Marijana Mikić has published a book review of Literary Afrofuturism in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Isiah Lavender III and Lisa Yaszekin (Ohio State UP 2020), in the Journal of the Austrian Association for American Studies (JAAAS).
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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
- Indigenous Time / Indigenous Narratives: The Political Implications of Non-Linear Time in Contemporary Native Fiction — James J. Donahue
- Time(s) of Race: Narrative Temporalities, Epistemic Storytelling, and the Human Species in Ted Chiang — Matthias Klestil
- Polychronic Narration, Trauma, Disenfranchised Grief, and Mario Alberto Zambrano’s Lotería — Mario Grill
- Whole New Worlds: An Exploration of Narrative Strategies Used in Afrodiasporic Speculative Fiction — Marlene Allen Ahmed
PART 2: Haunting Memories: Narrative, Race, and Emotion
- Emotions that Haunt: Attachment Relations in Lan Samantha Chang’s Fiction — W. Michelle Wang
- Race, Trauma, and the Emotional Legacies of Slavery in Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing — Marijana Mikić
- “There Were Strands of Darker Stories”: Reading Third-Generation Holocaust Literature as Midrash — Stella Setka
- 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
- Healing Narratives: Historical Representations in Latinx Young Adult Literature — Elizabeth Garcia
- Blood and Soil: Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony — Patrick Colm Hogan
- Metaparatextual Satire in Percival Everett’s The Book of Training and Kent Monkman’s Shame and Prejudice — Derek Maus
- 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.
Marijana Mikić has published an article in Anglia: Journal of English Philology, entitled “Mind, Body, and Race in Jessie Redmon Fauset’s Plum Bun“
Working at the intersection of cognitive and critical race narratology, the essay examines the relationship between the embodied mind and the social construction of race in Jessie Redmon Fauset’s Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral (1928/2011). The essay argues that Fauset’s African American passing novel rejects the notion of a solely ‘inward turn’, which is commonly associated with modernist literature, in favor of a more dynamic understanding of embodied cognition that acknowledges the shaping force of race and racialization. Using a seemingly traditional omniscient narrator, Fauset not only draws attention to the failure of U. S. American racial hierarchies, but she also lays bare how race impacts both individual consciousness and social cognition.
“Spooling Out: A Thousand and One Reading Experiences Professed by a Black Bookworm”
Hello, my name is Isiah Lavender III and I’m a self-confessed bibliophile. I believe it is my duty to disrupt the imperial gaze by exploring BIPOC futures arising from non-Western cultures and ethnic histories. Viewed in this way, I help the world to understand that BIPOCs live in the future too, that we can reboot identity in the creation of CoFutures. But to arrive in these full-colored futures, I must reexamine my path that led me to the Sterling-Goodman Professorship at the University of Georgia. Suffice to say, I simply love reading. And, I want to demonstrate the value, power, stretch, connection, integration of reading in my life. Let us deep-dive, you and I, into an aspect of my own personal reading history.
In this respect, I’ve been asked to think about my personal reading history in ethnic literatures and found that I have a lot to say. But this reflection requires a way back machine across the 47 years of my life. It’s not unlike travelling in Dr. Who’s TARDIS, only this time piloted by the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whitaker) since I’m not being asked about my keen interest in science fiction but questioned about my passion for reading ethnic literatures.
You probably wouldn’t be shocked to discover that both of my parents were avid readers. Dad loved westerns and had a bookshelf full of Louis L’Amour novels and I fully availed myself of them when not playing with my Star Wars action figures. At one point, I could probably tell you all there was to know about the Sackett family and their generational adventures on the American frontier. The character of Jubal Sackett comes to mind because he went in search of an Indian woman named Itchakomi. I think she was Natchez or Cherokee, possibly Choctaw. I may have been 7 or 8 at the time, but this novel made an impression on my mind. It stayed with me because my African American grandmother Cornelia swore that my black curls supposedly came from a Cherokee ancestor sold into slavery in Virginia in the mid-nineteenth century and not from the white side of my family. Incidentally, I’m a sixth generation Lavender removed from the American antebellum era with my ancestors enslaved near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and have often thought my hair texture resulted from a long-ago sexual assault. That seems more likely, but who knows?
