I’m on research leave until September 2019.
I’m going to leave that sentence on its own because it’s just so pretty. It’s one of my favorite sentences, somewhere between “turns out you were right” and “here are your pancakes.”
My last sabbatical was in 2011, and I was working primarily on Written/Unwritten. This time around I’ll be working on a book about anti-slavery/abolitionist literature in romantic/regency-era literature. I’m nervous about it. I stopped working on a different book because this one felt more urgent. My gut tells me it was the right decision, but I won’t really feel solid about it until I have some of the usual signs that a book will be a book. Some of the pressure is because while this is my second book, it’s the first book I’m writing in my primary field, and that feels a bit odd. I know I’m kind of out of order with my publications, but then maybe if the academy wasn’t so persistently hostile to black academics, particularly women…anyway. It’s not exactly “Imposter Syndrome” that I feel, but I’ll feel better when it goes from “in progress” to “under review.” I’m also eager to write more fully about what I reflected on in my Jane Austen piece for The Atlantic and wrote about for Lapham’s Quarterly.
In the spring I’ll be giving two talks from book chapters. P19 has invited me to give a talk on February 28th in Philadelphia.
I’ll be sharing work from my chapter on The Woman of Colour, A Tale, Mansfield Park, and “Belle.” The talk (and maybe the book chapter) is titled: “I yield up my independence”: Marriage and Shades of Mansfield. This chapter is based on work I did for two British Women Writers Conference papers (one quite good, the other quite meh). It’s taken me a few times through the Woman of Colour to work out why I think it matters to this discussion, and I’m glad to write about Austen in this context. In my early drafting, I’m struck by how much I’ve missed in “Belle” because, like so many of us, I’m still processing what it means to see women of color featured at the center of stories about nineteenth-century England. The fact that John Davinier doesn’t seem to have lips is also distracting.
After a pretty good blog post, a hot mess of a creative non-fiction essay (unpublished), and two conference papers I’m quite proud of, I’m finally working out how Kara Walker’s sugar projects fit into how I read abolitionist discourse and material culture.
I wrestled with this in a lecture I gave last fall where I felt more wobbly about the implications of the work than I realized. So, I’m incredibly excited to keynote April 6th at St. John’s University Graduate English Conference: “Forms of Justice: Reflections on Writing, Creativity and Social Change.” The title of the talk is ‘a violent effervescence will ensue’: Sugar, Gender, and Power. Last spring, I spent time in the Historical Medical Library in Philly and read eighteenth-century books about sugar production. That’s where I think I’ll start. The juxtaposition between how we get sugar and what it’s used for, materially and linguistically, is central to the book.
Emily Rohrbach is the principal organizer for the 2019 International Conference on Romanticism in Manchester, UK, and I’ll be there. The seminars look intriguing, and I hope folks will participate in mine. If you spend time with me in real life, you know I’m obsessed with Wollstonecraft’s complicated politics around race, slavery, and abolition. I’m hoping for papers that push us (and me in particular) to think in very nuanced ways about the interplay between white women’s political ambition and representations of race in the nineteenth-century.
Written/Unwritten is still out there doing its thing. I’ll give two talks related to my diversity and inclusion work, both in March. My 2019 resolution is to expunge “on” from all of my titles:
On Diversity and Inclusion
On Academic Freedom
On and On and On
No and No and No
I’ll be at Stony Brook March 14th. On March 19th I’ll be the keynote speaker at The New Jersey College English Association’s 42nd annual conference.
Check back for more info about times and locations for these talks.
I’ve decided that I’ll feel better about writing this book if I thank folks publicly along the way. So, I’m thankful to those who have gently but firmly pushed me to think through the book I actually want to write, in the way that feels best for how I see the possible impact of my work: Kim Hall, Matt McAdam, Manu Chander, Devoney Looser, Matt Sandler, and Tina Iemma. They’ve read the proposal and a lot of the pre-writing drafting that goes into my writing. Someone recently described me as the “happiest academic in the world.” That’s not true—partly because I’m not that naïve and partly because I’m a Black woman. What is true is that I spent almost all of my pre-tenure years feeling isolated and marginalized in ways that I never imagined. To find myself post-tenure in the company of brilliant people who take time to support my writing means more than I can say. More than happy, I’m just extremely thankful.
Hope to see you in 2019. Come through, as the kids say.
Broadview Cover Woman of Colour, A Tale
Kara Walker “Afterword” 21 November 2014—17 January 2015
Sikkema Jenkins & Co New York, New York Photo: Patricia A. Matthew