, heartfelt, and spiritual. A Professor of English at Golden West Community College in Huntington Beach, California, he holds a Ph.D. in Literature from U.C. Riverside, and he is a recipient of a 2019 Wurlitzer Fellowship for Poetry. He is the Poetry Editor at Chiron Review.

Project volume published: Ethnic American Literatures and Critical Race Narratology 

We are very happy to announce that our Ethnic American Literatures and Critical Race Narratology volume is now published as part of Routledge’s Narrative Theory and Culture Series. Thanks to all our fantastic contributors!

Edited by Alexa Weik von Mossner, Marijana Mikić, and Mario Grill, Ethnic American Literatures and Critical Race Narratology explores the relationship between narrative, race, and ethnicity in the United States. Situated at the intersection of post-classical narratology and context-oriented approaches in race, ethnic, and cultural studies, the contributions to this edited volume interrogate the complex and varied ways in which ethnic American authors use narrative form to engage readers in issues related to race and ethnicity, along with other important identity markers such as class, religion, gender, and sexuality. Importantly, the book also explores how paying attention to the formal features of ethnic American literatures changes our under-standing of narrative theory and how narrative theories can help us to think about author functions and race. The international and diverse group of contributors includes top scholars in narrative theory and in race and ethnic studies, and the texts they analyze concern a wide variety of topics, from the representation of time and space to the narration of trauma and other deeply emotional memories to the importance of literary paratexts, genre structures, and author functions.

Foreword: Ethnoracial Encounters: From Myopic to Polyscopic Planetary Narratologies — Frederick Luis Aldama

Introduction: Narrative Encounters with Ethnic American Literatures — Alexa Weik von Mossner

PART 1: Narrating Race and Ethnicity across Time and Space

  1. Indigenous Time / Indigenous Narratives: The Political Implications of Non-Linear Time in Contemporary Native Fiction — James J. Donahue
  2. Time(s) of Race: Narrative Temporalities, Epistemic Storytelling, and the Human Species in Ted Chiang — Matthias Klestil
  3. Polychronic Narration, Trauma, Disenfranchised Grief, and Mario Alberto Zambrano’s Lotería — Mario Grill
  4. Whole New Worlds: An Exploration of Narrative Strategies Used in Afrodiasporic Speculative Fiction — Marlene Allen Ahmed

PART 2: Haunting Memories: Narrative, Race, and Emotion

  1. Emotions that Haunt: Attachment Relations in Lan Samantha Chang’s Fiction — W. Michelle Wang
  2. Race, Trauma, and the Emotional Legacies of Slavery in Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing — Marijana Mikić
  3. “There Were Strands of Darker Stories”: Reading Third-Generation Holocaust Literature as Midrash — Stella Setka
  4. Stories, Love, and Baklava: Narrating Food in Diana Abu-Jaber’s Culinary Memoirs — Alexa Weik von Mossner

PART 3: Race, Ethnicity, and Paratexts: Genre Structures and Author Functions

  1. Healing Narratives: Historical Representations in Latinx Young Adult Literature — Elizabeth Garcia
  2. Blood and Soil: Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony — Patrick Colm Hogan
  3. Metaparatextual Satire in Percival Everett’s The Book of Training and Kent Monkman’s Shame and Prejudice — Derek Maus
  4. Author Functions, Literary Functions, and Racial Representations or What We Talk about When We Talk about Diversifying Narrative Studies — Jennifer Ho

The book is part of Routledge’s Narrative Theory and Culture series, edited by Christopher González, and is available here.