Anyway, my first-generation American mom of Austrian/Polish descent (a dissolved Prussian) absolutely loved science fiction and fantasy, which I have talked about elsewhere, but also enjoyed reading romance novels by Harlequin Enterprises and Avon Historical Romances, or bodice-rippers as I like to think of them in popular parlance. Did I read them? Yes. Yes, I did. Her favorites authors were Johanna Lindsey and Bertrice Small. I know that I encountered an Arab sheik named Sheik Abu in Lindsey’s Captive Bride (1977) and a multitude of savage Indians in Tender is the Storm (1985) as a nineteenth century New York heiress, named Sharisse, heads west to Arizona as a mail-order bride and even more Indians in Brave the Wild Wind (1984), the first book in Lindsey’s Wyoming Westerns series.
Some characters just stay with you. My personal favorite was Small’s first Skye O’Malley novel from 1981, as this Irish noblewoman creates a shipping empire, rivals Queen Elizabeth herself, and challenges the Ottoman empire after being captured and sold to Khalid el Bey, the whoremaster of Algiers. Undoubtedly, I must have come across the Italian fashion model Fabio on one of these book covers (smile)! I must have been between 10 and 12 at this time. Understand, I would read anything and everything up to and including my older sister’s Sweet Valley High books and the Baby-Sitter’s Club and the Flowers in the Attic series by V.C. Andrews (the Dollanganger series I think it’s called)on top of my own Hardy Boys, Choose Your Own Adventure, Twistaplot, and Endless Quest books. I was that kid and I was fascinated by the worlds I came across and in which I got lost.
My parents also had an extensive library of classic British and American literature downstairs in our basement—extensive to my child eyes since the hanging bookshelves ran the length of one wall, from the ceiling to a foot off the ground, with the books flush against the concrete. While I didn’t make it through Moby Dick until graduate school, I did read a bit of Poe and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) among many other books of this nature like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) if memory serves correctly. I guess my parents belonged to some kind of mail-order book club that produced cheap hardbacks of literary classics with gold-leaf lettering on the spines and covers of the black volumes, published by the International Collectors Library in Garden City, New York. Likewise, I took advantage of the opportunity to thumb through what seemed like a countless number of National Geographic magazines. We also went to the Hamburg Public Library a great deal and, less frequently, the much larger Buffalo Public Library.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, my two favorite novels from this grand home library of my childhood were Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). In fact, I still have that copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It’s one of my few surviving childhood possessions and it’s prized!!
I loved Tom and Huck and had similar adventures of my own in the hamlet of Derby contained in the town of Evans, a south town of Buffalo, New York, infamous for the lake-effect snow. I’d often go looking for buried treasure hidden in the woods behind my house with my childhood friends in the early 1980s, build extensive woodland forts, and get in pitched battles with the kids in the Redwood townhomes across the “Big” Creek—Apple Wars I & II, the Pear War, and even the Cattail War fondly live on in my memory as it all runs together. In many ways, I had a rich childhood in western New York on the shores of Lake Erie close to the Canadian border. Just like Tom, we would sneak out after dark, use the meow of a cat at a friend’s window, and go off in search of treasure. That was my idea too! We did not come across the murdering Injun Joe at a midnight graveyard, but we did see teens smoking pot, drinking, and necking in the woods near the old private road across the “Big” ditch. Like Huck and Nigger Jim, we once built a raft out of some old one-by-fours and attempted to float down the “Big” creek through the woods to the dam close to Old Lake Shore Road. Again, my idea! I knew Jim was black like me but also a slave. That was my context! My impression of Native Americans at this time of my life was based on caricatures and stereotypes. I was in for a rude awakening—a racial awakening in the winter of 1983. I’m actually not sure when I read Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn with respect to the “n-bomb” dropping but it must have been around 4th grade because I didn’t have the raft idea until after the spring class trip to Eighteen Mile Creek to hunt fossils in the gorge.
