The U.S. Studies Online 60 Seconds interview feature offers a short and informal introduction to a postgraduate, academic or non-academic specialist working in the American and Canadian Studies field or a related American and Canadian Studies association.
Last month you spent 60 seconds with the U. S. Studies Online Editorial team. This month we have invited the Executive Committee of the British Association for American Studies, our parent organisation, to tell us a little bit more about themselves, their interests, the way they made it into academia and, crucially, their top advice for new academics.
Where are you right now?
I’m in my attic office in the Department of English Studies, Durham University. My book shelves are tidy but, it being the end of the academic year, there are teaching materials and admin-related papers in piles almost all around me!
If you could time-travel to observe one moment in the history of America, where would you go?
That’s tough to answer. I would have liked to have witnessed one of the early space shuttle launches. I’d also like to have observed a day in the offices of the NAACP in the first few decades of the twentieth century. I’m going to go for being at the world’s first Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 though.
Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
In this context I’ll go for mostly Americans: Frederick Douglass, Cary Grant, Martha Gellhorn, Sylvia Plath, Johnny Cash, Tracy Chapman, Lorna Sage and Alan Shearer.
You’re stranded on a desert island, but luckily you pre-empted it. Which book do you take with you?
Without question, Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987). As far as I’m concerned, it’s inexhaustible.
What has been your most memorable career moment so far?
I’m tempted to say the time I sat on a glass table while teaching part-time at the University of Warwick and broke it but will instead opt for the publication of ‘Shuttles in the Rocking Loom of History’: Mapping the Black Diaspora in African American and Caribbean Fiction with Liverpool University Press in 2013. As I didn’t turn my PhD thesis into a book, my first monograph was a long time coming (at least it felt that way!) and seeing it to completion is an achievement still searingly fresh in my memory.
What advice would you give to early career academics?
Stamina and, when things go wrong, the ability to ‘reset’ your frame of mind will stand you in good stead in academia. Don’t be afraid to speak up and out!
What is the most exciting thing you have planned in the next six months?
In the Autumn I will be spending three months as a Fellow at the Huntington Library, San Marino. I’m looking forward to working with the Octavia Butler papers there and to making the most of a spell in Southern California.
How did you come to your current area of research?
My interest in African American writing and culture began during my BA in English and American Literature, and developed through my MA and PhD, which included a year at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. My specific current work on visions of future in black diasporan fiction and visual art was seeded during conversations at our Institute of Advanced Studies in 2010 but really has only grown into a research project over the course of reading and dialogue in the last couple of years.
What profession other than academia would you like to attempt?
I am drawn to medicine (the interaction with patients rather than the lab side) and still fantasise (I stress fantasise) about a career in sport, either as an athlete or as a journalist.
What book is currently on your bedside table?
I’ve been prompted to reread Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World by a recent guest lecture that I attended. I’ve also got Junot Diaz’s short story collection This is How You Lose Her and Zadie Smith’s novel N-W lined up.
Be honest; how long has it been there?
Huxley: a week.
What’s in your fridge right now?
Milk, pink grapefruit juice, capers, Nasi goreng paste, pesto, cheddar, brie, a bulb of fennel, broccoli, spring onions, tomatoes, butter (real!), red chillies, hummus, strawberry yogurt and a packet of mushroom tortellini. And now I’m hungry …