I have written about my first moment of “epiphanal blackness” elsewhere (Williams 173). “Epiphanal blackness,” to use Piper Kendrix Williams’s term, refers to the first time a black person is made aware of their own skin color in being called a nigger by a white person. I have already written about this difficult moment in my own life and its relationship to my penchant for reading science fiction beginning with Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1950). But that’s only half of the story in my autography of reading. That moment also spawned my abiding love for fantasy fiction, which I don’t write about in a scholarly fashion although I am currently loving Evan Winter’s The Rage of Dragons (2020) and its sequel The Fires of Vengeance (2021). That moment of being beaten bloody by white boys in front of my house and called a nigger will never be forgotten. I was eight years old.
This shit goes deep!
But even pinpointing this particular instant as my first dawning of racial consciousness may be inexact and fuzzy because of my placement in remedial reading class in second grade during the fall of 1981 when I was seven. What else could it be other than institutional racism? The only black kid in the entire second grade of Highland Elementary in the slow reading group?! Hmm…. I have never been indifferent to pleasure reading and this moment was huge! I am ever grateful to Mrs. Ennis who had me out of there and into the gifted program inside of six weeks and I will always sing her praises. I could also talk about the super tag team duo of Mrs. and Mr. McDonald from eleventh and twelfth grade here—headstands on desks, creative writing assignments, fascinating group projects, and whatnot—because they taught me a great deal about writing and pleasure reading, but, really, that’s another story for another time. The power of teachers to do good amazes me sometimes. Let me stress that reading for school is different to reading for self and we all know it. Alongside my parents, these three are immortal members of my own pantheon of illustrious beings just like my school bus driver Jonie.
Jonie stopped the bus after rounding the court and prevented the pack of fourth-grade boys from doing further damage in the gray February snow drifts of that yesteryear afternoon. Long story short, my parents went ballistic at the PTA meeting and I had to ride at the front of the bus in the first seat right behind Jonie for the rest of third-grade. I guess I shouldn’t have mouthed off that morning at the bus stop to those boys, but I did! Oh, the impetuosity of youth! Nevertheless, it was Jonie who introduced me to Bilbo Baggins by recounting his encounters with Sméagol and Smaug one day while waiting for the bus to load. I told my Dad, and The Hobbit (1937) magically appeared on my pillow before bedtime later in the week. He bought me the book and I was immediately entranced by orcs, goblins, trolls, hobbits, elves, dwarves, dragons, and, of course, Gandalf the Grey! Fantasy is deeply steeped in racial discourse and I have voraciously consumed it from this moment onward. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons that year too with a small group of my friends.
This essay seems to be getting away from me as I put these fractured memories into a semblance of order, but it all relates to my reading practice. Just like my time playing indoor soccer on the Seneca Nation of Indians Reservation in Irving, New York near Cattaraugus Creek right down the Route 5 Highway. You see, I may have been one of the only black kids in my grade school days, but there were plenty of Res kids at my school (Jimersons, Smiths, and Maybes). One of them and I used to good-naturedly jibe each other as “spear-chuckers” throughout high school in the hallways of Lake Shore Central Senior High. I loved a good verbal joust every now and again and didn’t realize the psychic damage we inflicted on each other performing for our classmates. On one occasion, our oral sparring went too far! I got under my buddy’s skin with an aural dart. He grabbed me by my shirt collar, lifted me off the ground, and slammed me into the lockers. He was a defensive lineman on the varsity football team. I think moments like these are exactly why I am captivated in reading Native American literature—ill-spent youth, where my mouth got me into trouble, dreaming of being Bruce Lee to defend myself with Kung Fu, though I never studied any martial arts.
I can recall being fascinated by the Iroquois Creation myth, visiting the Turtle in Niagara Falls, seeing it enacted, and studying the Iroquois Confederacy in ninth grade history class right along with the Civil Rights movement. I would later teach the orature account of this powerful creation myth in Am Lit I classes. I easily recall being blown away by Louise Erdrich’s (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians) Love Medicine (1984), particularly the often anthologized “The Red Convertible” as well as the nightmare scene, where the main character, Victor, recalls soldier’s playing polo with an Indian woman’s skull in Sherman Alexie’s (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene) story “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” (1993). I also attempted to teach Gerald Vizenor’s (White Earth Band of Ojibwe) Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles (1990) to a highly conservative classroom of University of Central Arkansas students and failing miserably not to mention Daniel H. Wilson’s (Cherokee) Roboapocalypse (2011), Stephen Graham Jones’s (Blackfeet) The Bird is Gone: A Manifesto (2003), and Leslie Marmon Silko’s (Laguna Pueblo) Ceremony (1977), among many others of my more successful attempts to expose students to Native American literatures. The most recent successful efforts would include Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM” (2017), Cherie Dimaline’s (Métis) The Marrow Thieves (2017) and Waubgeshig Rice’s (Anishinaabe) Moon of the Crusted Snow (2018). And, so, I have learned many lessons from reading ethnic literatures.
Earlier, I briefly mentioned Bruce Lee and Kung Fu and can surely trace my desire to read Asian literatures to Kung Fu Theater on Saturday afternoons (Fists of Fury (1972) to name only one) and to the Japanese anime appearing on American and Canadian television airwaves in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s such as Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, and Robotech among others. I spent countless Saturdays watching English-dubbed martials arts films and space battles with aliens and giant robots. And I would watch more in undergrad, too, like Bubblegum Crisis, Ninja Scroll, Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and Evangelion as well as falling in love with the black hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan. But that’s beside the point. These experiences would lead me to read and teach many different things from The Epic of Gilgamesh, Monkey, and the Ramayana to Kobo Abé’s The Box Man (1973), Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale (1999), Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1989), and John Okada’s No-No Boy (1957) as well as, and more recently, Ling Ma’s Severance (2018), Chen Quifan’s The Waste Tide (2013), Anil Menon’s The Beast with Nine Billion Feet (2009), and Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem (2014).
If you expected me to name Chinua Achebe as representative of my African reading experiences, you wouldn’t be wrong. I can think of no better starting place for any person interested in global Anglophone literature than Things Fall Apart (1958). Who’d have thought that Achebe would have clapped back across time at Victorian author Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness (1899) and its soul-crushing depiction of Africa as the dark continent by quoting half of the third line of Irish poet William Butler Yeats’s “The Second Coming” (1919)? What a magnificent intertextual smackdown! Of course, the Irish were considered another black race at some point in Western history. See Noel Ignatiev’s study How the Irish Became White (1995) if you don’t believe me! Anyway, back to Africa, you would have to tack on the D. T. Niane translation of Sundiata: an Epic of Old Mali as well as writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo, Buchie Emecheta, Bessie Head, Wole Soyinka, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Nadine Gordimer, Athol Fugard, and Amos Tutuola (and most recently Tade Thompson’s Wormwood trilogy beginning with Rosewater (2018) and Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift (2019)) to begin sensing what stories from the continent mean to me. There are others too.
I could do a similar thing with my experiences of Latinx literatures and name Gloria Anzaldúa, Sandra Cisneros, and Piri Thomas as foundational authors as well as Malka Older and Junot Diaz as more recent Latinx writers of the sci-fi variety. Writers teach us to see ethnic peoples as human, to see beyond cultural stereotypes to the vibrancy of living, to dare make friends despite the differences.
I could also do a comparable thing in naming and listing some of the black Caribbean writers, poets, and thinkers I have read such as Jamaica Kincaid, Derek Walcott, Sylvia Winter, Édouard Glissant, and Edwidge Danticat without forgetting the Caribbean science fiction writers Nalo Hopkinson, Tobias Buckell, and Karen Lord. I could do so, but I shan’t because I’m already well past the 2000-word limit!
I’d also like to write about my expansion into Arabic speculative fictions such as Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad (2014), but I realize it would tie back to Epic of Gilgamesh and also my reading of Arabian Nights. Like Scheherazade, I have a thousand and one reading experiences of my own to tell.
Now, “learn it to the younguns” as the grandfather declares with his dying breath in Invisible Man (Ellison 16). I’ve always wanted to use that quote and now I have! That’s just why I am a black bibliophage. This now feels like a declaration, strangely thrilling, freeing! The life- stories will continue…spooling out.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. 1952. Vintage, 1995.
Williams, Piper K. “Harriet Tubman’s Shawl.” The Toni Morrison Book Club, Juda Bennett,
Winnifred Brown-Glaude, Cassandra Jackson, and Piper Kendrix Williams, U of Wisconsin P, 2020, pp. 166-180.
Isiah Lavender III is Sterling Goodman Professor of English at the University of Georgia. His book publications include Race in American Science Fiction (Indiana University Press, 2011), Black and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction (University Press of Mississippi, 2014), Dis-Orienting Planets: Racial Representations of Asia in Science Fiction (University Press of Mississippi, 2017) and Afrofuturism Rising: The Literary Prehistory of a Movement, has just appeared from Ohio State University Press (2019).
Marijana Mikić has published an article in Orbis Litterarum, entitled “Arab American women and the generational cycle of shame: A cognitive reading of Etaf Rum’s A Woman Is No Man.“
The article uses a cognitive narratological approach to analyze how Etaf Rum’s A Woman Is No Man (2019) negotiates Arab American patriarchal culture through the lens of shame. By narrating the emotional experiences of Arab American women who bear the pain of shame while they also engage in shaming others, Rum gives readers the opportunity to understand better the complex relationship between the psychology of shame and the “shame of gender” in patriarchal Arab American culture. Not only does A Woman Is No Man articulate the lived experiences of one of the most “forgotten” and silenced ethnic groups within American literature and culture, it also draws attention to how gender-based shaming is shaped by, and contributes to shaping, a culture of patriarchy and male power. The novel uncovers the different ways in which shame impacts the minds and bodies of Arab American women across three generations, while also laying bare the psychological, gendered, and socio-culturally embedded aspects that shape the elicitation, experience, expression, and regulation of shame.
Our international online conference “Narrative Encounters with Ethnic American Literatures” is coming closer.
Taking a cue from pioneering efforts at the intersection of context-oriented approaches in race and ethnicity studies and post-classical narratology, this conference is interested in the relationship between narrative, race, and ethnicity in the United States.
Reading so-called “ethnic” American literatures means encountering characters and storyworlds imagined by writers associated with various minority communities in the United States. Without doubt, the formal study of narrative can help us gain a deeper understanding of such encounters, but until recently, narratologists rarely grappled with the question of how issues of race and ethnicity force us to rethink the formal study of narrative.
Attesting that the relative “race/ethnicity-blindness” of narrative theory is a severe limitation, scholars such as James Donahue have called for a “critical race narratology” (2017, 3) that addresses this lacuna. A range of recent book publications (e.g. Aldama 2005; Donahue 2019; Donahue, Ho, and Morgan 2017; Fetta 2018; Gonzáles 2017; Kim 2013; Moya 2016; Setka 2020; Wyatt and George 2020) demonstrate that a variety of insights can be gained from narratological approaches that open themselves up to issues of race and ethnicity in conjunction with other important identity markers including class, religion, gender, and sexuality. And, as Sue Kim has noted, there are shared interests in understanding the ways in which such narratives “operate within larger social structures as well as an investment in the scrutiny of how minds and subjectivity work in and through narratives” (2017, 16).
How do ethnic American literary texts use narrative form to engage readers in issues related to race and ethnicity? What narrative strategies do they employ to interweave these issues with other important identity markers such as class, religion, gender, and sexuality? How do they involve readers emotionally in their storyworlds and how do they relate such involvements to the racial politics and history of the United States? And how does paying attention to the strategies and formal features of ethnic American literatures change our understanding of narrative theory? These are some of the questions we hope to address at this conference.
Confirmed keynote speakers:
Frederick Luis Aldama, Jacob & Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas, Austin
Paula Moya, Danily C. and Laura Louise Bell Professor of the Humanities, Stanford University
Patrick Colm Hogan, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, University of Connecticut
The preliminary program for the conference is available here.
You can register for our online conference here. Registration is free of charge.
For any inquiries, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Within the framework of the one-year fellowship, which is sponsored by the University of Klagenfurt’s Faculty of Humanities, PhD researcher Marijana Mikić will work towards the completion of her dissertation project with the working title “Black Storyworlds: Race, Space, and Emotion in Contemporary African American Literature.”
In her dissertation, Marijana explores how twenty-first century African American storyworlds interrogate the emotional violence of racial and spatial oppression, while also envisioning affectively liberating ways of self- and space-making.